Playtime is over for media industry as it goes back to school

Attention economics, Spac finance and Alexa proficiency just some of this term’s subjects

Continuous learning is vital for any industry, not least the media. Photograph: iStock

Continuous learning is vital for any industry, not least the media. Photograph: iStock

 

After 18 months of rethinking everything, the media industry has sharpened its pencils, covered its copybooks with wallpaper and is ready to go back to school.

Give or take any unseemly scraps in the yard, this year’s oversized class of news publishers, streamers, broadcasters, podcasters and miscellaneous content providers will soon be knuckling down for an intense period of lessons – some useful, some harsh – with surprise tests thrown in to ward off lingering complacency among those who have secured high grades to date.

So which subjects are on the media business curriculum this term?

Disruptive technology

This compulsory double-points module teaches the latest in artificial intelligence and is especially aimed at students who want to upgrade their content recommendation engines. It’s all about having conversations with users – literally, in the case of media businesses that want to master voice search and claim to be proficient at Alexa.

Television broadcasters and news publishers are invited to review their existing approach to creating seamless user interfaces, using global tech giants as the benchmark to fall short against. Media businesses will also be asked to consider the immediate versus long-term effects of placing advertising where it slows down consumers’ access to their product, tracking its impact on their business along a “frustration curve”.

From Gutenberg onwards, the story of media is a technological one: the dominant media players of the future will be the ones who fully understand the capabilities of still-nascent technology.

As such, special training will be provided to anyone who finds it difficult not to equate “disrupters” with “spoofers”, while a series of guest lectures will begin with Facebook’s chief avatar Mark Zuckerberg appearing virtually from Menlo Park to explain his vision for the metaverse and why we should all be in it.

Public affairs 101

This intensive refresher course is tailored for Irish media organisations wishing to get themselves up to speed on current Government thinking on public funding, media tax policy and the status of the wider cultural sector ahead of a troika of fun developments: Budget 2022, the expected publication of the report of the Future of Media Commission and the entirely separate establishment of a Media Commission under the provisions of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.

All the ways in which the Government has meaningfully responded to fast-paced evolution in the global media industry and its impact on the viability of Irish-owned media since the days of dial-up will be discussed, taking approximately 10 minutes.

Bonus marks, meanwhile, will be awarded to students who a) devise strategies for turning a Covid-triggered funding crisis to their advantage and b) win public support for their cause by being funny on social media.

Attention economics

The (ironically) competing theories of attention economics will take centre stage in this module on the art of persuading consumers to allocate a portion of their finite hours to your product instead of someone else’s inferior one – and ideally pay for the pleasure.

Media business participants will learn how best to either “super-serve” target audiences or just do the bare minimum to profitably increase audience dwell-times in a world of infinite distractions from “here’s a video of a lonely panda to cleanse your timeline” to mood-altering long-reads about the profound fragility of life.

In light of the Netflix “we’re competing with sleep” school of attention economics, students will be asked to address how they might better target the rhythm of their users’ daily routines and measure how those routines have changed as a result of shifting work and leisure patterns both before and since the pandemic – instead of just doing what they have always done, with a couple of extra emojis in their email subject lines.

Has the early morning and “drivetime” commuter audience shrunk forever? Is staying in bed the new getting up? At what point of the weekend does everybody’s brain just melt and stay melted until Tuesday? And is there anything to be said for another push notification?

Advanced finance

For participants who have already passed their Introduction to Managing Decline, this module will look at the relationship between the media and high finance and the often blurred line separating investment and greed.

American case studies will include the historic metro publications that have been rendered “ghost newspapers” by private equity investors that promptly gutted their workforces but kept titles going as shadows of their former selves.

They will also focus on the high-profile media companies, from BuzzFeed to Forbes, seeking to trade publicly on the stock market through the finance-raising magic of special purpose acquisition vehicles (Spacs), and ask whether this trend is a set of cautionary tales in the making.

Closer to home, students will assess the pros and cons of being the small Irish unit of a massive multinational that can change the direction of your business or sell up shop at any time.

Finally, with the bright sparks at Westminster seemingly keen to sell off a chunk of privately funded, publicly owned Channel 4 to the highest bidder some time in 2022, another research question arises: why don’t governments recognise a good thing when they see one?

Optional modules

Continuous learning is vital for the success of any media business, which is why optional modules range from editorial priorities (how to cover climate change in a manner that enrages the fewest people) to marketing skills (how to fake brand authenticity) to people management (how to avoid widespread burnout).

After a number of inquiries, strategic measurement (how to convince advertisers you’re worth premium rates, while glossing over plummeting metrics) and data analytics (how to make it seem like you know what you’re doing) will also be on offer again this autumn term, as the air freshens with opportunity for some media organisations and brings an ill wind to those who fail to keep up.

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