Survival of the fittest in media evolution

To optimise their performance in this era of perpetual connectivity and unprecedented consumer choice, companies must act on critical issues.

The media and entertainment industry is at a Darwinian moment, in which the evolutionary process will rapidly distinguish between winners and losers. The digital era is characterised by unprecedented levels of consumer choice, universality and interactivity. To succeed in this more dynamic environment, companies need new skills. Ten key developments will shape the strategies of leading media and entertainment companies, providing vital perspective as to how companies need to orient their growth agendas and prioritise their capability-building efforts:

1. Although most companies have cut costs in the past year, ongoing structural changes in the industry will require continued vigilance. While most companies have expended much of their recent cost-related effort on how well they operate, they can achieve more substantial savings by focusing on what activities they undertake and how these activities are executed. This shift will require management to focus on areas that can drive both efficiency and effectiveness, especially workflow redesign and automation - in sales and editorial - outsourcing and shared services, and procurement. It will also require the development of new content models that rely more on variable than fixed costs, and to better align costs of content with revenue generation.

2. A "Darwinian divide" is on the horizon for media companies in emerging markets. The recession and structural changes caused by digital technology and excess advertising inventory have changed the dynamics of the industry in mature media markets. The victors are those companies that have a diversified revenue mix, leading positions or brands, and strong cash flow. The vulnerable are companies that are shackled with entrenched cost structures and excessive debt, those that rely too heavily on advertising-driven models, and those with insufficient top-line revenue.

3. Media and entertainment mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity will continue to increase as long as the economy remains stable and credit is available. Media M&A activity has been accelerating steadily since last summer. The Middle East saw several international media players - including News Corp, the BBC, CNN, Yahoo and Eurosport - scouting for partnership and investment opportunities. Emerging markets can serve as an exciting platform for them to monetise their deep content libraries as well as deploy their existing capabilities to create high-quality, relevant, customised offerings.

4. The traditional value chain of marketers, agencies and media companies will continue to evolve, unravel and be reconstituted in differing combinations. As the battle for advertising share intensifies and more of marketers' money moves towards digital, the traditional lines of responsibility in the sector have blurred. Large, category-leading media companies are developing "media as service" strategies to support direct relationships with major clients and deliver an expanding range of marketing solutions. At the same time, major marketers will continue to develop their own media assets, especially in digital. Media companies need to figure out how they can turn this development into something positive - either by using their skills to develop "private-label" media offerings for marketers, or by using their integrated media properties to enhance the value of marketers' own media.

5. Media sales and marketing teams will need to go beyond basic advertising placement in order to drive growth. Marketers' spending on below-the-line programmes is now two to three times greater than their spending on paid media. Even as spending on online advertising ebbs and flows, spending on consumer promotions and shopper marketing programmes has continued to accelerate. Tapping into this additional spending will require new go-to-market approaches in which media and entertainment companies work directly with marketers and their agencies to integrate manufacturers' content into branded experiences for shoppers, including at retail.

6. Media metrics to measure spending effectiveness, with a greater emphasis on results, are evolving across the marketing mix. Today, media metrics are still focused on inputs - for example impressions, reach and engagement - rather than outputs, such as impact on brand equity or sales lift. Marketers still require more output and results-focused metrics to better manage their media mix, or to increase digital spending. Media companies have an opportunity to leverage their digital audiences to build deeper engagement, deliver greater insights and provide measurable results.

7. Analytic approaches to content decision making are gaining traction, beginning in digital and ultimately influencing traditional media. Editors and programmers have significantly more insight into consumer interests and behaviours than ever before. Search traffic, social networking and blogs now provide a 24/7, real-time window into what resonates with audiences. The digital platform enables editors and others to more precisely measure - and perhaps even anticipate - content appeal more accurately than any other medium. Editorial can benefit, as advertising already has, from more sophisticated analytics. We expect to see media companies incorporating data on consumers' Web behaviour to help editors and other executives make better decisions about content development, how broadly to cover stories, and how to present those stories (video, audio, text or interactive media).

8. Social media outlets are becoming important distribution hubs for content. Social media are enabling new monetisation and distribution opportunities for entertainment and information offerings at compelling levels of scale. They are also important to publishers as channels for driving media consumption. Publishers are recognising that social media are a critical source of traffic to their digital sites, in some cases as important as search engines. Because of this, more entertainment, news and information publishers will focus on "social media optimisation" as a new capability for growing their audiences.

9. Mobile is emerging as another high-growth platform for media companies, thanks to the rapid penetration of smartphone devices and growth of applications. In many emerging markets, mobile offers a much more popular platform for content distribution than the Web does. The Middle East, for instance, has nearly four times as many mobile users as desktop internet users. The mobile content and advertising market is estimated at close to US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn), nearly 10 times the size of the desktop internet market. The race is therefore on to build digital relationships with consumers, deliver winning experiences and grab a position of greater influence within this rapidly evolving ecosystem. Media companies need to evaluate how to position themselves for greater growth in this medium through the right mix of mobile-focused organic investment, partnerships and acquisitions.

10. The rapid expansion of online video, along with new "tablet" devices and readers, will compel media and entertainment companies to regain control of the customer interface. E-book sales showed a compound annual growth rate of 57.8 per cent between 2002 and 2008, and Forrester Research expects sales of e-readers to double this year, bringing cumulative sales to 10 million by the end of the year. This explosive growth is compelling publishers to revisit how they think about funding and designing their offerings for these new platforms, as well as their role in digital distribution. As companies look to make money from these new platforms, they must understand how to develop attractive applications, how to create a user interface that consumers find compelling, and how their brands can best be positioned in an interactive environment.

The global recession is accelerating a permanent change in the media and entertainment landscape. Even in emerging markets, growth is not expected to return to pre-recession levels. Media companies need to focus on the quality and relevance of their content. This period could act as a catalyst for a shift to digital media and open new avenues of growth. Gabriel Chahine is a partner at Booz and Co