Explore media trends that repeat themselves over time so that you can understand past cycles and predict future outcomes. Special guests are Dr. Christopher Sterling, Professor of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University and Dr. Miriam Smith, Associate professor of media management and law San Francisco State University.
• Definition of media
• Time from invention to adoption
— Printing press: 270 years
— Radio: 70 years
— TV: 20 years
— Internet based media
• Future of media
We hope that you join us regularly on New Media Currents to keep up-to-date and learn about new strategies and how they can be applied to survive and thrive in today’s media driven society.
The first episode of New Media Currents is in documentary format. Special guests are Dr. Christopher Sterling, Professor of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University and Dr. Mirium Smith, Associate professor of media management and law San Francisco State University. Future episodes will use interview format.
Welcome to New Media Currents, I’m your host John Houghton. On this program we consider media trends, and how businesses can take advantage of the latest developments in Media.
Sterling: In the last 10 years the audience for prime time network TV has dropped by half. It is still a huge audience, it is still perhaps the largest single audience, particularly for very popular programs, but now people are watching cable, their listening to their own DVDs. They’re on the web, they’re using the internet, they’re using computers, there’s so many things people can be doing now.
Traditional media such as TV, Radio, Magazines and Newspapers are becoming less effective at reaching consumers and are being displaced by newer media such as the internet, video on demand, podcasting, blogging, and video games. The pace of media innovation is continuing to increase as the time it takes for an idea to move from inception to adoption has never been more rapid and promises to quicken even further from today’s pace.
To be successful with a new medium or any new technology it is vitally important to understand its history and context. Many people go ahead with new technologies and fail because they lack the history and context to understand the basic trends that repeat themselves through time. In this first episode we will review the history of major media trends, which will give you insight into identifying future trends and their subsequent social impact. With this information you will be able to glean insights on how to position your company to take advantage of the opportunities with new media in this marketplace.
Chris Sterling, Professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University offers this definition of media.
Sterling: It is some intervening piece of technology in between two people communicating. A mass medium is one entity or one place communicating to a lot of people or places at a time.
For many, printing was the first form of mass media. Johannes Gutenberg is considered the inventor of western printing in 1450 with the movable type press but it wasn’t until hundreds of years later that it’s impact on society was felt. Dr. Miriam Smith, Associate Professor of Media Management and Law San Francisco State University says the impact of new technology isn’t always immediately apparent:
Smith: When you look at the printing press, the movable type, and it was developed back in what the fourteen hundreds, but we don’t have a lot of the social revolutions until even the 1800s. So centuries went by before people really realized the implications.
The distribution of the printed word had far reaching effects on society. Before printing, the common person in society was relatively powerless, because they didn’t have access to information. Frequently, when something is done better, faster or cheaper, society moves forward. By distributing information quickly, widely and inexpensively, the press served as a catalyst for unprecedented innovation and social change. The reformation of the church, the renaissance, scientific advancement, and discovery of the new world, were all expedited by the printing press.
Sterling: Absolutely, printing had a huge impact on society, Guttenberg is the man who is usually credited from the western Europe, Over let’s say the next 100 to 150 years, the printing press had an amazing impact because of several things happening at the same time, the reformation, meaning the fight against the established Catholic Church. Sort of the rise of Protestantism of northern Europe was speed greatly because of the press.
It was speeded simply that more people could find out about what was going on whether were talking about the reformation or talking about other things. More people could find out faster and more cheaply because the printing press made it possible to make multiple copies, for example, Martin Luther’s famous theses, his argument with the Catholic Church, he pounded on the door of the cathedral was widely reported and made available, such that what he did in one town had a huge and almost immediate impact in many other towns. And without the printing press it would have taken far longer. It also had an impact on the discovery of the new world. With people finding out what was going on. It had a dramatic impact on the speed with which science and scientific discoveries were passes on to society. People found out much more rapidly than had been the case before the press.
With information moving more quickly through society, social change continued to progress until the advent of the what many consider to be the first mass medium, the penny press in 1830, which came 280 years after the invention of the movable type press. Newspapers previously had small distributions, were expensive, and mainly reported news, which many considered uninteresting. A man named Benjamin Day capitalized on a revolutionary idea for a new paper.
Sterling: The real definition of mass media or modern mass media starts around 1830 with what’s called the development of the penny press in NY. Which were newspapers that only cost a penny. Newspapers up to that cost 5 or 10 cents which in 1830 was serious money. They were filled with news that was about politics or government. Serious stuff, and boring as tears to most people. A man named Benjamin Day started a newspaper called the New York Sun, I think it was 1833, and it not only cost a penny, and therefore was more available to a broad variety of people, it’s what he put into the paper than made a difference. He was purposely trying to communicate to as broad an audience as possible. He had human interest news, he had sports news which had never been covered before and maybe best of all for some readers he had scandal and that will always work.
After printing, the next big change in media was the invention of Radio. Just as the evolution of printing has parallels to the evolution of the web, some say that the evolution of podcasting has many parallels to the evolution of radio.
In 1856, James Clark Maxwell proved the existence of radio waves which was one of the first steps that lead to the invention of the radio; however, it wasn’t until the 1920s that the technology became widely adopted. In this case, the time from discovery to adoption has shortened to about 70 years. Radio gained over newsprint, because distribution of news to rural areas could now be immediate. Marconi often gets credit for the invention of radio, but he actually pulled together the inventions of several others, including James Clark Maxwell.
As is the case with many discoveries, it takes time and opportunity to find the best application for a new technology. Many promising ideas and technologies are discovered and lie in wait for an application. This was also true with radio, where people at first didn’t see much use for wireless communication until one of the largest disasters of the twentieth century.
Smith: One of the big events in the history of radio was the sinking of the titanic. It happened in 1912 and it demonstrated the power of radio. All of a sudden, here was this technology that was useful in finding out who many have survived that disaster.
As radio began to prove it’s worth, it moved from broadcasting Morse Code to carrying speech and music. The first radios in the early 1920s were very expensive, in today’s dollars, costing about the same as a big screen TV. Some hobbyists were able to get around this cost by building their own radios and the first radios worked only on batteries, and required the listener to wear uncomfortable headphones.
There are many close parallels when comparing the early audience of radio to the early audience of podcasting.
Sterling: As it does for most media, the early audience, well for most technologies, the early audience was male, first of all, in the very beginning, it tended to be a more prosperous male, because to buy a ready made radio would in 1922 cost you a hundred dollars, you’ve got to multiply that by at least 10 for today’s monetary values. That cut off lots of people right away. If you made your own radio, you could do it a lot less expensively. So you start with a male audience primarily. You start with a radio hobbyist audience interested in the technology. Ham operators, short wave folks were then the most interested and most important radio people. Women become interested, women are involved in the history of radio all the way through, but they become more involved by the mid 20s as it gets a little easier to deal with the equipment. So it was primarily a large city thing and it was most particular to younger guys.
In 1927 to 1928 a number of things happened to speed the adoption of radio. National networks were formed and connections between stations were made via phone wire; the notion of a program with a beginning middle and end was born; advertising on programs began to be accepted, and the technology became easier to use:
Sterling: The audience was hugely helped in growing and becoming wider and many more women interested in radio than had been at the beginning. Because by 1928 you could go out and by a radio that you would take home and plug in and turn it on and you listen through a speaker. You didn’t have to have headphones. You didn’t have to deal with batteries, you didn’t have to deal with the technology. It became a piece of household furniture.
Radio was the dominant medium from the 1920s until after WW2. People owned them, crowded around them in their living rooms, in restaurants, public places, and relied on radio as a primary source of news and entertainment. Radio started as a news delivery medium, but evolved to become primarily an entertainment medium.
A common theme in the evolution of media is when a new medium evolves, the incumbent medium is threatened.
Sterling: Print was scared of radio. Print and Hollywood, the motion picture business, both looked at radio first as a fad, that it probably wouldn’t last and who cared. There was something called the newspaper radio war in the 1930s. Nobody got shot but the newspapers then controlled the distribution of news in this country. They controlled the Associated Press. And the other news agencies, there were then several. They called a meeting that included the then relatively new radio networks, they were only about five years old. They essentially handed down the law. They said if you want to use any of these standard sources of news, you are now going to be limited. You will be limited to one newscast maybe at nine in the morning then another one at nine at night, they can only be five minutes long, they can’t be advertiser supported, they can only give a line or two about the story and then follow up and say see your local newspaper for further details. There were other things, some newspapers stopped printing radio schedules, because they were promoting a competing media.
After radio, the next big change came with Television. The first television broadcast was made by Charles Francis Jenkins in 1925, and companies that had made fortunes in radio were preparing for the commercial success of television that was to come in the late 1940s. The first televisions were not electronic but mechanical.
Sterling: Television starts with a mechanical system, totally unlike television that we know today. Literally, they had mechanically moving parts that helped create a very crude picture. A picture that was 10% as good as the kinds of pictures we know and see today.
By the 1930s commercial TV began broadcasting in the US, and in November 1936 the BBC was the first to put regular programming on the air. The US followed in 1941 and color TV started to become available by the mid to late 1940s. Television became very popular, so much so that it almost killed radio by the early 1950s.
Sterling: The radio networks began to lose listeners, they began to lose advertisers, by 1952-1953, the radio networks almost didn’t exist any more.
Radio was saved by rock and roll and people’s desire to listen to music while in their car. It has survived as a substantial, although less powerful medium to television.
It took until the early 1950s before television was considered adopted, which is almost 30 years from invention to adoption. Prime time viewership dominated the media well into the 1980s until the coming of the cable networks, which offered more programming and spread the audience across many more segments thereby reducing the power of the networks.
Sterling: In the last 10 years, or the last 12 years, the audience for prime time network TV has dropped by half. It is still a huge audience, it is still perhaps the largest single audience, particularly for very popular programs.
Despite the decline of network TV, as the population is growing, so is the generalized television audience.
Sterling: The TV audience is growing as are other media. The TV audience generally speaking is older than audience for many other media. The newer services tend to be adopted first by younger people. This is the typical pattern that dates back at least to the days of radio. So the newest services are adopted by young people, older people tend to stay with the older ones.
An issue that is becoming increasingly problematic for national brands is audience fragmentation and is caused by the many media choices that are available since the internet has come into play.
Sterling: Now people are watching cable, their listening to their own DVDs. They’re on the web, they’re using the internet, they’re using computers, there’s so many things people can be doing now other than simply sitting and watching broadcast network TV.
With competition from new media and specifically the internet, young audiences are turning away from traditional media. According to the audit bureau of circulations latest survey of over 700 US newspapers, newspaper circulation is falling as much as 2.6% per year. With it’s concentration of technical consumers, San Francisco and silicon valley areas are considered bellwethers for such change, and the San Francisco Chronicle is seeing subscription drop-offs as high as 17% per year.
Smith: It will be interesting to see if you know print does survive ultimately, because you know the latest figures are that circulation is down by double digits and it’s been declining for years and their losing, newspapers are losing massive amounts of money to internet sites where you can list things to buy and sell. Their losing all of their advertising millions of dollars in this market alone to Craig’s List.
Craig’s List is a classified advertising network in the US.
The time from idea inception to adoption for each form of media has become shorter. Western printing took a few hundred years, radio 70, television 20, and the world wide web can introduce media that can be adopted in a matter of months; therefore, change hat used to take hundreds of years, now takes months, leaving many scrambling to keep up. Those who don’t keep up pay the price of being left behind.
The changes upon us today are staggering and future social impact is hard to predict. To see what tomorrow’s consumer will be like, we have only to look at our young and teenagers today are notorious for not reading magazines or newspapers, instead preferring to get their news online or from blogs. They listen to the radio less and less in favor of portable devices such as the iPod or MP3 players. And finally, they watch less TV and the TV that is consumed is consumed on their own time schedule without advertising, because of Tivo-like devices that allow consumers to forward through ads.
Gone are the days when an advertiser could quickly establish a national brand by running 30 second spots during prime time TV. As more and more media choices have become available audience fragmentation has taken hold. This trend started with the expansion of the number of TV channels and now with satellite radio, cable expansion, the dish network, video on demand, blogging, Podcasting, and videocasting consumers can even further refine their interests. As the audience fragments, mass marketing techniques become less effective and new strategies need to be adopted.
We hope that you join us regularly on New Media Currents to keep up-to-date and learn about new strategies and h-ow they can be applied to survive and thrive in today’s media driven society.
Music by John Houghton and used by permission. Podcast produced by MobileCast Media.