A shift to quality

“Many, not all, of these digital publishers rely on an endless stream of unsubstantial viral debris, a model that is beginning to falter, and their valuations will begin their reversion to the mean.”

It was not so long ago a typical media daily diet began with a newspaper at the end of the driveway, shifted to drive-time listening of Bloomberg Radio (or Howard Stern), went dark for most of the day until arriving home to watch the evening news with Walter Cronkite, and then finished with leisurely browsing through the latest Time magazine that arrived two weeks ago via USPS. We had a fairly predictable window of media consumption and there wasn’t much access, or time, for unimportant content.

m-scott-havensWhile that multi-platform media diet that surrounds us throughout the day is still very much in existence, there has been a not-so-gradual shift in our consumption patterns over the last two decades, especially for those under 30. In particular, we’re no longer tied to specific times of content delivery, limited by format type, or dependent on an inadequate number of content providers. We get what we want, when we want it, on whatever device we choose, from thousands of “publishers.” And, most importantly, we’re getting as much as we want. In fact, we’re getting more than we want.

I don’t look back on the old days of media consumption — pre-social — with a particularly strong fondness, because I have grown to deeply appreciate the unrivaled disccovery power of the platforms. Rather than lament this transformation, I love the wonderful stories unearthed in my news feeds. Whether it’s a brilliant essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic on Ferguson, Paul Ford’s sweeping explainer on writing code in Bloomberg Businessweek, or Sarah Stillman’s moving New Yorker piece on missing children…or even, the hilarious and touching video of a father and daughter doing a “rap-off,” or the eye-popping video of Mick Fanning avoiding a shark attack. Sure, if you were a subscriber to those storied magazines or an avid browser of YouTube, you might have seen all those pieces, but likely not. Without my networks, I know I would have missed many of these.

However, surrounding all those gems is a firehose of noise, increasingly irritating noise that we struggle to filter out. Dozens of daily animal videos, fraternity brothers pranking each other, ideological fact-challenged arguments for or against climate change, Planned Parenthood, or Donald Trump, repurposed stories about fallen ’80s child actors, slideshows of photogs getting the most (in)opportune shots, and dozens of lists that help me look younger. We have reached the top.

My prediction for 2016 is that will we see the content pendulum begin to noticeably swing back from quantity to quality, and we will begin to feel the related financial impact reverberate across the marketplace. A profound side effect of this pendulum swing, I predict, will be the quickening decline of the new media business models and the unworldly valuations that accompany them. Many, not all, of these digital publishers rely on an endless stream of unsubstantial viral debris, a model that is beginning to falter, and their valuations will begin their reversion to the mean.

On the “old media” side of the market, I expect to see an acceleration of the platforms paying top-tier content producers for their product as they are locked in a battle for engagement (and need quality content), and that furthermore we will see a significant uptick in consumer revenue traction, as publishers tweak subscription offerings and successfully migrate consumers into paid relationships. (Unfortunately, despite the non-ad-supported revenue growth, many of our most beloved old media brands will still fail — some next year — with some acquired by those who crave the influence and legacy of the brands and don’t need necessarily need increasing EBITDA.)

So maybe, just maybe, in 2016, we will finally agree that Content is King. Or at least Quality Content.

M. Scott Havens is global head of digital at Bloomberg Media.