Online Migration: Evolution, Not Extinction


Yesterday, following a protracted farewell tour that made Don’t Tell the Bride seem relaxing, BBC Three finally completed its move online, a matter of days after The Independent announced that it would be the first national newspaper to follow suit.

In the wake of these headlines, many will tell you that ‘old’ media is dying, or that these outlets are merely the pioneers of an impending mass online migration. However, for a number of reasons, I’m less convinced.

Firstly, as I mentioned in a recent piece on the final demise of Lads’ Mags, for a genre or medium to actually die, it requires a number of factors, chief among them a loss of an audience or at least a disconnect between them and the publication in question.

Now, if we take ‘old media’ as a whole to mean traditional print and broadcast outlets (I think that’s a fair assumption), there is certainly evidence to suggest that an audience survives. In fact, just this month, RAJAR released its latest report for the last three months of 2015, showing that some 90% of UK population tune into the radio every week, consuming an average of 21 hours of radio weekly.

I’m of the belief that we should not see online migration as a sign that publications or stations are in danger, but that we are at the beginning of a culture shift more like acoustic to electric than horses to motorcars.

What I’m getting at is that ‘what’ and ‘how’ are as important as one another, and neither should be overlooking in favour of the other. You can have the best product in the world, but unless it reaches its optimal audience, then it’s as good as pointless.

Yes, the physical circulation of The Independent has plummeted by two thirds in the last five years, with latest figures suggesting that it has fallen to just over 60,000 (not even enough to fill Old Trafford). However, web traffic to independent.co.uk topped 1 million weekly visitors as long ago as 2014, while, for comparison, physical circulation of the paper peaked at just 390,000 some 24 years ago.

The reason these media platforms are heading online, rather than disappearing altogether, is that while the delivery may not be hitting its mark, the content itself is still relevant and salvageable. The Lads’ Mags allowed the world to pass them by and were exposed as relics of a bygone era of media, which, if anything, seems even more distasteful and medieval in hindsight than it did at the time.

I also have an issue with the idea that a newspaper and a TV station are making the same move for the same reasons, or that it will mean their behaviour will veer in the same direction.

Many smug people who work in digital media will continue to predict that one day we will wake up to find all radio, TV and print content solely online, with the news agenda dictated by the institutions with the best SEO. They will triumphantly tell us all (probably via Instagram) that ‘content is no longer king’.

I‘d argue that, in many ways, the rise of digital media is actually widening the gap between broadcast and print content, as the broadcast audience remains strong and constant as print readership behaviour is shaped by Google ranking and keyword saturation. I am also convinced that for broadcasters, content remains welded to the throne.

Think about it, what has propelled Radio X to its highest listenership figures for nine years? The return of Chris Moyles to breakfast broadcasting. August 2014 alone saw 24 million UK podcast downloads of BBC programmes, the majority of which were simply downloadable recordings of previous live and scheduled broadcasts.

All this while even outlets whose commitment to the printed page remains seek ways to update its physical composition. The brevity and simplicity of the I paper was an attempt by The Independent to bring the newspaper into the 21st Century, while the recently announced New Day paper from Trinity Mirror is highly unlikely to stick to a traditional structure and ethos.

For PR and communications to prosper in the digital future, it must remain focussed on its channels and not be fooled into thinking broadcast and print are interchangeable, because their audiences remain distinct in who they are and what they expect.

The printed page and the living room telly may be giving way to the smartphone and the tablet, but the core competencies that we need to keep on top of remain the same: make it good and make it visible.

So, in a roundabout way, for broadcasters it’s basically ‘as you were’.

By Jamie Stanley

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