5 media challenges — and opportunities — for 2017

By Michael Beach

The Sunday Times

Perth, Australia


With a new year comes a new opportunity to shake up the media industry.

Here are five things I’d like to see happen in 2017.

1. Face(book) facts.

It’s appropriate we start with Facebook. Zuckerberg’s rapid evolution from rating Harvard girls to global social platform was undoubtedly the big digital focus for media companies in 2016. This is reinforced by the fact that five of INMA’s top 10 stories for the year were about Facebook.

But obsessions can be dangerous. They often turn bad quickly, especially when a company like Facebook controls the perfect storm of audience, distribution, and data. Slotting media posts somewhere in that single newsfeed cluttered with rival posts; personal confessions; wedding, holiday, pet, and baby photos; and other assorted drivel isn’t easy.

Facebook has made all the right noises in the past few years about finding a revenue split that reflects the expensive and time-consuming journalism that its users love to share, but it hasn’t followed through with a workable financial model.

Some media companies like The New York Times and BuzzFeed have done OK, being paid several millions of dollars each to produce Facebook live videos, but the rest of us produce those videos for nothing just to keep our rating up in the algorithm(s).

Media companies traditionally treat both big companies and individuals the same, paying them a similar rate for publishing stories, photos, and videos. It’s time Facebook treated everyone equally and paid a fair share

2. Lay off the Guinness.

This has a similar theme: The Silicon Valley majors love to spruik their noble ambitions to connect the world, one country at a time, but they’re brilliant at failing to connect with the tax office in each country. In fact, it must have been a mirage when I saw those sprawling mini-suburbs otherwise known as Apple, Google, and Facebook in Silicon Valley.

I should have known their real headquarters were in Dublin, home of Guinness and the double Irish tax haven strategy.

Apple’s profit is tracking at about US$40 billion a year and Google at US$20 billion. Facebook is at about US$8 billion. However, only two years ago, Facebook paid less tax (£4,327) than the average worker in the United Kingdom. Last year that increased it to £4.1 million, which is still virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things.

The majors need to step up and be responsible corporate citizens, not tax avoiders.

The European Union has already hit Apple with a bill for $US14.5 billion in back taxes. And the IRS is chasing Facebook’s case for up to $US5 billion in unpaid taxes.

It’s not a good look.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister John Key made the point late last year that one of the big issues that drove Donald Trump to power was a feeling among voters that the world was being unfair to them. It’s was a wise warning Facebook, Apple, and Google should heed. It shouldn’t be up to taxpayers in each country to chase these global giants to pay a fair tax bill.

3. But Facebook shouldn’t do the heavy lifting.

Media companies have relied too long on innovation from Silicon Valley companies. They rely heavily on Facebook and Google to find an audience for them on (mostly) Apple and Samsung hardware. It’s far from an ideal situation.

There are loads of innovative platform solutions springing up every year. What I’d like to see is media companies becoming the trail blazers instead of the followers.

4. Advertising needs to shake it up.

Yes, we check our smartphones umpteen times a day. But they’re small, and the advertising on them is even smaller, so any advertising on that screen has to be captivating. Unfortunately, too much of it is not.

The challenge for the advertising industry is to be bold and innovative. It needs to shake it up.

5. Make it simple.

We put a man on the moon 50 years ago, so surely it can’t be that hard to get all our devices to talk to each other. One button, maybe two — that’s all I want.

Yes, I know it can supposedly be done. But for every office expert who spends weeks figuring how to connect a tangle of wires, Wi-Fi networks, remotes, and operating systems into something barely manageable, the rest of us wrestle constantly with incompatible and quickly outdated technology.

Silicon Valley is full of geniuses. Surely they can figure out this simple request.

About Michael Beach

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