The former boss of Foxtel and News Corp, Kim Williams, believes the world is not changing, it has changed – and irrevocably so – and he says many old-school media businesses may have been so slow on the digital uptake that they simply won’t survive.
Williams was a keynote speaker at Days of Disruption, a two-day digital media conference that kicked off in Sydney this morning.
The former News CEO argued that all the power had shifted to the consumer and media businesses – primarily the print ones – had failed to acknowledge that.
“Those who ignore the essential elements of that change where consumers are now genuinely in charge, are destined to fail,” Williams said. “Those who enter this new environment with open eyes and a determination to adjust and adapt will prosper and create remarkable opportunities.”
He argued that the “whole basis for what once constituted print media journalism has been upended”.
Digital, he said, had forever changed the way readers consumed their media, singling out the Gen Ys who, he believed, wouldn’t be seen dead with print. “Magazine readership with the young is in catastrophic decline. It reflects that one constant – the transfer of power from producers to consumers. And that is not going to change. Period,” he said.
Williams held particular venom for the newspaper business who had lost their main revenue stream – classified advertising – some time ago and had it “replaced by a profoundly unstable revenue source which offers a shadow of the advertising streams of even seven years ago. It has gone and will never return.”
He argued that media companies whose business was primarily print often refused to acknowledge the tsunami of evidence against them and plodded on, heads in sand, with a business model that was inevitably doomed.
“This slow and often rejectionist response has rendered their survival into a zone of unprecedented challenge with a serious question mark hovering over whether existing print media companies do indeed have the relevant resources, capability and capacity to innovate and genuinely change, so as to reinvent themselves.
“The answer to that is still far from clear but there are signs of a genuine incapacity in some to embrace the trends and respond in fresh relevant ways which truly comprehend the nature of the forces at work. Some have addressed themselves to wholesale reinvention – given the problem’s pervasiveness such responses are surprisingly few in number,” he said.
And Williams’ rehrtoric wasn’t just reserved for old-school print businesses. He also had grim warnings for TV and radio broadcast media companies.
“Indeed with many incumbent players in other industries the responses have been similar – look at the retail revolution or the coming one in finance and you get the point.
“Dramatic change is everywhere as reflected in utterly different commercial models and consumer behaviours,” he said. “The game has changed.”