Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Big Media Must Make Itself Useful

Rupert Murdoch thinks search engines are getting a 'free ride' on News Corp's content. He also sees little value in 'occasional' visitors who are attracted by a headline they see on a search engine and click through. He says so much content is freely available online because the traditional media 'have been asleep'. Clearly, he wants people to use - and pay for - each of News Corp's media properties as an activity in itself, as in "I want to read the Sun," or "I'm going to watch Fox News now" rather than as an adjunct to their every day activities. To achieve this, he proposes withholding content from the search engines.

He's not alone. Lots of newspapers seem to be planning to reintroduce subscription services online, and there's plenty of discussion about what content might attract a premium.

Of course, many businesses look at the world through their own products, rather than what people are actually doing, or would like to do. Banks, for example, offer 'personal loans' and 'mortgages' quite independently of the use of the processes involved in actually using the money they lend. As a result, people have come to see their bank as just a very basic utility, rather than an integrated part of their lives. 'News' already seems to have gone the same way.

What the media and the banks of this world don't seem to 'get' is why search engines have become so central to people's behaviour.

People don't 'read' search engines. They don't even spend much time there, compared to their destination sites. So why do search engines dominate the advertising world? Because they are key enablers or facilitators of what people are actually doing or want to do. Even if some links are sponsored, a search engine doesn't try to determine what you see or do. Unlike the 'traditional media' or banks. A search engine enables you to efficiently answer the vast number of often quite mundane questions that confront you every day - 'Where are their offices?' 'How do I get there?' 'Can I get this cheaper anywhere else?' 'How many goals has Blogs scored this season?' 'Why are Australian animals so weird?'

No matter how much different content any one provider offers, it will never answer all of everyone's critical questions. And the more it tries to corral people and dictate what they see, the less they'll trust it to give them the information they want.

So the challenge for traditional media is not whether or not they charge for their content. Instead, opportunity lies in becoming more integrated with people's actual or desired every day activities. The more integrated the media are, the greater share of the consumer value chain they might command.
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