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Modern (Sigh) Media Maturity


You are a Medium. You are a Mature Medium. It took you decades to get where you are. You have the corporate version of middle-age spread. But you do one thing very well, or at least well enough.

Once this was enough to deliver a steady, satisfying profit stream far into the future. But today your customers have other options. The younger ones don't recognize your charms. (How could they overlook you? You are a Mature Medium.) Your advertisers are all atwitter about Yahoo! () and Google () and on-demand. You were once in demand, you recall sourly. You now know this isn't the same thing.

The wrinkles on your forehead dig in deeper. You are not used to losing control.

Your mood darkens further when you hear what some former members of your fraternity now say. Jeff Jarvis used to run the online arm of Advance Newspapers, a 25-paper chain that publishes dailies in Cleveland and New Orleans. (Newspapers. Now there's a Mature Medium.) He quit to dream up new ventures and run his blog. Now he says things like: "Since Gutenberg, the media industry has been based on control. The Net blows that up." The issue: Traditional media's "old structure is not built for it."

Neither are you, you think. A lack of control is bad for a Mature Medium.

Right?

AT YOUR DESK, YOUR MIND WANDERS. You catch sight of your car gleaming in the parking lot. Automobiles: a Mature Industry. One that for decades shoveled dollars by the hundredweight toward you, the Mature Medium.

Your sales reps tell you that Suzuki Motor () is advertising on a site called Autoblog.com. It's buying ads there that allow Web surfers to comment on these ads and the vehicles they're promoting. Sure enough, this means some ultra-snide comments get posted about them for the whole world to see. But they keep advertising there.

Something about the Web makes former allies act strangely.

You remember, back in the 1990s, all the Web plays -- the half-forgotten names like theglobe.com () and geocities.com -- that had a business plan that roughly went like this: Allow people to build their own Web sites. Sell ads around them.

For a while, this made you nervous. For a while, Net stock prices made you feel poor. But reality set back in.

You hope that will happen again. But Intermix Media, which owns MySpace, gets bought by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. () -- Rupert Murdoch! -- for $580 million. Near as you can tell, MySpace is just a bulletin board where teens and twentysomethings get their bands signed and get themselves hooked up. But your kids love it. A place where users create the content looks more and more like the best way to reach young people.

You can't imagine how this happened.

You can't imagine letting people leave comments about you for everyone to see. You can't imagine rank amateurs' content being more attractive than that produced by a Mature Medium. (You silently scream: "It took me decades to get where I am!")

You can't see that News Corp. and Suzuki have calculated -- zenlike -- that the only way to maintain control is to give it up. That they realize media go both ways now. That they can't hide behind their accustomed walls. To do so may protect your flank, but at the risk of closing yourself off to the Next Big Thing.

You remember when you were the Next Big Thing. But these days the young grads who once flocked to your door cross the street to avoid you.

You are a Mature Medium, and you don't understand why.

Sometimes -- though you dare not admit this to anyone -- you fear things have gone wrong. Although it's hard, you are always able to put these thoughts out of your mind.

Things are changing fast. But this won't affect you.

You are a Mature Medium.

It took you decades to get where you are.

They can't take that away from you.

Right?

For Jon Fine's blog on media and advertising, go to www.businessweek.com/innovate/FineOnMedia

By Jon Fine


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