Digital Darwinism

Posted by Lucy Halliday On August 02, 2010 Media Releases

Article by Paul Fisher. First published in AdNews, August 2nd 2010

Do you realise Australia is the only English-speaking country in the world where the top five online media companies are owned by traditional media companies?

Neither did I! Then it dawned on me, in the US and UK markets, Yahoo!, AOL and MSN were the top billing online advertising companies for years (this is obviously display advertising as Google quite clearly dominates the search billings).

Aside from being one of those “oh I didn’t realise that” moments, it might also lead you to reflect on whether the influence of PBL, News, Fairfax, Seven and Telstra has “held back” the rightful growth and full potential of digital media in Australia.

Whilst it’s been widely written how these organisations have been seen to be ‘protecting’ their core businesses at the expense of growing their digital businesses and therefore the wider online advertising industry, a slow yet powerful change has been occurring in the past couple of years.

Known by its various labels – integration, cross-platform, cross-channel, multi-platform, multi-channel and even lately media-meshing – the game of media is changing and it may well be the case that so too is the very nature of media ownership in this country. Once seen as holding digital back, traditional media companies may actually springboard digital forward as the race intensifies to offer the broadest reach with the most engaged audience, across more than one channel, device or platform.

Not only are the publishers now going to market with their various cross-platform offerings – media agencies are integrating their previously siloed digital media teams into the mainstream agencies. And the phrase “we put digital at the very heart of everything we do” is heard more often than the Prime Minister’s “moving forward” catchcry!

The most interesting and exciting aspect though, in my view, is that global measurement companies are investing significantly into research and development of cross-media measurement methodologies, products, tools and services. So-called “three screens” measurement – TV, online and mobile – are proliferating at international media measurement conferences and in published articles and blogs, a certain indicator of what’s to come in the near future.

Digital media “specialists” are being embedded into more traditional marketing teams in some of Australia’s leading finance, retail brands, and even the local offices of some of the biggest global FMCG brands. These “digital pathfinders” are being specifically recruited by major brands to not only formulate the digital part of the marcomms strategy, but to train and educate the other 50 staff in the marketing department on how to integrate digital media with other media.
With all this structural, organisational change going on, it still feels as though we are at the very beginning of a new era of media planning, buying and measurement. If the past decade has been about the rise and rise of digital media as its own channel – and hey, we’re still years way from this growth curve flattening out – then the next decade in my humble opinion will be about integration:

• Structural and organisational integration – org charts, job titles, training and development, budgets, P&Ls, targets, and remuneration models

• Cultural integration – we won’t define ourselves as a “digital media insert title here”, it will be accepted that whatever role you play in the media game will have an element of digital skills requirement about it

• Measurement integration –a proliferation of tools will need to be developed to simplify the increasingly complex and fragmented processes of planning, buying and measuring media. The letters ROI will no longer draw a roll of the eyes form the young media planners and buyers faced with even more hours of excel spreadsheets and data collection, analysis and presentation!

So who will win in this space? Do you have an advantage if you are a multi-platform media owner or agency, or will the pure-play digital media publisher or agency thrive?

As the Australian above the line advertising industry focuses, for now, on recovering the $1 billion plus it lost from its top line during the GFC, and bounces back to the $13.5 billion-plus annual expenditure it enjoyed pre-GFC, the challenges are many and varied and will take years of investment, trial and experimentation, mergers, and most of all growth in human capital.

In the words of Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Lucy Halliday