ANALYSIS: Old media need to learn a lesson: new media are horses to ride, not tigers to fear.


It is a myth that new technologies always wipe out old ones. What tends to happen is that the old formats change their relevance, and occupy a different niche. The horse did this with the car, as did radio after the advent of TV – as the candle does now with light bulbs. Even the terminology – candlepower and horsepower – survives.

The big news last week was the ‘victory’ of Facebook over Google – in that the new kid overtook the old in terms of hits. Figures from online magazine Hitwise show Facebook secured 7.07% of hits in the United States during the week ending March 13. The internet search giant, has fallen to second place in the rankings with a fractionally lower share of just 7.03%. But is this really a boxing match? I don’t think so.

For my money, the two services operate at the moment in different sectors: Google finds information on a macro scale, while Facebook is all about micro-gossip. (On the same model, Twitter operates between the two as macro-gossip). But what all three are up to is important for those old media marketers struggling to find an internet business model – anything, in fact, that comes anywhere near the commanding position they used to have in physical and broadcast media.

Facebook has become the big boy because (as was becoming apparent 18 months ago when its 35-54 year old segment grew at a rate of 276%) it has attracted a more mature internet user who thinks and behaves nothing like a fad-geek. Aunts and grannies are delighted to be keeping in touch with their extended families, because they bought and mastered digital cameras some years ago. And the middle-aged child-rearers and sociables have done the same, using the site like an illustrated email. But the question ‘What do we do now?’ is just as important for Facebook as it is for Google…and Twitter for that matter.

One-trick ponies don’t last on the internet. Friends Reunited was late diversifying, and is for many now a yesterday brand. Although the rational and business appeal of Google is infinitely greater than that, everyone from China to Rupert Murdoch is giving it a hard time: straight news reportage is a generic anyone can copy. Once the global penetration reaches saturation point, Big G will have to expand in other ways – not just by more intelligent searching, but also by providing a different kind of information for other usage apertures.

Facebook is going to reach a ceiling before too long. It too is getting heat about exposing users to everything from fraudulent emails to sexual deviants. And it too has structural weaknesses. While 50% of active users log on to Facebook in any given day, the average user only sends 8 friend requests a month. For advertisers, it has enormous potential: but just as Google lacks anything beyond generic onboard news, Facebook lacks frequency.

The one thing that does tie the two brands together, of course, is communication. Mobile phone and email success is based on the very same human trait – and yet is already regarded by cutting-edge web users as old hat. But mobile contact software product development has been quick to ensure it can plug into search and social. Thus, it remains highly relevant. The established offline print news providers haven’t done this – and the sector’s reaction now is to put up stockades against the web tigers.

This isn’t going to work. Not only is it extremely easy to access premium content via the use of search-engine back doors, there is no history at all (outside France) of surfers paying for use on a regular basis. From now on, the only business model that’s going to work for old media entering the internet is partnership.

According to the New York Times, industry giants Google, Intel, and Sony are teaming up on a far-reaching project called Google TV. Viewers will be able to endlessly customise and enhance their experience with third-party apps. ‘Google TV’ will take a standard telly, and add value via silicon logic and intelligent software. Such apparatus will eventually run the Chrome browser, have an app-store built-in, and have almost infinite menus of stuff to do.

In the old days, everyone talked about ‘last night’s telly’ first thing the next day in the office. Television can be innately social when there are World Cups, X-Factor finals, elections and major charity events. Social media in alliance with what used to be ‘broadcast’ can enhance events like the Oscars.

This is a two-way street of added value: TV contractors become genuinely part of the digital landscape, while Google adds a social ex-office dimension to its offer.

The internet is entering it’s next big phase – and time is running out for the news provision business. The online Huffington Post grasps this, recently attributing its growth to how ‘Facebook friendly’ it had become.

A generation is reaching puberty now with little or no memory of free-standing print media, or life when there was ‘a six o’clock news’ to be around for. My own strongly held view is that faster, more eclectic news information is producing a world of heightened event awareness, but with nowhere near enough analysis to help it understand why those things are happening.

For any company with a core business in information provision, more intelligent and profoundly considered news interpretation is an obvious way to go. Professional journalists can combine to fill this gap….and then wait to be bought out by the social networks and search engines. Or the old media need to forge mutually efficient relationships with these companies. Most likely, both things will happen. Murdoch won’t do this, because he’s a megalomaniac who may yet create his own multimedia concept. And the millions of bloggers won’t do it, because they prefer shouting to analysis. But pretty much everyone else will.