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What if the notion of a single medium doesn’t exist anymore?

That is, what if media buyers don’t decide between radio and TV and print and Internet anymore because each one blends into the other?

That’s the question asked by Cymfony’s Jim Nail in this Q&A. Some excerpts:

Marketers and media companies historically have thought of each medium as a separate and distinct form: TV is different from print which is different from out of home. And within these broad forms, there are further differences: cable is different from broadcast TV, newspapers are different from magazines, et cetera. What has distinguished each of these forms is the “device” through which consumers receive the content: paper, television, radio, postal mail, et cetera. But it was clear from the comments of each representative of each medium that they have broken down these barriers— they all have websites where they also distribute their content. Many are beginning to distribute via mobile phones. Many are developing experiences where their audiences can more actively participate with the content. And they are viewing these as a continuum of offerings that engage their audiences in different ways. The best example came from Mike Shaw, ABC Networks’ president of sales & marketing. Ever an ardent defender of the primacy of primetime network television advertising, he spoke eloquently to how Hewlett-Packard could benefit from the “Lost Experience,” an internet-only extension of the program “Lost” which will bridge the summer rerun season, keeping fans involved with the plot and characters over the summer until the fall season brings new primetime episodes. Media companies’ core competence has always been aggregating an audience. In the past, they have been hampered in thinking that an “audience” consisted of the subscribers or viewers of content in one particular form. What they have learned is that the audience doesn’t disappear when they close the magazine or switch channels. By offering this audience new ways to get more information, engage more directly, even directly shape the direction the content takes, they create an environment that is even more valuable to the audience– and thus to the marketer as well. If you accept my argument that there are no longer sharp boundaries between media, then we need to stop budgeting and planning the allocation across individual media. This trend toward a more consumer-centric approach has been evolving for a number of years– from the trend toward account planning in the early ’90s to approaches such as Unilever’s Communication Channel Planning.

When media buyers start thinking more about audiences and less about distribution channels – as they are definitely doing now – the advantage will go to the media that leverage their content across platforms.

And as that happens, radio will either become more about content – unique, compelling content, not just repurposing what the music labels create – or our industry will recede to the margins of the buy.

This places a premium on content – that is, it will be expensive and worth it. And it means that there will be two kinds of radio broadcasters: Those who are in the content business and those who are only in the radio business.

The value will flow to the former.

It’s not about the “device” – it’s not about ownership of the pipes. In the media business, those days are ending fast.

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