Has paid-for media had its chips?
James Murdoch, heir apparent of News International, blew open hostilities between old and new world media on Friday.
And it took a significance in timing and location – the 20th anniversary of his father, Rupert’s, audacious MacTaggart speech at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival – for people to sit up and take notice. Without that milestone, the slide towards ‘free’ might have driven over him completely.
It was a swinging attack aimed at the BBC, one of the most trusted brands in media worldwide, labelling it as ‘chillingly’ ambitious, denouncing a much-loved public service and a world class national institution as state-sponsored journalism, all because the profit party at News International is ending.
The concept of public service is one News International barely understands. Their fight for a monopoly domain over satellite broadcasting, for example, was textbook winner-takes-all ethos. The clarion cry for fair play sounded pretty lame in the context it came in, from the lips of one of the standard-bearers of the ruthless competitive corporation.
In a hyper-connected society, public service is a sensemaker. In times of disturbance, it’s a glue. Public service that has the capability to help negotiate seismic shifts with common sense, and provide a meaningful foundation that people can buy into. News International doesn’t see its purpose like this, it only computes the profit motive, and that is an issue.
Nor does it get the fact economies are now being built on attention and ideas and in a hyperconnected world. Ideas that spread, win, and they are unlikely to be helped by a paywall.
In ‘the good enough’ economy, ease and convenience means making content hard to access is an unproductive effort. ‘Paid’ becomes a barrier to, not a measure of, success there. Media today has to be collaborative and open.
Robert Peston’s one economic journalist who has pointed to a fatal flaw of the ‘paid’ model from would-be providers like News International. His belief is that the ‘high priests’ of opinion have failed us and have been failing for some time. There’s more trust emerging in local communities of interest than in the oligarchies of opinion.
We’re at a crossroads currently. One choice is to open up the doors of information to as many as possible, and makereal-time open source information a means to develop learnings. Alternatively, we can fall into a dark age driven by an anachronistic profit imperative that continues to serve the needs of the few at the expense of the many.
The writing on the wall for James Murdoch suggests the News International as a brand may be able to hold its own for now but it seems to be out of step with where things are headed.
The answer to News International’s woes about ‘digital’ ‘social’, ‘trusted’ and ‘free’ may lie more in a rethink about its positioning and what it stands for not just its pricing model. It needs purpose that’s bigger than its product.
The hyperconnectivity of the social web challenges the transactional model of Rupert Murdoch’s era. Online communication is enabling more literacy and empowerment. Consumers are relishing and latching to a new found ability to challenge conventional media that has arrived with the levelled playing field of the democratized web.
Brands today have to offer both compelling entertainment and a credible purpose and those are the table stakes.
News International has chosen to play the hostage-taker through paid-for relationships with consumers. Social business work differently, by garnering permission and consent.
That’s the brand challenge for News International. It’s also a strength of the BBC. In the battle for dominance around media business modelling, it’s going to be interesting to see if each to continue to exist, or be displaced.