The Future–of Old Media and New

I’ve been participating in a fascinating
conversation about the use of existing “old” media and the future of new media
the past two days. We (communicators) know we are caught up in an
ever-increasing pace of technological change. A new study by Pew Internet and
American Life finds that adults are using podcasting, for example, to take
information along with them. That’s a new twist–adults using iPods to listen
to information at their leisure. I say it’s new only because we’ve come to
think that the primary users of MP3s and iPods are on the youngish

New media come and go with such rapidity that it feels like I’m running to keep up, in a marathon with no end in sight.

That’s not because I’m that slow, it’s because the pace of change is that fast. It takes effort to accommodate to these media and not get caught up with them, as I once did, with the sense that they’re permanent and enduring. They’re not.

6 million U.S.
adults have listened
to podcasts since
podcasting emerged
in 2004.
Pew Internet and
American Life Project

They’re provisional, transitional and fleeting. Both technology and content.

I sat in a meeting today in Chicago and Ava, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, handed me a memo on podcasting reporting on a Pew Internet and American Life Project. Pew finds that 6 million U.S. adults have listened to podcasts since podcasting emerged in 2004. Twenty-two million adults own iPods and MP3 players. Twenty nine percent of them have downloaded content onto their players to take with them to listen at their own leisure. And here’s a kicker. None of those surveyed were under the age of 18-years-old.

It’s breath-taking for me to consider this.

Wal Mart has announced it’s following Best Buy and Circuit City and won’t stock VHS videotape any longer. The tool that I struggled to master as a delivery device is obsolete! Some of us haven’t figured out how to program our VCRs yet but videotape will be (is) an artifact of the past. How do I absorb that?

On top of that, the comment of Jim Stengel of Procter and Gamble that “there is no mass in mass media anymore,” sticks with me. Most of my professional life has been working in mass media, using these media and programming for these media. To see the changes that have occurred, and to examine how the owners and producers are adapting to the proliferation of new media today is not only instructive, it’s challenging. How do we choose media, audiences and messages?

Coming in the near term is digital radio with a multitude of additional frequencies. It will fundamentally change the existing medium by giving us many more delivery options. Then there’s digital TV. It will result in the capacity of one station to send program content down at least five separate, individual channels. That’s about two years away.

And there’s live streaming, interactive television, satellite radio, low power FM, low power TV, Internet distribution and storage, TiVo. It’s about niche audiences and tailored content. Wow! There is no mass in mass media anymore, at least not as it’s been known the past sixty years.

This morning’s USA Today carries a good overview of the move by major players in the information/entertainment industry–AOL and Yahoo, for example–to increase use of websites and keep users on their sites for longer periods of time. The longer you stay, and the more often you return, the more advertising revenue they can generate. To them, it’s a commercial medium above all.

It’s not for some of us. But even if you’re not a commercial producer, you’ve got to stay abreast of the technology. And the reality is, when it comes to attracting attention, we compete for the attention of the audience even among those faithful to the values we hold, those whom we call constituents. We must present information in accessible language, an attractive package and in an engaging and entertaining manner, with freshness and frequency. That’s a daunting challenge, but an inescapable one if you want to play in this game.

It means being multifaceted, flexible and competitive. The future is a mix of old media and new, and don’t get too attached because it won’t be long before the next new thing comes down the digital pike.

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