It’s Time To Gaze Into The Future

Money will start to come back into advertising and that’ll make a lot of people feel better. However, the switch to digital advertising will continue, traditional media will remain at sea wondering what to do and how it’s all going to be paid for.

The world is awash with Christmas songs. But very few ever get around to singing about the New Year. Abba did it. And then there was that song from that Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, I’m sure it has something about it being a new year in the lyrics. I was wondering why there are so few new year songs and it occurred to me that between Christmas and the New Year everybody is busy predicting things and hasn’t the time to pen a song about how we’re all going to keep our resolutions until Tuesday.

And it is in that spirit that I am not writing a New Year’s tune but instead looking ahead to 2010 in Digital Advertising. I could, of course, have picked any topic but I thought one that I worked in might give me some credibility and, more importantly, means I can return to work on Monday morning with a plan for the year.

Let’s start with the predictable. There will be a storm in a teacup over use of cookies in Europe. And, of course, by the time everybody has agreed the technology will have moved on. Still, the industry will talk about it a lot and there’ll be pictures of biscuits (the chocolate chip variety) as the industry news sites run out of new ways to spin an old tale. Possibly a good excuse to hit the gym in January.

Almost as predictable is the second statement. Money will start to come back into advertising and that’ll make a lot of people feel better. However, the switch to digital advertising will continue, traditional media will remain at sea wondering what to do and how it’s all going to be paid for. And so-called paywalls will rise. I don’t think I need a crystal ball for this. I can smugly say that I previously said we had to stop thinking that advertising can pay for every thing; but smug is not a good way to enter into a new year so I’ll move on. A fragmented media market may be good for choice but diffused ad spending means nobody has any money to create anything. So, we as the consumer of content are going to have to start paying upfront for things.

It’s the last sentence that brings me to a digital age dilemma. If we’re going to have to start paying for content will we remain happy to consume advertising alongside it? Historically, we did in newspapers and in the cinema, for example. But we didn’t with books and don’t have our movie’s interrupted with advertising on the premium movie channels. I suspect newspapers in particular will hear a lot from users who won’t pay and download a banner style advertisement at the same time. There will be a fascinating follow-on impact for the advertising industry but I can’t read that from the cards.

As a quick aside I think there could be an interesting side story to the rise of required payments. For too long advertising rates, CPMs if you will, have been dropping and you have to believe it will come to a point where they can’t get any lower. I suspect the rise of paywalls for publishers which, if even vaguely successfully, will also force a rise in CPM rates (if the dilemma of the previous paragraph can be solved). The act of a customer paying for content proves the value of that content and suggests an engaged audience (and an audience with money). That must be an attractive place for advertisers to be.

And I think that’s enough crystal-ball gazing for today. Leave a comment if you think I’m right or wrong. Perhaps I will pen a ‘Happy New Year’ ditty while celebrating this evening or, more likely, I’ll have a glass of something sparkling and try to be in a state to finish my predictions tomorrow. One thing I can say with certainty, if I do write more tomorrow it will feature the word Twitter.

So look out for my Happy New Year tweet around midnight. So long 2009!

Looking For Innovation

The iPlayer was really the platform that pushed on-demand viewing across the internet in the UK. You wouldn’t expect anything less from an organisation with the resources (in monetary terms, in talent and engineering terms and in marketing and reach terms) that the BBC can bring.

Christmas 2009

The iPlayer was really the platform that pushed on-demand viewing across the internet in the UK. You wouldn’t expect anything less from an organisation with the resources (in monetary terms, in talent and engineering terms and in marketing and reach terms) that the BBC can bring. It’s still the iPlayer that comes to mind when most people think of watching TV via the web and the iPlayer was certainly the talk of other European broadcasters (at least it was when I was regularly speaking to them). It’s a shame as other on-demand services are equally as good, ITV in particular have made great leaps. The Sky Player has been made to work with their proven business model which can only be a good thing for the space.

Because the iPlayer is not commercially driven, however, there has been little discussion of advertising in on-demand platforms. For the commercial providers it has always been the advertising that pays for the content. ITV has always been great at ensuring you get similar experience online as you would watching the show on television: why would they show programming without advertisements and commercial breaks? At last, most organisations have reached the point of being able to replicate the linear television commercial break experience. Sadly, however, we’re not seeing a great deal of innovation in this space which intrigues me even more now I’m less directly involved in the technologies that power this advertising. It’s an area ripe for new ideas. I know people in organisations I worked for have ideas by the truck-load but, for some reason, they’re not sharing them right now.

The economic climate and resulting downturn in advertising spend can be used as an excuse for the lack of in-production experimentation and, for commercial television companies struggling with smaller audiences and reduced ad revenues, this may be valid. But where are the innovative tech companies pioneering new ways of advertising around on-demand television? They must be there somewhere.

So, my Christmas/Birthday wish, point me to the innovators. I’m @curns on Twitter and I’d be interested to read about something genuinely innovative in the way in which advertising content is presented to consumers of on-demand content.

Looking Back 10 Years

It’s not unknown for me to state the obvious, so here goes. This was/is that last working day before Christmas. And for many, including me, it was the last working day of the year. It has also dawned on me that it’s the last working day of the decade. I guess, therefore, that I’ll play the looking backwards game. You know, the one where we all try to find something interesting to say about the last year, or in the case, decade

It’s not unknown for me to state the obvious, so here goes. This was/is that last working day before Christmas. And for many, including me, it was the last working day of the year. It has also dawned on me that it’s the last working day of the decade. I guess, therefore, that I’ll play the looking backwards game. You know, the one where we all try to find something interesting to say about the last year, or in this case, decade. So, what have I learnt about working in the twenty- first century? Firstly, it isn’t different to my working life at the end of the last decade/century but I’ll skip that marvellous observation and present the top five things I’ve seen change – or not – in my last ten working years.

Internet Access Is Ubiquitous In The Workplace

I ended the last decade having just left an organisation where you had to have special permission to have online access. Ironically, I was part of the team building their web content. And, although my world view is biased because of the industry I work in, I think access is fairly ubiquitous. Of course that’s lead to the rise of personal blogging, Facebook, instant messaging and shopping in your working day. I do see a trend the opposite way: corporate filters and blockers are in place in more and more organisations to restrict access. Sorry chaps, it’s a losing battle. You should trust your employees more.

Digital Connectivity Hasn’t Cut Travel

I’ve spent a decade in industries supposedly working in ‘new’ media with organisations you would hope would embrace virtual conferencing to reduce the carbon footprint of their employees. It simply wasn’t the case because the need to actually sit face-to-face with prospects – for them to shake your hand and know if they can trust a word that you’re saying – remains. It’s only the economic climate that’s cut travel budgets but I don’t believe it has cut the need. In fact, digital connectivity may have facilitated more travel because you can be connected everywhere so why not send somebody off to cement the deal?

Business Travel Still Sucks

Business travel has an air of glamour. Lunch in Amsterdam, dinner in Milan sounds fun. How wonderful it could be. Generally, it isn’t. Unless you’re the boss, you’re on cheap tickets at the last minute with early starts and late finishes. Fly in, taxi to an office, meeting, taxi to airport and home by midnight to do it all again tomorrow. It’s generally bad for your sleep patterns, bad for a social life and it’s really, really bad for your waistline. In the last ten years the relative reduction in the cost of flying has meant business meetings abroad are really more affordable than they were. But, as long as you know it sucks, then it’s still a great deal of fun. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a lot of places over the last ten years that I probably wouldn’t have gone to if my boss hadn’t sent me. And I would not have changed that opportunity for anything. I’ve eaten cuisines of the world and seen – albeit often from a taxi window – many amazing places. It may be unpleasant but it’s unpleasantness worth enduring.

Constant Connections Means No Off Time

This is one that I think most employees find themselves powerless to fight. Now that the last ten years have connected us, we’re always connected and so we’re always at work. Wasn’t the digital future meant to give us all more leisure time? But now, we’re answering emails when we get home and on the train heading into the office in the morning. We can answer calls from the boss while waiting in the doctor’s surgery and speak to an overseas office while sat in the pub (I don’t recommend that). Digital connections and a mobile infrastructure mean we have an expectation of immediacy and I, for one, remain to be convinced that it’s a good thing.

Companies Haven’t Embraced Remote Working Opportunities

I’ve established that the last ten years has connected us and thus allowed us to work all the time from anywhere. But I think employers as a whole – large and small – are failing to embrace remote working. There are many jobs – and I know it’s a long way from being all jobs – that are not so time sensitive that the 9-to-5 has to apply. There are few jobs that need to be done in the same office in those hours. But organisations – or maybe it’s the boss – fail to embrace the flexibility this could offer them. With many of the companies I have worked with (rather than for) I hear tales of how working from home is frowned upon and the thought of working from a holiday villa for a week is a no go zone. Now, I believe workplace culture is important because employees need to belong and interact with colleagues. But, we don’t need to be there all the time and we can work from 7-3 or 12-8 and be just as productive. We can work from our houses, a friend’s house, the local coffee shop and, in some cases, at 35,000 feet above the planet and still reply to your email. Remember, it’s results that count.

And so, that’s my random five observations. I could have noted how tools like Twitter are changing the way we interact with customer or how they’re replacing industry-centric publications by connecting you directly to people. I could have noted how smart phones mean office workers aren’t carrying laptops quite so much but you still see far too many laptop bags on those overcrowded commuting trains (why haven’t we solved that dilemma?).

If I am lucky enough to remain employed for the next ten years, I wonder what changes will appear? I suspect that the idea of remote working will be embraced by more and more offices where there are huge overheads in central office space that could be removed if people spend part of their time working remotely. I know it doesn’t apply to everybody but I suspect increasing broadband penetration and cloud computing means it’s becoming more and more feasible. I’m looking forward to the next decade. In technology terms, I really believe it will be the decade of the cloud.

Another Radio Era Ends

Perhaps it was something about Radio 2 in the 1970s that remains underappreciated because the flares distracted us. A generation of broadcasters deeply integrated audience participation into their shows long before anybody knew what they were doing.

I haven’t written about radio for quite a while, unless you count my comments – on Matt Degan’s excellent site – about Commercial Radio blaming its woes on the BBC, and I don’t think that counts.

As I look back I see I wrote about The End of A Radio Era in December 2002 when Jimmy Young left Radio 2. And I find myself wanting to use that self same title today as Sir Terry Wogan leaves his top-rated breakfast show. Throughout my childhood I was aware of Jimmy Young but, as a family, we actually listened to Terry Wogan.

The news people say it’s 27 years, of course, we know that the number represents years actually talking on the breakfast show. There were years off for good behaviour (when he did that television thing) meaning that it’s really four decades that Terry’s been an intricate part of our lives.

Many people have written elsewhere about what a remarkable broadcaster Terry Wogan is and I wouldn’t say anything different. It’s a special talent to be able to talk, cross-generational, to such a large audience and yet make it seem like you’re sharing in a small, intimate – and thoroughly entertaining – dinner (breakfast) party. And that, to me, is what marks out great radio broadcasters from average and poor ones: people who can really ‘do’ radio make it seem like your part of the conversation. The rest shout at you.

I do believe today marks a bigger transition than the end of a much loved breakfast show. Radio 2 has been able to call out Wake Up To Wogan as a shining example of its difference: there’s isn’t a commercial broadcaster in the land who would have done that show and I find it unlikely would any would have let it go on so long (although for that audience?). But from today Radio 2 can not point to Sir Terry as a difference that helps validate its existence.

I hope Chris Evans is given a chance (the BBC will but I wonder about the rest of the media). He too is different and I find it frustrating to read the many views that assume he is still a 30-year old Radio 1 breakfast host and not the consummate, radio-loving, professional broadcaster that he clearly is. But Wogan came from a different era. It wasn’t his physical age that helped secure Radio 2’s difference, it was the fact he started a career different broadcasting era, an era when broadcasters felt like your friends. And he was able to become part of our breakfast routine before we, as a nation, took to the sport of shooting down our celebrities quite as quickly as we do today and before the radio industry replaced presenters after a bad ratings quarter or two. I hope the new host will be different enough allow the BBC to continue to point to Radio 2 as something that can’t be heard elsewhere. I think it’s going to be a challenge: not because Chris is not unique but because the broadcasting landscape has changed and Chris has played his part in today’s tabloid celebrity fascination. Will we be able separate his history from his present?

But I don’t want to end pondering about Radio 2’s future. I find myself looking back on the words I wrote about Jimmy Young and realise that many of them can be applied to Terry Wogan. It was an interactive show from early on. Letters about the Poison Dwarf and the M1 cones may have been replaced by emails but the audience has always been integral to a large amount of the content. As a style it is decades old but it still appears to work. Making you feel part of show is important. Making you feel like a friend is, surely, a gift.

Perhaps it was something about Radio 2 in the 1970s that remains underappreciated because the flares distracted us. A generation of broadcasters deeply integrated audience participation into their shows long before anybody knew what they were doing. While all radio uses input from listeners very few shows are actually built around that input. I wonder if radio should look backwards to understand its value because, in the rush to work out what a digital future means for it, I sometimes think it’s losing sight of how powerful a medium it really is. Surely, if Sir Terry and his 8 millions TOGs are to leave a legacy it should be to remind us of the power of the audience contribution when making unmissable radio.

Thank you for being a friend. Indeed.

Update: 22 December
Celebrity broadcasters pay tribute to Sir Terry Wogan | Terry Wogan signs off from Radio 2 breakfast with a crack in the voice