Television

Murdoch stresses need for media firms adapting to technological change

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MUMBAI: "Societies or companies that expect a glorious past to shield them from the forces of change driven by advancing technology will fail and fall. That applies as much to my own, the media industry, as to every other business on the planet."

These remarks were made by News Corp chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch at the annual Livery Lecture at The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers. The speech was called 'The Dawn of A New Age of Discovery: Media 2006'.

Murdoch issued a note of caution saying that it is difficult, indeed dangerous, to underestimate the huge changes the technological revolution will bring or the power of developing technologies to build and to destroy - not just companies but whole countries. "For instance, we probably haven't heard the name of what will be the world's largest company in 2020. Indeed that company may not even exist yet -- although I hope that it does, and that I know its name.

"Power is moving away from the old elite in our industry - the editors, the chief executives and, let's face it, the proprietors. A new generation of media consumers has risen demanding content delivered when they want it, how they want it, and very much as they want it. This new media audience - and we are talking here of tens of millions of young people around the world - is already using technology, especially the web, to inform, entertain and above all to educate themselves."

He noted that this knowledge revolution empowers the reader, the student, the cancer patient, the victim of injustice, anyone with a vital need for the right information. It is part of wider changes that reach far beyond the media industry.

"The challenge for us in the traditional media is how to engage with this new audience. There is only one way. That is by using our skills to create and distribute dynamic, exciting content.

King Content, the Economist called it recently. But - and this is a very big BUT - newspapers will have to adapt as their readers demand news and sport on a variety of platforms: websites, ipods, mobile phones or laptops. I believe that traditional newspapers have many years of life left but, equally, I think in the future that newsprint and ink will be just one of many channels to our readers.

"As we all know, newspapers have already created large audiences for their content online and have provided readers with added value features such as email alerts, blogs, interactive debate, and podcasts.

Content is being repurposed to suit the needs of a contemporary audience. This divergence from the traditional platform of newsprint will continue, indeed accelerate for a while. The same is true of television. Sky has already started putting programmes onto PCs and mobile phones.

"That old square television box in the corner of the room may soon be dead but the television industry is seizing the opportunities thrown up by the technology revolution. PVRs - personal video recorders - streaming live TV onto mobile phones - beaming programmes onto computers via IPTV - internet broadcasts - this wave of innovation gives the consumer huge choice at relatively low cost."

In this way Murdoch says media becomes like fast food - people will consume it on the go, watching news, sport and film clips as they travel to and from work on mobiles or handheld wireless devices like Sony's PSP, or others already in test by News Corp's satellite companies.

At the same time though this does not mean that television and newspapers need lose their historic role of keeping people informed about what is happening in the world around them. Given the speed of change that role has never been more important he argues.

He said that the reason why industry people find the change unsettling is that to them, this is the age of anxiety, an age in which technology and science seem to pose huge threats, rather than present great opportunities. And it is perfectly true that the industry does face some daunting challenges.

"My argument this evening is that, whatever our fears, we actually live in a second great age of discovery. I believe that the fusion of technology and science allied to the natural creativity embedded in the human spirit will enable us to surmount the dangers we undoubtedly face, and forge a better world for all of us. And equally I believe that what is loosely called the media will play a crucial role in shaping that destiny by facilitating the flow of ideas and the interaction of creative minds.

"Never has the flow of information and ideas, of hard news and reasoned comment, been more important. The force of our democratic beliefs is a key weapon in the war against religious fanaticism and the terrorism that it breeds. Remember, it was ideas - the ideals of democracy allied to the free market - as much as the economic collapse of the Soviet Union that brought the West victory in the cold war. The free flow of information is not just a building block of our democratic system; it is also the fuel of the technological revolution."

He noted that information on new discoveries across the spectrum of science is carried via print, newspapers, magazines and books. It is carried on television, laptops, personal organisers, cell phones and, of course, the web. The media use all these platforms to give the public access to this waterfall of information. This is how public opinion is shaped.

Net's importance to continue growing: Murdoch expressed confidence that the web will continue its rapid development as the prime media channel for information, entertainment, business and social contact. "One of the reasons I say that is the success of a company we bought last year called MySpace.com.

This is a networking site in which millions of people, aged mainly between 16 and 34, talk online to each other about music, film, dating, travel, whatever interests them. They share pictures, videos and blogs, forming virtual communities.

"Since launch just two years ago, the site has acquired sixty million registered users, thirty five million of whom are regular users. This is a generation, now popularly referred to as the "myspace generation", talking to itself in a world without frontiers. It is just one example of how the media, with its ability to reach millions with information, entertainment and education can use the achievements of technology to create better and more interesting lives for a great many people. And it is one reason why I believe we are at the dawn of a golden age of information - an empire of new knowledge."

The web he noted is a creative, destructive, technology that is still in its Infancy, yet breaking and remaking everything it its path. The web is changing the way we do business, the way we talk to each other and the way we enjoy ourselves. As old and new technologies merge, the questions multiply:Will the internet kill fixed-line telephony? It is already happening via VOIP - Voice Over Internet Protocol.

When high-speed broadband pipes TV and film onto enhanced computer screens at home, what happens to the television companies, the film studios and indeed newspapers?

"There are about one billion people in the world who have access to computers, although only about 10% to broadband. In 20 or 30 years there will be six billion such people, or two-thirds of the human race. We know the $100 laptop is on the way. In a few years, there could be a $50 laptop.

"It would be folly for me to stand here and pretend I know what this really means in any detail for future generations. But I will answer a question I suspect is forming in your minds. What happens to print journalism in an age where consumers are increasingly being offered on-demand, interactive, news, entertainment, sport and classifieds via broadband on their computer screens, TV screens, mobile phones and handsets?

"The answer is that great journalism will always attract readers. The words, pictures and graphics that are the stuff of journalism have to be brilliantly packaged; they must feed the mind and move the heart.
"And, crucially, newspapers must give readers a choice of accessing their journalism in the pages of the paper or on websites such as Times Online or - and this is important - on any platform that appeals to them, mobile phones, hand-held devices, ipods, whatever.

"As I have said newspapers may become news-sites. As long as news organisations create must-read, must-have content, and deliver it in the medium that suits the reader, they will endure. Great content always has been, and I think always will be, king of the media castle.

"Caxton's printing press marked a revolution that is with us 500 years later. But the history of that revolution is not one in which the new wipes out the old. Radio did not destroy newspapers, television did not destroy radio and neither eliminated the printing of books.

"And whatever you think about Hollywood, the film industry is very much alive. Each wave of new technology in our industry forced an improvement in the old. Each new medium forced its predecessor to become more creative and more relevant to the consumer."

He also pointed out that knowledge alone is not a magic wand which can be waved to banish poverty and produce riches. Life is not like that. "We are creating a world in which it will be imperative for each individual to have sufficient scientific literacy to understand the new riches of knowledge so that he can use them wisely. Those people, those companies, those nations which understand and use this new knowledge will be the ones to prosper and grow strong in our age of discovery."

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