Undoubtedly, the next phase of ever-advancing digital ubiquity is in progress, but it seems that the digital giants that have risen so dramatically in the past decade – Amazon, Google, Facebook, eBay and Yahoo! – may now more highly value traditional media institutions that have gained their reputations over generations. Such reputations are hard-won and require great care to maintain. The digital world cannot yet lay claim to such longevity or depth of integrity. Whether it is in the newsrooms or on the high street, the offline world still lays claim to some of the world’s most iconic brands.
Now, though, journalists need technologists as much as technologists need journalists.
In Britain, our media landscape has already undergone profound change. To their credit, almost every major newspaper group has embraced digital, with varying levels of success.
This newspaper has been at the vanguard of testing alternative pricing structures, while Daily Mail & General Trust’s MailOnline has seen global success with an advertising-funded model. MailOnline has a very different focus from its daily newspaper parent. Such diversity and willingness to innovate has sustained a vibrant and innovative British media landscape.
In the US there have been more examples of digital-only publishers having extraordinary success. The most well-known, Huffington Post, continues to lead the way and it is much to Arianna Huffington and her team’s credit that ‘HuffPo’, as it is often referred to, is now considered the peer of mainstream, established media brands.
As an aside, AOL acquired HuffPo, founded in 2005, for $ 315m (£200m), which makes the The Post acquisition even more intriguing.
Other digital publishers, such as Techcrunch and The Bleacher Report, have focused on technology and sports, with great success, and it would be remiss to talk about the distribution of news and information without saluting Twitter, which looks increasingly likely to be the next consumer internet IPO.
The litmus test for Twitter, Facebook and others will be whether they are still around in 50 years. Today’s world is a very different one from the one in which the traditional media giants, notably the press barons, built their positions. While Amazon, Google, Facebook and Twitter have carved out extraordinarily strong positions in such a short space of time, they are themselves now targets for disruption. The proliferation of data and information and the rapidly falling costs of hardware and cloud storage make it possible for almost anyone who can code to start a technology company. The value of strong, established and well-respected brands should not be underestimated.
I have already written about the extraordinary role that data now have in every aspect of our lives, from a walk down the high street to a visit to the doctor or dentist. Estimates vary about the amount of data currently being produced, though the numbers tend to be so mind-boggling that it is often difficult to grasp what they mean. One study suggested that by 2020, a further 5,200 gigabytes of data will have been produced for every person on this planet (40 zettabytes in total, for those who are interested).
It is inevitable, then, that such a deluge will have an impact not only on the news-gathering industry but in other areas, such as business information and intelligence. The digital firmament continues to produce a conveyor belt of talent in these areas. Excitingly for all of us in the business community, these new entrants are disruptive because they are often providing superior solutions at lower prices.
In Britain, we have a company at the forefront of this new wave of innovative talent: DueDil is re-imagining how we consume, analyse and act on data. When you speak to the team there, they are tackling problems that might sound mundane but are in fact fundamental to creating a more efficient economy.
Re-imagining the humble credit scoring report could make a massive difference to the movement of capital around our economy.
Others, such as US company ChartBeat, are democratising data visualisation, helping companies move beyond reams of spreadsheets and produce genuinely insightful data to improve operating efficiency.
My enthusiasm for the media and technology world gets re-invigorated when I see people like Bezos entering the fray. There are so many opportunities to improve the way in which we consume information, be that at home or at work. To my mind, this can only be a good thing, though it comes at a price: incumbents that fail to innovate run the risk of obsolescence. But those that grasp the nettle can harness new technologies to create a bright future for themselves.
Jonnie Goodwin is founder of the merchant bank Lepe Partners and co-founder of The Founders Forum and PROfounders Capital