Future of media debated at McGraw-Hill summit

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Publishers and editors don't know how media will be consumed and paid for in the future, but they're willing to engage in a good fight to figure it out. That was the overarching theme at the McGraw-Hill Media Summit held last month in New York. In particular, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker, in a question-and-answer session kicking off the two-day event, admitted that monetizing programming in a digital world is an elusive challenge. “We're in show business, and the show is important and the business is important,” Zucker said. “And I think it was easier to be in the show when the business was easier.” Zucker indicated that the coming upfront market, a period when advertisers commit their budgets to the fall TV season, will be slow for NBC's regular TV fare, which will include five fewer hours of scripted programming next fall when talk-show host Jay Leno is moved to a 10 p.m. slot. “There's a lot of paralysis on the part of advertisers,” he said, but added, “I expect the cable upfront to be very strong.” He cited in particular the company's CNBC, MSNBC and USA properties as having good financial prospects. Zucker said new models—he cited as an example the video-streaming Web site Hulu, a joint venture between NBC Universal and News Corp.—must be explored by publishers today. “We're not interested in just hanging onto the old model; and so we are in periods of experimentation, and we are trying things,” he said. “We're not afraid to try things and then stop them: No risk, no reward.” The call for a change in mindset and marketing practices was equally urgent from digital vendors and agencies. “Marketers have to get over themselves and their fears about their place in the message,” said Richard Jalichandra, CEO of blog search engine company Technorati, in a workshop on social media. Advertisers, he said, “have to go where the audience is, whether they're engaging in the conversation or appearing beside it” in an advertisement. Darcy Lorincz, CEO of online video service provider Origin Digital, agreed, noting that targeting and segmentation may be getting easier than ever before. “The new thing is, people are self-identifying across the different screens,” Lorincz said. “The full funnel is now a reality and one of the most exciting developments today.” The panelists in this session cautioned, however, that achieving scale by aggregating the various niches is a continuing challenge for advertisers. One of the most compelling sessions featured a panel of prominent media chiefs and journalists, who puzzled over the ways cultural changes are altering how people consume content and the challenges in figuring out ways to charge for it. “There is an audience crisis,” said Dick Meyer, National Public Radio editorial director for digital media. “News might not be valued in this country as it once was.” Meyer noted that even among online consumers of NPR content, the commentary typically becomes an interchange among viewers and not anything pertaining to the article. And yet the media arena is ripe for innovation, said Kevin Yen, director-strategic partnerships at Google's “The direct line between your idea and the Web has never been shorter or quicker,” Yen said. “You can test for free, and vet your ideas and experiment. These are tough times to tackle, but it's also a great time to put your ideas to the test.” M
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