Cheap advertising is really what is killing old-model media businesses not “free content on the Internet” as so many claim. Media maven Michael Wolff understands that the best way to track the industry is to follow the money.
“Advertising Is Dead, It's Not Coming Back...” was the subject line in an email from Linked -in Pulse that pulled me into the Wolff pack. “Ya and pigs fly,” I thought as I (predictably) took the bait. What I found was Wolff’s more innocuously titled but powerful article: The End of Advertising As We Know It.
Wolff been everywhere recently, feeding click bait and sound bites to hungry reporters and commentators. He has made himself
into a big story because he is flogging his new book Television Is the New Television. I haven’t read the book but I am sure we are not hearing Wolff’s last howl – he wants to be known for more than his nasty bite.
His point is, if you want to understand media, look at who is making money. We know print profits are plummeting. We are learning that online outlets don’t come close to print predecessors as businesses for the most part, despite the huge growth in audiences. TV is the media sector that has most successfully adapted to new technology, according to Wolff. TV outlets have kept control of their content and shifted significantly away from advertising to viewer funded revenue streams, he explains.
Google quickly lead me to a wealth of Wolffisms, my favorite of which was the admonition in a New York Times Magazine interview I'd previous read in print (actually the interviewers distillation of Wolff’s thoughts) to always think of
“What would Roger Ailes Do?”
In another NYT piece, he credits James Murdock (Rupert’s son and heir apparent) with prompting an epiphany by bluntly responding to him in an interview,
“You must be incredibly stupid. Look around you, man. It’s television!”
However,if advertising died today, it would be reborn tomorrow. Wolff's idea that image advertising, is dying with the business models it once supported strikes me as far-fetched. Image advertising works too well for marketers just to give it up. If we now lack effective media to carry it, advertising and media innovators have even greater incentive to create new platforms that perform for brand advertising.
Wolff’s sharpest point is that current transactional online advertising is a low value, low margin commodity that cannot support “quality journalism” in the way that advertising once supported old media content. Simply substituting online for print or TV as a medium doesn’t seem to work as a civic news model. The current content is too weak and too easy to come by to capture the audience required.
The key to creating a viable source of civic information, as I see it, is bundling enough value into the platform to make it earn its keep. It is not simply a matter of dollars and cents. Politics is part of the puzzle. Media is in the belief business.
People don’t just buy based on their beliefs, they fight and die and vote and advocate according to what they believe to be true and valuable. To understand the elements of a new civic news platform we should ask not only “What would Roger Ailes do?” but also “What has Roger Ailes already done?” We should follow Wolff's lead to look closely at Fox.