Holy Moses! Media need to gear up for tablets
Most media companies are better equipped to deal with the tablets Moses hauled down Mount Sinai than the dazzling new gizmos coming from Apple, Microsoft and a host of other technovators. This has to change fast.
As my friend Mark Potts ably noted here, tablets have the capability of revolutionizing newspapers, magazines, book publishing, television, movies, communications, applications and gaming. They also will further stress the tattered advertising and subscription models on which the change-averse legacy media continue to rely.
Tablets will the rock media as much, if not more, than the Internet, because they will powerfully combine ubiquitous connectivity, elegant displays, powerful computing and extreme portability. As the future Swiss Army knife of media platforms, they have the potential to obsolete not just print, broadcast television and Filofaxs but also desktops, laptops and smart phones.
Tablets demand a fresh approach to content and advertising that leverages the capabilities of this new medium in the same way TV required pictures and action, instead of stiff announcers recycling radio fare.
The first, feeble shot of the tablet revolution was fired on Wednesday when Steve Ballmer, the chief executive of Microsoft, showed off (video) a trio of pending products at the Consumer Electronics Show.
Ballmer did little to take the edge off the fevered expectation that Apple will debut a tablet of its own on Jan. 27. By most accounts, the upcoming iSlate, if that indeed is the name of the new Apple offspring, will look a lot like an iPhone fitted with a 9.5-inch diagonal screen vs. the 3.5-inch display on the original, ground-breaking smart phone.
With the first tablet computers headed to the marketplace, it’s already late for the slow-poke media companies to begin thinking about how to leverage this new medium.
But starting late is better than not starting at all. They have a limited amount of time to get it together, because widespread tablet adoption probably will have to wait until iPhone fanciers can work off the two-year indentures imposed by AT&T.
To their credit, a few media companies (be sure to see this must-watch video from Sports Illustrated) have put serious cycles into thinking about tablets. But even the best of the early efforts appear to have fallen short, because the legacy media guys are focused – as they were when the web debuted – on repurposing their existing offerings.
With tablets about to up the ante for the interactive publishing, here are the key things media companies must do to adapt:
:: Enrich. Equipped with bigger and better screens, faster processors and, one can only hope, improved network connectivity, tablets will provide dramatic, multimedia presentation for both news and advertising. While video to date has been an afterthought, if not to say an unwelcome intrusion, for print media, it will be de rigueur in the tablet environment. Deeper and easily searchable video offerings will be necessary for media outlets of every kind. Because tablet readers will be assimilating information at unprecedented rates, graphics and other forms of visualization will be essential to inform and engage audiences.
:: Alert. Because tablets will be highly portable, always on and the focal point for all manner of professional and personal communication, nearly all media offerings will have to include real-time content delivery like never before. As you can see by sampling such early experiments in insta-journalism as the beta versions of Nozzl News or Thoora.Com, this is easier said than done. However, publishers who cannot efficiently produce continuously captivating news products will suffer diminished relevance.
:: Personalize. Apart from a few users who attempt to protect their private activities, almost everything people do on tablets will be tracked: web searches, sites visited, articles read, videos viewed, phone calls, purchases, restaurants reviewed, calendar entries and financial information. Owing to global-positioning systems embedded in every unit, the devices not only will know your precise whereabouts but also which direction you are headed. Based on where you are standing, smart-phone applications like Urban Spoon can suggest a place to dine. Thanks to Loopt, the GPS-enabled social network, you can figure out where to meet friends or avoid your ex.
:: Assist. The download of more than 2 billion of the 100,000 available iPhone applications is a powerful demonstration of the potential utility consumers will find in their tablets. Apps do everything from dictating emails and providing driving directions to counting calories and organizing expense accounts. There’s even a Genius app to help you find more apps. While many media companies have created more-or-less elegant apps to port their legacy content to the iPhone, precious few have had the good sense to charge for them. Meantime, Mom and Pop developers around the globe have built six- and seven-figure businesses by selling games, virtual drum sets, alarm clocks and cocktail recipes for as little as 99 cents a download.
:: Target. By harnessing the above capabilities, publishers can create highly individualized news and entertainment products that represently highly targetable advertising opportunities. Putting the right pitch in front of the right person at the right time is the Holy Grail of advertising. Marketers will reward publishers handsomely for doing it and will forsake the ones who can’t.
Given the more than 15 years we have been waiting for most legacy media companies to develop Internet-literate products, there is reason to fear they will not segue smoothly into tablet computing.
Because tablets represent the last, best do-over for media companies, however, here’s hoping the continuing erosion of their traditional businesses will impel them to act before it’s too late.