Continuous Transformation

Written and published for Mediamixx 2017’s printed magazine.

If you work in traditional media, you’ve had a tough 20 years, with constant changes and the looming industry death hanging over your head. And if you work in digital media, you’ve had a pretty spectacular run the past 20 years – not without ups and downs, of course, but the changes we’ve seen since Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web has been nothing short of phenomenal. Many have of course worked integrated across traditional and “new” media. The interesting thing is that you are all in for disruptive times ahead. This idea of Digital Transformation, that more and more companies are starting to understand, has been happening in the media industry for two decades. And i’m here to tell you, it’s not going to stop soon.

Digital Transformation is, as opposed to what many people think, not a one-time thing. It’s not something you “go through” and then come out at the other end as a new company. It’s an ongoing transformation. The new normal is constant disruption. It’s constantly having to make changes for the future – adjusting to the consumers/readers, adjusting to the competition, adjusting to the globalisation of media, adjusting to the fact that every man and his dog has the opportunity to broadcast whatever he wants at any given time.

The media outlets may not have fully grasped the yet. The media and creative agencies certainly haven’t understood it. Counterintuitively enough, the body who has understood it, is the various governments across the world, especially the ones prone to controlling their population’s every move. In China, Turkey, Thailand, the US, The Philippines and many more, we’ve seen a tightening of control of what the media (in the broadest possible sense, as we include social media) is allowed to say and distribute. Free speech is under constant pressure, and even brands have started making sure their money goes to the outlets they feel most comfortable with in the political sense. The power of consumers and brands will not be stopped by reactionary governments, nor by the status quo of the media outlets.

So, what is the media industry supposed to do? How can media constantly reinvent itself, to make money and keep the free flow of information going? Well, first and foremost, the resistance to new ideas has to stop. The focus on quality content has to continue – and with some outlets reverse itself. In TV, we’ve seen two major tracks happening, and only one is viable: Streaming vs. traditional broadcast. Streaming is taking over, and every single station or channel who resists this will fail. Even if you get on board, by launching a proprietary solution, you may fail. Live TV will follow TV series to the streaming services. Cable and terrestrial distribution is dead. Anyone who continues down that path is flogging a dead horse. We live in the golden age of television – never before have we seen so many quality shows from around the world. This is what will keep the broadcast media alive. The problem is, what happens to live events outside sports (sports is already finding its way to digital channels, soon there will be no cable distribution of sports), it will be 100% online. This is a challenge the outlets are grappling with.

For print and digital news media, the challenges are going to be even tougher. We’ve only seen the beginning of the “micro media” revolution. The big outlets will not just compete against each other, but with increasingly serious and professional small outlets. The rise of the not so serious outlets that appear to be serious, makes the whole thing even more complicated.

Radio is the one channel that is completely due for a makeover. The shift to DAB or other digital broadcast solutions is a dead end, only streaming will survive, but  how can live content live in that reality?

The agencies will have to tear down their structures and rebuild from ground up. Their lack of proper integration has gone too far, and I see very little hope for the agency world, unless they truly disrupt themselves. Keep celebrating creativity, but apply it to the business model also.

The answer to all these questions and challenges comes through the following steps:

1. Acceptance. The sooner we embrace disruption as a continuous force in our business, the easier it will be. To quote the great Ragnar Lothbrok from History Channels ‘Vikings’; “Don’t waste your time looking back, you’re not going that way.”

2. Create a Culture of Innovation. Allow ideas to flow freely. Listen to your audience, but don’t expect them to give you all the answers. Find out how they use technology, and constantly reinvent your business. Apply that understanding in your strategy. Let every team member contribute creativity and ideas to drive the business forward.

3. Prepare to Fail. Failure is a good thing, but only of we can learn something from it. Make sure that all failures are analysed, understood and improved on. Never make your team feel like failure will kill their career. Move on, and be better tomorrow.

4. Don’t Choose a Technology, Choose a Strategy. Technology comes and goes. Relying on specific (and often proprietary) technologies, will land you in trouble down the road. have a strategy that allows you to use the right technology at the right time, for the right audience

5. Great Content Will Always Rule. Netflix isn’t a success because they have a great distribution model, reasonable subscription plans and have embraced a wide variety of distribution platforms from phones and tablets to TVs. They are a success because they have placed their bet on great content. Sometimes that content has mass appeal, sometimes it reaches a niche. But by letting creativity rule, Netflix (together with HBO) is king of the quality content game. But they cannot rest on their laurels, Amazon and others are picking up pace.

6. Simultaneous Release is the Only Way. Now, the entertainment media industry don’t want to hear this. But global, platform-agnostic, simultaneous release is the future of video content. The film industry has had its blinders on for too long. This is really a question of life or death for the studios. And they’re already 5-8 years behind.

7. Life is live. Live entertainment and content has so far been the only reason for audiences to be tethered to their cable or aerial. This will not be the case in the future. As live events move online, media outlets have to embrace and drive the innovation in this space.

Building a Digital Transformation strategy is crucial for the survival of every media outlet. If you don’t start it today, you might as well start packing your bags. Cause the media world has seen nothing yet. So, buckle your seatbelt, you’re in for a hell of a ride. If it’s thrilling or terrifying one, is really up to you.

Erik Ingvoldstad is the Founder and CEO of Acoustic Group.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR, follow Acoustic at @AcousticGroupSG
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