A fascinating prediction about the future of media

In iMedia Connection, Adam Broitman boldly predicts the death of offline media. His skillful headline almost – but not quite – predicts that it will happen in 2010.

Ignore that; that’s just headline-writing 101 – making the message immediately relevant. 2010 will inevitably bring more bad news for old-line media. But it will still be very much alive by the end of 2010.

But Broitman makes a great point, and I think he’s dead on.

His point is that online media will continue to supplant what he calls offline media (and what I, anachronistically perhaps, refer to as traditional media) at ever-increasing speed.

He gives two examples why (he claims there are three, but only two clearly jumped out at me from the column):

  1. The skill and frequency with which offline media are using the web and social media – moving from passive entertainment/information to true interaction.
  2. Applications being developed that shift the notion of information and search from keywords you type into a box on the web to something more contextual: information that comes to you because you ask a question out loud, or because you point a camera phone at an object.

There’s another irony; while media is becoming more active, search is becoming more passive. When selling print advertising, I made the point that consumers use print and online differently. Print was for grazing – looking for things you didn’t know to think about; online was for finding information you knew you wanted. Those purposes are merging. If Marshall McLuhan were still around, he’d have to rewrite Understanding the Media as TV becomes “hot” and Google becomes “cool.”

Too often, media allow themselves to be steered by past experience – their own and that of consumers.

For instance, all sorts of new studies proclaim to know whether people will pay for online content. How do they know? They ask.

But they ask things like: “Would you pay for this newspaper online.” The answer to that isn’t helpful; a newspaper isn’t built for online consumption – and the prospect of reading it online is unappealing. So people will say no.

People who answer such surveys haven’t generally put thought into what they would pay for online. They’ll just know it when they see it. Which means that it’s the job of the media to figure out its own future; the audience isn’t going to be much help.

So the real point that I take from Broitman’s column is one that’s essentially unspoken: offline media will continue to decline because of the relentless growth in online offerings that will be worthy buying.

The unresolved question is how many of these offerings will be created by startups vs. the existing “offline” media.

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