The New Rules: A Power Shift Re-Shaping Media

(republished from the July/August 2010 issue of Broadcast Dialogue Magazine)

John Parikhal, CEO of Joint Communications and author of The Baby Boom says there’s a power shift going on that’s re-shaping the media.

As a result, old rules are being changed and new ones are being created.

The good news is that media can profit from the shift.

Five trends shaping everything are:

  1. The demographic disconnect. The demographic shift is from young to old. For the first time, Canada is now producing more older people yet agencies still focus on 25-54s. Also, the population as a whole has much greater diversity.
  2. The disappearing middle. There is nobody in the middle anymore. It is direct, and in a direct communication world it’s entirely different.
  3. The always-on culture. The power shifts from the transmitter with its intrusiveness to the receiver who has the choice of how to do things, how to use information and how to communicate.
  4. The chaos. The chaos is a shift from scarcity of advertising inventory to excess of ad units. Now there are so many different ways to reach people.
  5. The filter factor. The final shift, says Parikhal, is hugely significant. The power shift has gone from reach to engagement. It’s no longer enough to just get to people, you have to get their attention and engage them. Simply buying reach is barely relevant because of this ability to unconsciously and habitually filter out people who’re trying to sell stuff.

So what does this mean?

Boomers are lepers. No one wants to engage them. Nobody seems to do anything for boomers, despite the fact that almost 10% (approximately four million) of the Canadian population is between 55 and 64.

The disappearing middle is almost gone. In its place is the new middleman—either what Parikhal calls “atomized” or “gigantic”. An atomized middleman is one person operating as a reseller or an intermediary on the web. The gigantic middlemen are the likes of Amazon or iTunes. They’re between you and whatever the deal is.

In the always-on culture, people are connected 24/7. Speed beats accuracy. Getting it quickly is more important than getting it right. How often have we heard something to the effect of “Unconfirmed reports say that …”

People like the feeling of being connected. Parikhal’s concern is that we become increasingly sloppy thinkers as a result of the speed at which information is thrown at us. We accept things quickly and don’t check for fact. We live in a “skim and dive” world where we fulfill the “tribe need” and “my need”. We need to know what everybody else is checking out and this is a skim. And then there are people who need details; the divers. Media businesses need to decide to either serve the skimmer or diver; sometimes it’s possible to serve both but not that often.

Parikhal cautions against these two chaos elements: Cost of point and PPM. Cost of point results in commoditizing the industry or, as he says, the death of a thousand cuts. PPM is a disaster, he says, due to the small sample size. Instead of saying that “PPM is here, go with it”, it would be smarter in his opinion to either not participate or increase the sample size.

He advises that educating your advertisers is the best thing you can do. Transparency is here to stay. They want to see whether it works or not. The filter factor means that we don’t even notice advertising anymore. We have a filter for time, for attention and engagement, utility, story, and novelty.

Parikhal describes it this way: “I have a filter for novelty. It wants to be stimulated, with something new and different and it doesn’t last very long. I have a filter for utility, what’s the time, what’s the weather, does the Loonie go up or down today. I have a filter for story where certain kinds of stories really engage me and my filter keeps everything else out. I have a filter for attention and engagement.”

There are a few generational differences — boomers, busters and boomer digerati. Boomers have learned to set filters. When boomers first started watching TV and listening to the radio, commercials were well done and the environment fit, with rock stations selling stereos, top 40 selling bubble gum and Pepsi. They didn’t put up any filters. As people got older and bombarded more and more, they developed the mute button, the channel shifter, the DVR. But every time a boomer turns on a filter, it requires energy, so they usually are angry about the commercials.

Younger listeners and viewers have developed finer filters. Commercials may be blaring but are ignored until they hear something that interests them and they immediately tune into it. This begs the question: ‘Who has the power now?’ Innovators in radio and television have the power to do something about this. Companies that have really grown had innovation built into their structure.

Parikhal warns that innovation and creation should not be confused. Innovation means making changes to something that already exists by introducing new methods and ideas.

He suggests having a formal innovation plan in place to get innovation baked into the organization. Most important, the best ideas come from the bottom up and not from the top down.

Think about the consequences of people getting older. What do they want, what do they need? Consider becoming a digital middleman. Middlemen look at all the products sold, create blogs, they twitter, they provide information and get a percentage for every sale they make. Re-image your station from scratch by looking at these trends and ask yourself what should my business look like? What talent do I need? Is a digital middle man a new function?

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