Agency is the future of Media

There is much discussion and hand-wringing about the future of media. As one of the center of traditional media, New York is feeling the impact, with a lot of the talk at parties being about what might happen next. Meanwhile, at technology conferences, there is much discussion about how some of the new technologies may or may not represent new media. I would contend that agency, or the ability to create content on behalf of brands may be the future of media.

Traditional Media Model

In the United States, it appears media companies are following three different models: advertising supported (broadcast TV, for example), directly paid (first-run movies) or funded by alternate means (eg. merchandising concepts).

The established models are currently feeling pressures created by the rise of digital media. Advertising supported models, for example, have traditionally relied on high levels of inefficiency, allowing for high priced productions to be paid for by advertising. With the rise of online advertising, some of those inefficiencies were highlighted and advertisers have started to put some pressures on the advertising prices around traditional media.

Meanwhile, directly paid media is starting to suffer as an explosion of cheaply produced content hosted on the likes of youtube is now competing for viewers’ attention. When coupled with the fact that some corporations have tried to compensate from the lower audiences by increasing the per unit price of a seat (whether it is a theater seat, with Broadway first run shows now often getting $100 per ticket or movies, which are edging closer to $20 per seat), the level of attendance at paid media events seems to be decreasing.

Merchandising still seems to succeed pretty well, with media content now being created around toys (eg. Transformers) or web sites (eg. the upcoming Onion movie).

The New Media World

Meanwhile, around the tech industry, there seems to be a growing consensus that media models will focus around product, people, or platforms.

Some people feel that customers may continue to flock to established brand, because of a certain recognition of qualities associated with that brand. They view the product as key to the potential future of media and look to the establishment of new brands as the key to success in the long run.

Others look to the future of media as being predicated on adopting a model that includes a wider group of people. Whether it is blogs, twitter, or other consumer-generated media, this camp looks to the lower production and distribution costs associated with such model as the saviors of the media industry.

Another group looks to the platform model, providing tools that enables people to create and distribute media without being involved in any of the editing or selection. People look to the creation of platforms that can work for distributing media across multiple channels and provide an accelerated rate of turn-over in terms of the type of media pieces being distributed. So basically, platforms are a basis for merchandising cross-sell deals.

The Agency Model

With merchandising platforms being the only arena on which traditional and new media seem to agree, there may be a chance that the agency model, where companies are producing content on behalf of brands, are the future of media.

For example, one of the biggest success in online media this summer was the product of an advertising agency: Wieden and Kennedy produced a very successful ad campaign for Old Spice, a deodorant company, that took the online world by storm earlier this summer.

A couple of years ago, Cripin, Porter, Bogusky launched subservient chicken, another ad campaign that was well received online.

In both cases, the agencies have done a great job creating characters around brands. The chicken was supporting a Burger King; the old spice guy is ultimately pushing deodorant.  In each case, they can be considered traditional ads but the addition of characters means that they could build media-like developments around the characters. And I suspect it’s only a question of time before some characters created for ads start showing up in TV shows or movies.

What has gotten me thinking that the model for the future of media may be in following the path set by advertising agencies is that, increasingly, when one asks a new media person about their business model, they focus on how they work with marketers to reach out to audiences.

The internet is equalizing access not only for people but also for brands. As a results, brands are now creating their own form of media goods to cut through the clutter and no longer need to attach themselves to any other form of media. A clever ad can stand on its own as a media good or a clever storyline can receive a sudle influence from a particular product.

In a world where media is increasingly dolled out in more of a bite sized form, ads are competing for airtime with other forms of content. The future of media companies, as a result, is to figure out a way to help those brands break through the noise and, as a result media companies may increasingly find themselves at odds with the advertising agencies they traditionally saw as equal partners.

The question remains as to what will happen to subsidized media and journalism in such a context. Will it continue to exist of will those forms of media completely disappear? Online time will tell.

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