Outlook 2006: Navigating the Media Waters With Feedroom's Bart Feder

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Interactive technology is upending traditional business models in the media in a manner like never before. Broadcast television threatened radio in the 1940s. The favor was returned with cable's arrival in the 1970s. But all three media channels survived and even thrived along with print, billboards and mail. However, their viability is at stake, particularly if they continue to rely on current distribution, advertising, subscription and content models.


Bart Feder is president/CEO of The Feedroom, a broadband video communications company. A former news director at New York's WABC-TV, he now helps clients like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., General Motors Corp., NBC Universal, Reuters and USA Today negotiate the emerging broadband environment. DM News executive editor Mickey Alam Khan talked with Feder about how user-friendly technology is helping consumers reinvent the new media landscape.


MAK Are we turning another corner in terms of technology? Is multiplatform broadband video going to do to TV what the Internet did to print in the 1990s?


BF The fundamental change is that we should no longer be "producing television." Filmmakers don't produce theaters and columnists don't produce newspapers. A TV is just another device for consuming content, as is a PC, iPod, cell phone, PDA, etc. It's all content. The key is to reach the target audience with the content on the appropriate device and with a business model that makes sense.


MAK What's the promise of broadband video?


BF Video has proven to be the most powerful communications medium in history, and what broadband does is let every company, in effect, be a media company.


MAK What is the new media landscape going to look like in 2006 and the rest of the decade?


BF Large media companies will continue to shift repurposed and original programming to the Web and other platforms in an effort to recapture the audience that's left traditional broadcast. Broadband channels will pop up left and right as those companies pursue the cable bypass model and reach their target audience directly without having to go through the multiple systems operators, thereby reducing risk and cost. While the technology will continue to evolve at a dizzying pace, the fundamental approach will be the same: Create compelling content and deliver it to the target audience on the appropriate device wrapped in a great business model, the last being the most challenging.


MAK What is propelling this rapid shift?


BF Money. Marketers are desperate to reach the younger, affluent demographic that is fragmented and moving away from traditional broadcast television in droves. We're all creating our own personal media universe, and the number of opportunities to reach viewers as part of a mass audience - as in the Super Bowl or the Oscars - is dwindling. This creates a greater challenge for marketers and programmers, but it's a challenge that is offset by the ability with digital media to target, engage and report on the audience in a way that traditional media does not.


MAK If viewers are running away from clearer-reception television and clutter-free newspapers, what makes you think that they will eventually like Web-based video delivery with poorer resolution and more ad clutter on smaller screens? One can argue that while consumers now like being in control, they're also running away from advertising. TiVo is proof of that.


BF The onus is on advertisers to be creative and to understand the media. I agree that forcing viewers to watch a 30-second TV commercial as a pre-roll ahead of a 60-second online video content will not work. We've found that 10- and 15-second pre-rolls create a much better experience and don't alienate viewers, especially if the advertising is targeted to the demographic and offers value to the viewer.


MK Have print publishers and TV broadcasters fully grasped the threat to their traditional ad models?


BF Absolutely, which is why every major media company has formed a digital media division so they can point to double-digit growth in a segment of their business as traditional media matures and declines. One of our clients, The New York Times, announced a few months ago that they were merging their online and print newsrooms, recognizing that the way their readers consume information will continue to evolve and that the way they gather, report and publish their content needs to evolve at the same time. In that same announcement, their executive editor Bill Keller said, "We have a burgeoning video unit that is eager to be a larger presence on the Web site at a time when most users of nytimes.com have graduated to the kind of high-speed delivery that makes video appealing."


MK Ad agencies previously took the lead in introducing advertisers to new marketing-friendly platforms. Are they co-opting the new content-delivery models and or are they resisting?


BF Every major agency now has an interactive group, but digital media is not their core expertise and keeping up with rapid change is hard for agencies that have been used to being in the driver's seat. It's where a company like ours comes in. By providing digital technology and services on an outsourced basis, our clients and their agencies can stay ahead of the curve without investing resources, personnel and capital into something that's not necessarily core and strategic to their business.


MK The birth of each new content platform - e-mail, search, wikis, podcasting, video, RSS, you name it - lowers the cost of marketing on them. In essence, running an audio or video ad via any one of those channels is far cheaper than an ad in a print publication or on TV. With reduced revenue, how can you expect content producers to generate quality content?


BF It's a critical question. One answer is obviously the "long tail," which allows for niche content to have increased value because the audience is targeted, passionate, loyal and potentially willing to pay directly for the content. The other is cost of production, which because of technology is itself going down. As an example, we create original quality content for our corporate customers at a fraction of the cost they've traditionally paid because we understand short-form Web content and how to produce that effectively and efficiently.


MK So the content world wouldn't be reduced to blogs and online reality content? After all, that's consumer-controlled and consumer-generated matter.


BF Not at all. In a democratized media universe, quality actually wins. Something that's truly interesting and original will be virally marketed around the world in hours. Look at the JibJab brothers, who created "This Land Is Your Land." It


was viewed by millions of people and ended up getting them a distribution deal with Yahoo. Independent film and documentary makers will be able to find their audience or have their audience find them without having to use traditional distribution channels.


MK What's the future of TV, radio, magazines and newspapers, as we know them today?


BF People will continue to watch, listen and read - for information and entertainment - as they always have. The devices will change. Advertising will still be the main means of support. Over the centuries, people like Gutenberg, Marconi and Farnsworth invented the means of distribution, allowing the masses to consume and for the one to reach the many.


Now we have the many reaching the many instantaneously, like MySpace.com. There's a certain chaos that's likely to ensue for a few years, which will be followed by a period of consolidation.


MK The consumer is in control. That's what everyone says, from marketers to suppliers to content producers. But without meaning to demean consumers, the position that the consumer is in control implies that we're soon about to live under the rule of the mobs.


BF That's where the gatekeepers come in to help each person organize his or her personal media universe and give them access to trusted, quality content. The battle among the potential gatekeepers - Google? MSN? Yahoo? TimeWarner? Comcast? Verizon? at&t? Apple? - will be the fascinating fight to watch.


MK Sure, everyone's struggling to be the gatekeeper to the consumer experience online, including Google and Yahoo and AOL. Now some of them are going into businesses that traditionally were the province of their suppliers: analysis, news, content generation and so on. Isn't this churn unsettling not just to consumers but also advertisers?


BF Part of the problem is that we're still applying old advertising models to new media experiences. This is going to take awhile to sort out, but in the end the consumer will dictate what that experience should be. That's why we have pop-up blockers.


Reach Bart Feder at bfeder@feedroom.com


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