The playing field is level — time to strike.

Conceptually, this is what every digital pure-play company is thinking right now. Audience is audience; eyeballs are eyeballs; time to squash traditional media.

The newspaper business continues to head the way of beta max. While I will never argue there is not a future for newspapers, because there most certainly is, it’s time to rethink your value proposition. But before going there, let’s ponder a few things.

Are you familiar with advertising avoidance technology (AAT)?  No?  That’s because I made up the term. At least I think I did, but I have not trademarked it yet. In any event, we all use it every day.   

What happens when you are listening to the radio and a commercial comes on? You hit the next preset button. Those buttons have allowed users to avoid listening to radio commercials and just scan through their other favourite stations for content of their choice. Those buttons are advertising avoidance technology.

In today’s world, iPods, Bluetooth, satellite radio, and Pandora are all forms of AAT that allow you to avoid advertising messages. In all cases, we choose to avoid the commercials by finding content to sooth our ears.

Another example: If you have the choice of watching your favourite TV shows with or without commercials, what would you choose? Without, you say. Not surprising.

Now, raise your hand if you own a TiVo or a DVR device (AAT).

In the Burnham household, we know to wait eight minutes for a 30-minute show and 15 minutes to start a show that is an hour long to avoid watching commercials. AAT at its best. We will always choose to avoid commercials, unless it is the Super Bowl.

I worked at Circuit City years ago and remember when VCRs came out with this great new feature called “commercial advance.” The machine would mark the tape at the beginning and end of commercials and, during playback, would automatically fast-forward through them. That was some great AAT.

I could go on and on with examples, including mobile apps and pop-up blockers, but it is time to move on to my point.

With all of this great AAT, what would happen if we decided to pull all advertising out of the Sunday newspaper? What do you think the reaction of your readers would be? I can tell you it would be a very bloody Sunday.

Readers of newspapers pay for the advertising. I apologise to all of my content peers, but we charge a premium price for the Sunday edition because it is filled with advertising. And people pay that premium price so they can see everything that is on sale in the market. This is a developed behaviour that is not going anywhere.  

So when I say newspapers have a future, I can think of no stronger argument than this. And if you disagree, ask some of the big box retailers that tried moving away from Sunday inserts. That move didn’t last long.

We know print will be core to our business for years to come. But its share will continue to shrink and eventually stabilise at something much less than it is now. Newspaper companies need to reinvent themselves as digital companies. Digital companies that print newspapers. 

We have been facing the challenge of digital for years, but we have also spent a lot of time figuring out how to embrace it, rather than resist it. Lessons learned from monster.com.

I would argue other legacy media are not positioned at all for the proliferation of their users going digital. In the not-too-distant future (now), you will be able to watch most TV shows online via network sites, Hulu, Netflix, etc. You can listen to any music you want at any time on Pandora or via iTunes.  You can get free podcasts of your favorite talk radio shows like “Mike and Mike in the Morning” on ESPN.  

All of the content you want is out there. You can determine how and when you want to receive it.

So with all of that being said, where does that leave advertisers and their need to reach eyeballs?  They need to adapt, too.

If you are not offering your advertisers of all sizes multi-platform options, you are failing them. Solutions in search, social, mobile, e-mail, and video need to become core to your selling effort.  

Video advertising on the Web is a much better offering than broadcast and cable. First, the user selects the content they want to view, creating engagement. A preroll ad will load before the content — and either that ad gets their attention or they really want to watch the selected content. You can target the video ad geographically, demographically, and behaviourally. And you know how many times it was watched and how many times it was clicked on. Broadcast cannot compete with that.  

So digitise your beta max selves and start building complete solutions for your advertisers. Think beyond the scope of owned and operated inventory and start thinking about your future. Start thinking about being the local marketing resource across all platforms for your businesses. Provide them the service they deserve. Remember the value of your print product.

And as we continue to transition, other legacy media companies will be trying to figure out what to do when that World Wide Web thing starts taking their audience away. (Pssst, it already has.)

Until next time …