Traditional forms of mass communication, such as newspapers, magazines, radio, and television, known as Legacy media, continue to face challenges. Their viability, profitability, and sustainability often seem doomed due to the rapid growth of digital media, rising costs and changing consumer preferences. Some claim, “Legacy media cannot survive because the current media landscape is an artifact of the underlying hardware technology”.
Is the legacy of legacy media destined to be quaint artifacts housed in museums, evidence of how news was once distributed and consumed? Or will legacy media adapt and evolve to utilise new technologies and different patterns of consumption from consumers?
The picture remains unclear as to what the outcome will be. Indeed, audiences for news media have been falling throughout 2021 . However, a survey by Reuters Institute also found three-quarters (75%) of their sample of editors, CEOs, and digital leaders said they are confident about their company’s prospects for 2022, though fewer (60%) say the same about the future of journalism due to reasons such as the polarisation of societies and attacks on journalists .
This article considers the changing landscape that will impact legacy media and some of the disruptors to the landscape, which may mean the legacy of legacy media may be more nuanced than the statement from Jacob Nielsen that legacy media cannot survive.
The changing landscape for legacy media
Two factors impacting legacy media are technology and the changing patterns of how consumers access news and information.
There are multiple impacts of technology on legacy media. However, two of them are:
1. The growth of technology and the need for legacy media to pivot quickly and adapt as new technologies become available and;
2. The growth and impact of AI.
Legacy media outlets face the ongoing challenge of transitioning from traditional print and broadcast models to digital platforms.
With rising newsprint and energy costs, focusing on faster digital transformation for media outlets makes sense. The growth of technology and consumers' changing consumption patterns also drive this switch to digital platforms.
In terms of online platforms, publishers are putting more resources into podcasts and digital audio (80%) as well as email newsletters (70%), as these two channels are proving effective in increasing loyalty and attracting new subscribers . By contrast, just 14% of publishers and legacy media will invest in voice, and an even smaller 8% will consider creating new applications for the metaverse, such as VR and AR.
This figure of 8% investing in new applications for the metaverse is interesting because it demonstrates how trends are often subverted. In 2022, the metaverse was hailed as the next big thing. People were beginning to invest in property in the metaverse, and there was certainty that interest, investment and opportunities would only increase. A year later, investment in new applications for the metaverse is down, and publishers are concentrating on more “mainstream” investment opportunities in podcasts and digital audio.
The growth in technology provides legacy media with new opportunities to engage customers and develop a viable income stream through subscriptions or memberships to these online platforms. The ability to charge for subscriptions to online news is the end destination for many legacy media outlets seeking to adapt to new technologies because it provides an income stream not previously available to the same extent. Subscriptions are a significant revenue opportunity ahead of both display and native advertising .
However, there is concern that subscription fatigue will limit progress significantly if economic conditions worsen. Counteracting subscription fatigue will be crucial for many publishers looking to hang on to new subscribers gained during COVID-19. Many legacy media providers are already looking at cut-price offers and differential pricing. Others are looking to develop new premium products to encourage tie-ins. For example, the New York Times has led the field with the success of its crosswords and cooking apps.
Another area in which technological growth impacts legacy media is the emergence of new, digitally native media organisations. These native media organisations have different business models and editorial approaches, intensifying competition. Hence, legacy media must find ways to compete effectively and stay relevant in this changing landscape.
Staying current with rapid advancements, including artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, and blockchain, is also crucial for legacy media, mainly when providing personalised services to reduce subscription fatigue.
More than two-thirds (69%) of media companies consider AI critical to attracting and retaining customers . Companies use artificial intelligence to deliver more personalised experiences and greater production efficiency. AI technologies will continue to improve content recommendations (85%) and newsroom automation (81%).
Hence, while legacy media is challenged and impacted by the growth of technology and AI, it is not all doom and gloom. Evidence shows that legacy media is adapting to these challenges and using technology effectively to continue reaching out to consumers.
With the rise and diversity of social media platforms, the shift to visual images rather than the written word, and the reduction of stories to sound bites, the need to allow for consumer engagement in the story has shifted how people engage with legacy media.
News and information are often obtained incidentally as people scroll through their feeds. While the Baby Boomer and older generations may still “watch the news” or read it in traditional newspapers, many younger people pick up news stories as they scroll through social media. They continue scrolling and miss the news if a story doesn’t grab their attention.
A recent example of this is the recent Referendum in Australia. Despite broad media coverage from traditional media sources, many people initially remained unaware of the referendum or confused it with the TV show “The Voice”.
Adapting to changing consumer preferences and behaviours in the digital age, optimising online revenue streams, and effectively integrating digital technologies into their operations are critical aspects of this transition.
Creator economy and influencers
The growing power of the ‘creator economy’ will continue to impact journalism. Creator content – from celebrities and influencers – will continue to impact news media. Part of the influence of Influencers has to do with the increased scepticism and mistrust many have towards those traditional structures in society that were previously trusted, for example, governments, bureaucracies, and the media. As people mistrust systems in society that were previously trusted, they look for other things or people they feel they can trust. Because of the proximity of Influencers and the fact they often share similar experiences with their followers, people trust them.
Building and maintaining trust in an era of widespread scepticism and misinformation is vital for legacy media. Legacy media outlets need to work on demonstrating their credibility, objectivity, and reliability to retain and attract an audience.
While these challenges seem to indicate legacy media's ultimate demise, this scenario has several disruptors.
Disruptors to the demise of legacy media
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that advances in and impact of technology is a straight trajectory where the consequences are 100% certain to occur. However, the effect of technology is often subverted by people.
Fear is one of the biggest disruptors to the “inevitability of technology”.
COVID is the most recent example where we see the increased use of technology and the impact of rising fear within society. Lockdowns and working from home forced people to adapt to new technologies as Zoom and other meeting platforms became the standard way of doing business.
Legacy media had to pivot quickly to adapt to this new situation. At the same time, the fear and uncertainty many people felt made them search for sources of information and facts they could trust.
In this situation, Influencers didn’t help because they were facing the same fear and uncertainty as their followers.
When people feel fear, one of two things will generally occur. Part of the population will gravitate to ideologies that confirm their fear, and others will seek accurate and reliable information that is trustworthy and credible. Legacy media outlets, which have a long history of adhering to professional journalism standards, including fact-checking and unbiased reporting, are essential for these people.
Digital media relies heavily on data collection and analysis for targeted advertising and content personalisation. People are increasingly concerned about their privacy and are more conscious about the data collected from them and about them. While governments legislate to improve privacy regulations and address public concerns, scammers often use technology to get around the regulations.
Consequently, many people are beginning to swing back to trusted brands and outlets that can address some of these privacy and data concerns.
The rise of fake news and disinformation on digital platforms poses a significant challenge and an opportunity to legacy media's credibility and trustworthiness.
As people try to sift through fake news or to use a term coined by White House adviser Kellyanne Conway “alternative facts,” legacy media has an advantage because many media organisations have the resources and expertise to conduct in-depth investigations and analyses of important issues. They often invest in investigative journalism, which can uncover stories that might not be as thoroughly covered by newer or smaller media outlets.
Addressing the challenges of fear, privacy, and fake news requires strategic planning, innovation, agility, and a commitment to maintaining the integrity and quality of journalism while embracing new technologies and business models for legacy media outlets.
Despite some believing that legacy media is a thing of the past and will soon be relegated to history. Legacy media outlets have shown an ability to adapt and use technology in innovative ways to engage with readers and consumers. While adapting and changing to emerging technologies is always a challenge, ultimately, people may, when feeling uncertain and looking for credible sources of information, be the ones who keep legacy media alive.