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Milken Institute Global Conference Highlights Through the Eyes of Todd Harrison

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Lessons learned from America's left coast.

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  • Andy Lack, CEO, Multimedia, Bloomberg, offered that their business model was focused on the professional segment (300K terminals equates to roughly $6 billion in annual revenue), but they aspire to have a larger role in the future of journalism. They currently have 2,300 journalists worldwide; so it's said and for what it's worth, I currently view them as best in breed in terms of credible financial content. In the last year and a half, they've expanded their focus to consumer audience (BusinessWeek) and will look to take further steps in that direction as they build a portfolio of media assets.

  • Vivian Schiller, President and CEO of NPR, spoke of their diversified business model and revenue sources (they are a not-for-profit). They received (an astounding) $300 million in donations last year and, despite public perception, the government assistance is close to, if not, nil. The recession hasn't affected their reach. In fact, they're seeing all-time record audiences -- 34 million listeners per week, who listen, on average, for eight hours (wow). NPR will always be free. "We won't penalize those who can't afford our content, it's anathema to our belief-system."

  • Gordan Crovitz, Co-Founder of Journalism Online and the former Publisher of The Wall Street Journal, noted that consumers, readers and listeners support the other properties (mentioned above). Bloomberg has the "ultimate" model (terminal revenue). His company was founded in an effort to help media companies monetize video content. NPR pioneered the "loyalist" business model: if you love and trust a brand, a percentage will be willing to pay a reasonable amount per year. Media has been supported by advertising for 50 years. This will no longer be the sole driver -- companies need a diversified revenue stream and the ability to monetize access to loyalists through devices.

  • The "metered model" was discussed. The New York Times tried "Times Select," which failed and was ultimately dropped. Major media is now using all forms of online media tools (Twitter, curration, video) and are "asking" for content from their community (example: people on the ground in Russia).

  • The New York Times looked at all "models". It's a matter of principal -- there is a huge cost to getting journalism "right" and it's worth putting a price on that while getting away from an advertising dependent model. The New York Times is about "half and half" (advertising revenue and subscription). One will be able to adjust the "meter" based on their absorption of content and volume of digestion. "It won't be a 'game-changer' for years but we don't need it to be."

  • Andy Lack made a salient point. The notion of "free" is misleading. It's all about scale and the attendant advertising revenues, it's about "back scratching." You can't support quality journalism for "free." There isn't yet a set digital model. Everyone is experimenting -- but "free" isn't the right connotation.

  • Ariana responded that there will never be one answer. "You cannot enter into the same river twice." Consumer habits have changed forever. Millenials have, and will continue to change the game. Media companies must use apps to their advantage and get their content everywhere. Quote of the session: "We need less autopsies and more biopsies" on what will matter, rather than what hasn't worked.

  • Fair use legal issues were discussed. Mutually agreeable "shares" must be set in advance. For instance, if HuffPo curates NYT content to the point that people no longer go to the NYT, it is a major potential issue, both in terms of brand dilution and advertising revenue. That balance is still being sought.

  • Vivian shared that an audience will determine how they want to define their content experience, whether they want to pay or how they want to get it (Facebook, customized home pages, etc.). If you cut the supply of people from other sources, you, by definition, cut your audience.
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