Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The old, old media

I've been thinking about how hard it is for a new media company to attract audiences of the size of old media companies, at least in the old media companies' markets. One impressive thing is how old the old media companies in the U.S. really are, and how long they've survived. Let's look at the companies that dominate U.S. mass media, based on when they (or their original predecessor companies) were founded:
The most recent company on this list was founded 40 years ago, and the next two were founded 87 years ago. There have been mergers and acquisitions, but these remain the leading media companies in the U.S. The media businesses of Yahoo and AOL are tiny compared to any of these companies. Google sells advertising connected to other people's content rather than creating content on its own, and while Facebook's audience dwarfs most of the major media companies, it's a stretch to call it a media company.

There are certainly other successful media companies out there, but they tend to focus on market niches. Discovery Communications, for example, focuses on science and nature, although it will expand into children's programming with The Hub, its joint venture with Hasbro, which launches later this month, and OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, which launches January 1, 2011. The National Geographic Society has published its namesake magazine since 1888, but formed its cable network as a joint venture with News Corporation (Fox).

Perhaps the formula for success as a new media company is to avoid what the old media companies are doing. Don't try to be a movie studio, a television network, a newspaper or magazine. It also means being independent of old media. If your business model depends on getting permission to distribute old media companies' content, or getting old media companies to distribute your content, your fate isn't in your own hands. In other words, don't play in the big guys' sandbox. Build your own.
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