Observations from the future: B-to-b media in 2028

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Dear colleague: It is a crisp October morning in 2028—20 years into your future. Yesterday, buried in my attic, I came across an old issue of a print trade publication, and it made me reflect on the changes in our industry over the past twenty years. It must be obvious to you that the Facebook generation is in its prime, I have a few gray hairs and digital predominates in our industry. So let me share some additional observations that you may find interesting. Three-quarters of the top 25 b-to-b media companies in business in 2008 no longer exist. It's been a long time since I've heard the names of many former industry leaders. Rapid changes in the marketplace, disruptive new competitors and overreliance on print—or U.S.-based revenue—led many down the same path as Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch: consolidated or bankrupt. So, ironically, did private equity ownership. With so much debt, companies had little room to “innovate” their place in the future. Then, when asset values plummeted in the early teen years (2010-13), many were sold for pennies on the dollar. It's taken an enormous feat of leadership to survive and thrive—and in the meantime, a new class of industry leaders has emerged. Silicon Valley “platform” businesses have taken major market share. LinkedIn, for example, has become one of the most valued and feared companies in the industry. (Though it took a while for the company to think of itself as a b-to-b media company.) Likewise, Google now offers "Google News'-style portals—combining news, video, social networking and lead-generation—for all major verticals in multiple languages. Twenty years ago, most b-to-b business models centered on a specific vertical or set of verticals. This is no longer the rule. Mobile is the No. 1 distribution platform for business information globally. Looking back, I see now that 2008 was the breakthrough year for mobile information, just as 1994 was for the Internet. Apple's iPhone was only the beginning. A new class of information and marketing services has emerged that integrates Internet-based information with location, presence and payment information, as well as work-flow tools. The impact on certain fields—trucking, nursing, EMS, sales, among others—has been remarkable. Numbers people increasingly rule marketing. Many advertisers now use data mining, stochastic modeling and dynamic asset management to achieve the “efficient frontier” of their ad spend. Carnegie Mellon, Kellogg and other business schools offer master's degrees in computational marketing. (I should have studied more math!) In most ad-supported companies, editorial now reports to an “audience” department. This is because content and audience development teams share the same fundamental mission: to attract and engage the target audience. And the success of content—whether original, syndicated, aggregated or mashed-up—is much more quantifiable than it used to be. Once again, numbers rule, even among editors. B-to-b video is everywhere. Remember CNBC? Now there are CNBC-like shows covering every major industry. When I can't make it to a trade show, I watch the sessions live on my mobile device or record them on my DVR, which syndicates across my mobile, desktop and TV. Many editors actively stream their interviews and media briefings. Business is booming in the E7. The GDP of the E7 (Brazil, Russia, India, China, Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey) is both larger and faster-growing than that of the G7. So it's no surprise that growth in our industry has shifted to these countries. Eight out of 10 of the largest b-to-b media companies are now headquartered outside the U.S. China and India will soon be the largest markets for b-to-b media. Along with the bullets above, you'd be intrigued by some of the new business models we have here in the future, such as activity feeds, virtual events, mash-up studios, bioinformatics and workflow integration. I'd love to discuss other changes in our industry, but I am running out of space. Let me conclude by noting one thing that hasn't changed since 2008: Talent and leadership still matter. If anything, they matter more. So now's a good time to start thinking about the road ahead, because the next 20 years are going to be as rocky as they are exciting. Are you prepared? Jeff Giesea is president of Questex subsidiary FierceMarkets. He can be reached at [email protected]
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