Products of the traditional media industries are in an endless online sea of competing products. Although there is room for all, the market is finite. There are only 7 billion pairs of eyeballs on the planet, all limited to 24 hours, no more, for media consumption—and people do need time to sleep, eat, and earn a living.
While doomsayers doubt whether traditional mass media industries will survive the convergence to the Internet, at least not as we know them, it may be too early to write epitaphs. We’ve had old media written off prematurely before:
1920s: “In this age of cinema, who will read novels anymore?” “Why pick up a newspaper when radio can deliver news quicker?”
1950s: “Radio will die now that all the good shows have moved to television.” “Now that most national advertising has gone to television, magazines cannot survive.” “Television will render movies so passé.”
Those dire forecasts proved wrong. The doom-and-gloom forecasters had missed the fact that all the media, new and old, were being buoyed by four cultural, social, and economic phenomena that marked the 20th century:
Population growth that expanded the market for media products,
Shortened work weeks to a standard 40 hours, creating more discretionary time for people to spend with media,
Increased public interest in a broad range of political and social issues, as well as in sports and other diversions that mass media were uniquely suited to satisfy, and
Explosive growth of the consumer economy, which vastly strengthened the financial base of media industries that carried advertising.
In the fog of the moment, analysts missed the long-term positive effects of these phenomena. The question today is whether we are missing something, just as those earlier media forecasters did. Will media convergence be the end of mass media as we know them, or will traditional media somehow survive?
Point: Technological convergence is upending media infrastructures. The end is near for media industries that once had secure niches but which are now in direct competition with each other on the Internet.
Counterpoint: Media industries have always adapted to new technology and survived. This adaptation process probably is occurring now, although difficult to perceive.
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