Media must get to grips with offline benefits

Those who view the World Wide Web as an unstoppable force, eating into the share of other media should calm down – chances are the Internet will give consumers greater free time. By Phil Georgiadis. Phil Georgiadis is chief executive of Initia

I usually try to avoid making new year resolutions. However, having spent the Christmas break trying to navigate around my daughter’s new computer I resolved to become more “wired” in ’97.

To be a technophobe in my line of work is bordering on professional negligence. As a father it is arguably a bigger crime.

My concern over the benefits of new media have led me to adopt a cynical attitude towards its potential impact on mass media.

Those who prophesy the obliteration of traditional media tend to be somewhat wrapped up in the hype and are often filled with plenty of commercial self interest.

Having said that, their conviction is infectious. My Luddite ap-proach has begun to feel like a defence mechanism.

So on the first day back in the office, I logged on to the World Wide Web, looking for a classic car I have been trying to locate and buy.

In spite of teething problems, and after an hour of searching, I found one – in San Francisco.

Not that helpful. If it speeds up, I will like it more. If the price of telephony continues to fall and if it becomes truly worldwide, accessible through your TV screen, I will trust it more and save an enormous amount of time. And perhaps buy a car.

Of course it won’t be just cars I am shopping for. The 5 delivery charge for Tesco home shopping looks like good value when you calculate the cost of time and travel.

The growth of the Net probably represents a retail, not a media, revolution. There will be opportunities but the Net will not replace other forms of advertising easily.

Use of the Net for the average consumer will surely be driven by the attraction of saving time. This, in turn, will mean leisure pursuits (of which media consumption is the most significant) will increase. Even if people work longer and sleep more, entertainment media should benefit.

After all, PCs, computer games, videos and teletext have not seriously dented media consumption. Indeed, in many areas, media consumption has increased. For instance, there are 50 per cent more monthly magazines now than five years ago. The Internet will stimulate consumption.

The mistake is often made of relating the impact of one medium on another. This makes the assumption that there is a fixed amount of time available to consume media. But of course this is not true.

I read that housewives spend roughly half as much time cooking as they did 30 years ago but, as a result, more time shopping. If the Internet cuts shopping time, where will the freed-up time be redistributed? I suspect most of it offline.

I think the publishing model on the Internet is flawed. Why are The Telegraph and The Times encouraging consumers to read online?

I doubt significant ad revenues will follow. And a lot of the money advertisers are spending now comes from research and development budgets not yet subject to the same stringent accountability procedures we are used to with more mature media.

Media owners should be protective of their brands and spend more time working out how to capture the offline time that will be released.

It’s unusual to have reaped benefit from a resolution so early in the new year. For my part, I can now see more clearly that in years to come I will have more time on my hands. All I need to do now is work out what to do with it.

New Media, page 24

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