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A fragmenting media

There is another reason for the growth of marketing services – media fragmentation. The old media have become more sophisticated and the new media have proliferated. Technology has improved the effectiveness and development of cable and satellite television, newspapers and periodicals, radio and outdoor, while spawning new media in direct, interactive and the internet. Many of these new media are more measurable and more targeted.

Media consumption habits change with every generation. Even small children know their way round the internet. Decision-makers in media owners and agencies tend to be in their fifties and sixties; their children and grandchildren are shifting in ever greater numbers to multi-tasking on the web, personal video recorders (PVRs), video-on-demand, smart phones, iPods, video iPods, iPhones, iPads, Kindles, mobiles, podcasts and multi-player internet games. Declining newspaper readership, particularly among younger people and the resultant collapse of established titles are alarming trends.

Among the many new technologies, one of the most interesting is the PVR. This device enables viewers to download television programs on to a hard disk, creating their own television channel, recording programs for screening when they want to see them, and building a library, as an iPod does with music. A PVR also allows you to time-shift programs as you watch, stopping for breaks when you wish. It cannot be long before they are standard equipment in television sets.

What has made observers particularly excited – or worried – about the PVR is its ability to fast-forward or skip commercials. Market research in the US indicates that consumers like to fast-forward advertisements – although they stop at beer commercials for fun and car commercials for information. We could do most of this previously with video recorders, of course. The key question remains the amount of time viewers will continue to devote to television. In some PVRs, the skip button has been omitted and fast-forward speeds limited. In others, little boxes on the PVR screen will contain details of the ads being fast-forwarded. However they develop, such devices will exert more pressure on network television and on agencies to create stronger programming and sponsorship opportunities, along with even more creative advertising ideas. The same will be true of video-on-demand, another new and fast-developing technology. The premium on creativity can only grow.

Many executives are in denial. They believe – or hope – that radical change will not happen on their watch. Yet I know my consumption habits have altered over the past few years – more daily newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, fewer periodicals. More cable and satellite television, less network. More web surfing and BlackBerry e-mail. More continuous streaming of CNBC or Bloomberg. More downloading of newspapers and books on my Kindle and now the iPad. I am less willing to wait for detailed analysis in weeklies or fortnightlies. I want news, together with commentary, now. Why should I wait 10 days for in-depth analysis of a merger announced on Thursday night? By contrast, though, women seem to be increasing their magazine readership and The Economist powers ahead, having gone well past a one million circulation with increasing advertising revenues, even in these threatening times.