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Financial Times Digital Media and Broadcast Conference - A Changing Landscape

Senior media and communications executives met in London this week for the 2010 FT Digital Media and Broadcast conference (#ftmedia10).  At the heart of the debate were the questions of how the sectors were emerging from the global recession and the impact of online and social media on the creative industry and its revenues. WPP Group Chief Executive Sir Martin Sorrell launched the opening salvo by questioning companies that, from an advertising perspective, were being over-optimistic about social media.  Sir Martin described social media as a phenomenon that was “personal” and therefore “not suited to being invaded by adverts.”  He was right.  This phenomenon is personal and it works because it’s based on conversational marketing that’s more suited to public relations than advertising.

Answering a question that I put to him about if he agreed with Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comment that privacy was no longer a ‘social norm,’ Sir Martin said that “privacy was still the norm” and that this was one point with which he disagreed with Mark on.  “People are still concerned by it and the invasion of it,” Sir Martin added.  We should remember that privacy is individuality.

This opening day coincided with one of the speakers’ key policy announcements.  Mark Thompson, the BBC’s Director General, had been forced to bring forward by a week the results of the much-anticipated strategic review into the corporation.  Thompson outlined to the conference the plans that he was putting forward for consultation.

I was thankful that while we were in a panel discussion on ‘The Future Of News,’ before Thompson arrived, friends at the BBC tweeted me to let me know that Mark was first on Five Live and then on the BBC News Channel.  I also received a link to the following blog by Pete Ashton, which in my view nailed it with regards to what Thompson is aiming for.

While Strategic Review is aiming to slim down the BBC, detractors will keep giving it flak to avoid commentators questioning why their own companies are not performing as well as they should be.  A contact at the BBC tweeted me a private message that stated the obvious, "Part of the fun is that the BBC will always get flak for whatever it does from someone." Pete Ashton’s blog post said it well by highlighting how the “BBC spent a decade or more figuring it out and, surprise, they’ve kinda successful at this digital / internet game.”  And that is why I applaud the BBC.

So the Auntie is going on a self-imposed diet and will be focusing on: 1) best journalism in the world, 2) Inspiring content that brings knowledge, music and culture to life, 3) Ambitious UK drama and comedy, 4) Outstanding children's content, and 5) Events that bring communities and the nation together.  These sound like the corporation’s key strengths, but will the cutbacks satisfy its critics?  Will it hell.  But here is the problem, apart from the reaction to the BBC’s own 6 Music DAB station – which is wrong (#saveBBC6music), a slimmed down Auntie will emerge stronger, tougher and more focused on delivering great content.

In fact, in his speech, Thompson stated without any ambiguity, “one day, the web may be the principle platform for all the BBC's services.”  Ten years ago the BBC went online.  Today, commercial news outlets are still trying to see how to make online work for an audience that is reluctant to pay.

Before Mark Thompson’s arrival New York Times Chairman and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr, Financial Times CEO John Ridding and Google’s MD Matt Brittin had been discussing the future of news.  All the talk in the lead up to the conference had been about paywalls, would they or wouldn’t they work?

Ridding confirmed that readers were willing to pay for content by stating that the FT had “40 per cent year on year growth” with regards to subscriptions, while Brittin said that “British content [journalism] had a reputation for quality.”  But of course Brittin represented the outcast of the industry after Rupert Murdoch threatened to pull News International content out of Google’s News and it’s search.  Of course Brittin was well armed and highlighted that the search mammoth “send over 4 billion hits a month to publishers websites,” a fact that news publishers cannot ignore.

The Apple iPad was also talked about with comments from the panel about it’s potential for generating revenue.  The FT’s Ridding noted a word of caution by highlighting the risks of subscription fatigue amongst readers.

At this point you start to see what I’d noted for some time, how the media landscape was changing and how the various communications sectors were battling for survival.  Convergence is the word that sprang to mind.

For production companies it is about maximising revenues that can be reinvested elsewhere.  Yes, broadcasters are shop window from which historically they have made money, but with this stream’s drying up forcing many producers to become creative and look to use social media and other networking tools to make money.

Producers such as Endemol know that in today’s multi-platform world the audience is no longer just on television, and they are not just a viewer.  Thanks to user-generated-content and the various online tools people today are producers, promoters and marketers.  A point that is also relevant to the audiences that PRs and journalists are working to engage and influence.

The conference set out a world that is very different to that of a few back.  Consumers are more demanding and want content on the go.  They also want to be able to communicate and share, both opinion and content.  Social media is having a profound effect on how companies interact with consumers, how newspapers and media outlets get stories and how the customer is served.

Today, we live in a world where the audience wants ‘quality’ content that is either “free or cheap” and, as VivaKi’s Rishad Tobaccowala said, “the half life of data is minutes” as everything becomes “real-time”.

So there, go figure how to crack this one and bring the audience onside.  What I do know is that as a PR we need to learn quickly how to navigate this changing media landscape.

Technology and the rise of 'real-time public relations'

#newsrw: how is journalism developing?