Musings (and occasional urgent warnings) of a veteran media executive, who fears our news-gathering companies are stumbling to extinction
Thursday, February 12, 2015
We’ll miss David Carr more than we know
With the rules of journalism and the media business evolving at Internet speed, David Carr was a savvy, centered and sensitive commentator who teased the facts from the frenzy with warmth, wit and faultless prose. He departed the madcap media beat prematurely when he died tonight at the tender age of 58, collapsing in the newsroom of New York Times. I am sure he was in no hurry to leave his beloved wife and daughters, but you can bet he was proud to die with his boots on. David was a generous friend and colleague, who readily carved time out of his blistering schedule to dope out a story or shoot the breeze over a stack of lemon-curd pancakes. For a skinny guy, he could eat an amazing amount. Last year, I persuaded him to fly across the country for the weekend to give the commencement speech at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. “I am David Carr and I am an alcoholic,” he said in opening a humorously serious and seriously humorous talk (video below) that delighted and inspired the graduates, my colleagues and the assembled families. He even dropped the f-bomb a couple of times, a word that normally doesn’t come up at graduation ceremonies. But that’s who he was. Silly, smart, sincere, self-effacing and selfless. And he knew how to tell a story. With journalism imperiled these days at home and abroad, we need the likes of David on the beat more than ever. Now, we have lost him. Without David on the job, it is hard to know what we won’t know. But I am sure it will be a lot. What the f-bomb are we going to do?
Our imaginative friends in the technology industry intend to make computing simpler and arguably more satisfying by making it more intuitive than ever. Here’s how: They will saturate our environment with vast arrays of computers and Internet-enabled sensors that will put all but the most technologically isolated individuals in a crossfire of constant monitoring, constant profiling, constant push notifications and constant behavioral analysis – so the process can be fine-tuned and repeated over and over again. The phenomenon is known variously as Ambient Computing, Pervasive Computing, Ubiquitous Computing or – my personal favorite – Everyware. So, let’s go with that. Everyware indeed may simplify our relationship with technology. Or it might snarl the wires of our wired lives even further. There are too many moving parts (as discussed in a moment) to predict exactly how Everyware will affect our personal lives and business.
But ubiquitous computing seems likely to have major impact on the media business, because it will all but eliminate the intermediary relationship that media companies require to build the audiences they traditionally have sold to advertisers. Assuming Everyware materializes as envisioned by Silicon Valley’s savants, it spontaneously will deliver targeted information and entertainment, while at the same time enabling marketers to maintain persistent, direct and dynamic one-to-one relationships with individual consumers. In that event, what roles will be left to gate-keeping editors and the media companies that employ them? Publishers and broadcasters need to start focusing on this, so here are the trends to watch: :: Mobile Computing. From headlines to selfies to shopping, smartphones and tablets have become indispensible vehicles for delivering intimate and individualized computing experiences. And people love them. The average American spends just under three hours a day consuming mobile media, according to eMarketer.Com. Back in 2010, mobile use was 24 minutes a day. :: Wearable Devices. Although the Google Glass project seems to have lost some of its gloss, companies like Apple, Lumo Body Tech and Ralph Lauren are working on a variety of wearable, sensor-rich products that respectively pinpoint your location, check your posture and monitor your heart rate. Although no one is certain how wearables will be used and which will emerge as winners, various industry forecasters reckon that sales in this emerging market will grow from near insignificance today to between $20 billion and $50 billion by 2018 (see slide 8 here). :: Internet of Things. The Nest thermostat is perhaps the best-known example of an Internet-connected device that matches your environment to your behavior to ensure comfort and energy efficiency. But a host of increasingly sophisticated in-home utilities are being rushed to market, as exemplified by Echo, a voice-activated ambient device from Amazon that searches the web, plays music and, naturally, helps you shop. Forrester Research predicts that the number of smart sensors in homes, businesses and vehicles will leap eightfold to 25 billion units by 2020. That’s a lot of smart Crock-Pots. :: Cloud Computing. Thanks to intense competition among Amazon, Microsoft, Google and other heavy hitters seeking to outsource computing for clients of every size, the costs of storing and crunching data will continue diving for the foreseeable future. The frenetic growth of cloud computing will lead to a fourfold increase to 6.5 zetabytes of the amount of data stored around the world by 2018, according to Cisco Systems. Read on to see how it will be used: :: Hyper-Personalization. The Big Data archived in the cloud contains all the bits and pieces of information captured about you through the above means, including but not limited to age, gender, residence, income, credit rating, family status, reading habits, commuting routines, social networks and shopping patterns. Depending how generously you share information on the web and how avidly you participate in frequent-shopper programs, the enduring and growing volume of information about you can be quite personal and granular, ranging from your preferred toothpaste to your demonstrated driving efficiency to your inferred sexual proclivities. :: Digital Advertising. To put the right offer in front of the right person in the right place at the right time, marketers aggressively are shifting their expenditures to the digital media, because you can’t achieve the same precision, efficiency and immediacy with print or broadcast advertising. By 2019, the sums spent on digital marketing will double to more than $100 billion from today’s level, according to Gartner Research. Digital ad spending surged 17% in 2013 to a record $42.8 billion, topping the sums spent on television for the first time, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau. The trade group said digital ad spending grew another 15% in the first half of 2014, so this looks like a durable trend. Although the ambient-computing environment is fluid and complex, the mounting array of evidence suggests that Everyware could change Everything for the media and advertising businesses. Now is the time to start paying attention.
Alan D. Mutter is perhaps the only CEO in Silicon Valley who knows how to set type one letter at a time.
Mutter began his career as a newspaper columnist and editor at the Chicago Daily News and later rose to City Editor of the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1984, he became No. 2 editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.
He left the newspaper business in 1988 to join InterMedia Partners, a start-up that became one of the largest cable-TV companies in the U.S.
Mutter was the COO of InterMedia when he moved to Silicon Valley in 1996 to join the first of the three start-up companies he led as CEO.
The companies he headed were a pioneering Internet service provider and two enterprise-software companies.
Mutter now is a consultant specializing in corporate initiatives and new media ventures involving journalism and technology. He ordinarily does not write about clients or subjects that will affect their interests. In the rare event he does, this will be fully disclosed.
Mutter also is on the adjunct faculty of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.