NEWS ANALYSIS: Don't rush into a new-media trap

With research questioning new media's effectiveness in reaching mass audiences, KPMG's comms director advises caution - and says quality is still paramount.

The online arena has brou­ght about huge changes in media technology and the way in which we consume news. We are told that the momentum is unstoppable - and we are heading towards a future where news and information will be in the clutches of a second generation of internet comms.

Maybe so. But a new report suggests that a headlong plunge may not be as rapid as some have forecast - and that as an effective means of communications for mass audiences, new media still have some way to go.

KPMG has explored how different generations across the world are using new media and technology. The report shows that - despite the explosive growth of ‘new' media in recent years - old habits die hard (see below for key findings).

Traditional media still matter
Of the 3,000 people surveyed, 72 per cent said TV and newspapers were still their primary sources of news. Even among the so-called ‘Generation Y' (the under-25s), between 20 and 30 per cent of those questioned said they get their news fix first from traditional outlets, such as reading a newspaper.

So, with all the excitement surrounding new media - and the rush to ‘blog and pod' - PROs need to ask when planning their media campaigns: ‘Do the results match the hype?'

This question was also a significant point of debate at PRWeek's PR and The Media conference last week, where many opinion formers cautioned against the rhetoric of what is now being labelled ‘social media'.

The survey underlines the growing complexity of communications, and why it is crucial - more than ever - to develop distinctive key messages. With audiences more diverse, niche and fragmented, this clarity and quality of expression are critical in getting heard.

I would discourage campaigns that take shortcuts and place tactical considerations such as distribution channels first. Without the fundamentals of strategy and process in place, there is a danger of mixed messages.

Critics might say that - with others - I'm simply ‘old school' and failing to grasp the significance of web 2.0. But I am not questioning its potential. New and social media will eventually revolutionise the way we communicate, and give PROs more power to control messages and reputations than ever.

For example - aside from news and communications - companies are beginning to see the corporate potential for social networking. Cisco recently announced plans to acquire Five Across Inc, a company that builds networking websites. Sites such as these - if allowed into the corporate sphere - could increase collaborative working, providing firewalls can be loosened sufficiently while maintaining the integrity and security of the companies' IT systems.

But there is now growing recognition among commentators and PR professionals that the ‘old versus new' debate is becoming increasingly sterile - and what really counts is quality, not necessarily the method of delivery. Getting the message right, ensuring content is engaging and insightful, and that opinions are considered and valuable, is a form of media currency that recognises no boundaries - new or old.

On delivery, there is also nearly as much potential in developing the media we have already. In TV, Ofcom, has launched the ‘Digital Dividend Review' - which will give fresh insights into the options afforded by extending and releasing capacity of spectrum from the ‘digital switchover'.

In the print world, nearly all news organisations now have an online offering aimed at reaching new, younger audiences, and retaining those they already have. The Daily Telegraph is going a step further in encouraging its reporters to produce video-clips for online distribution.

Others, such as The Economist and Financial Times, are enjoying a considerable renaissance with a strategy to increase bandwidth and quality across old and new media outlets.

Change is inevitable
However, our survey does confirm what most of us probably already knew - that old media is mostly consumed by older people, and that change is inevitable, as the cost of distribution tumbles.

The UK does not appear to be in the vanguard. In Spain, which has seen enormous economic growth of late, the internet is one of the main ways of accessing news across every age group, bar the over-65s - and is reaching a 70 per cent saturation level in the 15-24 age group. In the US, more than half of people in the same age bracket use online networking sites, compared with around 30 per cent in the UK.

The key to a successful progression into a web 2.0 world will be how we capture the attention of life's time-poor movers and shakers. They will only want to seek out intelligent opinion and comment. They will also want to ensure that their intellectual property is safeguarded and secured, and that commercially sensitive information is not given away or shared and turned into user-generated content.

For PR professionals, journalists and everyone working in communications - whether new or old media - it is always content that will matter most.

KPMG’s report: the key findings

01. TV and newspapers remain the primary sources of news across all age groups globally – 44 per cent of those polled cited TV; papers 28 per cent; radio 14 per cent; internet 13 per cent.

02. Among the under-25s, 30 per cent said the internet is their primary news source, with growing use of networking sites challenging media companies and news providers alike.

03. Media companies – faced with ageing viewers and readers – need to reduce further the costs of content generation.

04. Web 2.0 poses new threats to intellectual property – businesses need to protect themselves with new digital rights management systems.

05. ‘Recommendation engines’ – which use purchase or download histories to automate recommendation – could be a strong alternative to search-based navigation of audio and video content.

(Omnibus surveyed 3,000 people in the UK, US, Germany, Spain and Holland in December 2006)

Gavin Houlgate is director of comms at professional services firm KPMG. He is a former director at Weber Shandwick and executive producer at Sky News. The report, 'The Impact Of Digitalisation - A Generation Apart', can be found at www.kpmg.com.

 

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