The difference between media and comms

I have had a few conversations recently about the difference between media and communications. The dominant idea for as long as I can remember has been that media and communications are converging – and this is undeniably the case in the sense that many of us buy a blend of media and entertainment from the same company via triple play packages, and also in the sense that the web is at once a comms and an entertainment network.

However, as so often happens, I think the pendulum has now swung too far – and we have started to lose sight of the fact that providing media (i.e. entertainment) services and providing communications services are very different disciplines.

Media is all about delivering an enjoyable experience to the consumer whilst communications is all about delivering a highly efficient service. The price of entertainment is arguably going up whilst the price of comms is undeniably heading towards zero.

Effective service delivery therefore requires a very different mindset from one to the other. That is why the media initiatives at telecoms companies have tended to fail (think BT Vision, and telco portals at the beginning of the internet) – it is also why my expectation is that despite their current strong position the mobile operators will not end up with a significant position in the mobile internet (beyond network provision).

Social networks are also suffering from confusion in this area. In one sense they are comms companies, helping friends to stay in touch with each other via an array of web-based techniques – personal messaging, walls, various poke-me type applications, IM, photo sharing and live chat. Yet on the other hand they are places where people go to kill time and be entertained – via friend accumulation, profile hopping, and game play.

The challenge for socnets is that people are getting bored of accumulating friends and profile hopping and there is no obvious new entertainment service to build. Hence the platform strategy.

The worry in all of this is that the things socnets are good at are on the low-value comms side whilst the value of their platforms for entertainment is still to be proven.

  • Certain niche social networks, eg travel/tourism, would appear to have massive value as platforms for information. The value lying in communication and information as opposed to communication and entertainment. Granted, this depends on the character of the social network.

  • Certain niche social networks, eg travel/tourism, would appear to have massive value as platforms for information. The value lying in communication and information as opposed to communication and entertainment. Granted, this depends on the character of the social network.

  • chris_h

    Couldn’t agree more. My background is magazine publishing and I made the jump over to mobile content three years ago. The majority of the moco firms are staffed by techies who know their symbian from their javas but don’t understand that content, on its own, is not enough. They think brand, positioning, values, entertainment and voice are all gooey fluff that keeps us marketing bods in Ivy lunches 🙂 Whilst I agree that there is a huge element of wibble in my profession, one only has to look at massive value built up by IP focused business’ to realise that done properly, its a goldmine.

    I’ve recently come to realise that its not too late for the carriers (and for carriers read technology based firms generally) to change their approach, they still control the customer, its just that they don’t think that way.

    Culturally it would be like asking a bunch of magic circle lawyers to become drama teachers and “act like trees”, they’re just not wired that way.

  • chris_h

    Couldn’t agree more. My background is magazine publishing and I made the jump over to mobile content three years ago. The majority of the moco firms are staffed by techies who know their symbian from their javas but don’t understand that content, on its own, is not enough. They think brand, positioning, values, entertainment and voice are all gooey fluff that keeps us marketing bods in Ivy lunches 🙂 Whilst I agree that there is a huge element of wibble in my profession, one only has to look at massive value built up by IP focused business’ to realise that done properly, its a goldmine.

    I’ve recently come to realise that its not too late for the carriers (and for carriers read technology based firms generally) to change their approach, they still control the customer, its just that they don’t think that way.

    Culturally it would be like asking a bunch of magic circle lawyers to become drama teachers and “act like trees”, they’re just not wired that way.

  • nic

    James – good point, there is definitely value in the information created by socnets, even if they are purely comms focused. We need a bit of innovation to figure out how to harvest it though.

    Chris – whilst companies understand the need for the sort of cultural change you are describing, they are poor at implementing it. That is why they fail.

  • nic

    James – good point, there is definitely value in the information created by socnets, even if they are purely comms focused. We need a bit of innovation to figure out how to harvest it though.

    Chris – whilst companies understand the need for the sort of cultural change you are describing, they are poor at implementing it. That is why they fail.

  • Having had experience both of working for an operator and for a content provider (who for most of its life was a kind of operator as well) I think the contrast you make between the competencies needed to be a successful media company and those needed to be a successful telco are very much to the point.

    However, and of course, operators don’t want to be “dumb bit pipes”. They want to climb the value chain. They may suffer from “revenue envy”. They may like the lifestyles they have today and want to hang on to them. It could be that being just a bit pipe is, given your observation about prices dropping to zero, a bit of an unrewarding thing.

    I think there are opportunities not to be dumb bit pipes that don’t involve transforming into media companies but that do require them to think differently about their businesses. The problem may be that most of these are not uniquely differentiable propositions in the way that media or content is, or can be, and hence don’t represent a move away from commoditized propositions.

    On the other hand, I think that the BBC iPlayer discussion reminds us that Content Provider business models are disconnected from the cost implications of their actions. The cost of infrastructure operation and upgrade clearly needs to be borne somewhere, and there is almost certainly a need for discussion as to whether operator concerns about the sustainability of the model for the “core” is a real economic concern, or whether it is a community “crying wolf” in pain at the erosion of its license to print money.

    It would be interesting to know more of the facts.

    Jo

    [Incidentally, I made some similar kinds of remarks about operator competencies a little while ago at http://www.dev.mobi/blog/if-not-now-when.%5D

  • Having had experience both of working for an operator and for a content provider (who for most of its life was a kind of operator as well) I think the contrast you make between the competencies needed to be a successful media company and those needed to be a successful telco are very much to the point.

    However, and of course, operators don’t want to be “dumb bit pipes”. They want to climb the value chain. They may suffer from “revenue envy”. They may like the lifestyles they have today and want to hang on to them. It could be that being just a bit pipe is, given your observation about prices dropping to zero, a bit of an unrewarding thing.

    I think there are opportunities not to be dumb bit pipes that don’t involve transforming into media companies but that do require them to think differently about their businesses. The problem may be that most of these are not uniquely differentiable propositions in the way that media or content is, or can be, and hence don’t represent a move away from commoditized propositions.

    On the other hand, I think that the BBC iPlayer discussion reminds us that Content Provider business models are disconnected from the cost implications of their actions. The cost of infrastructure operation and upgrade clearly needs to be borne somewhere, and there is almost certainly a need for discussion as to whether operator concerns about the sustainability of the model for the “core” is a real economic concern, or whether it is a community “crying wolf” in pain at the erosion of its license to print money.

    It would be interesting to know more of the facts.

    Jo

    [Incidentally, I made some similar kinds of remarks about operator competencies a little while ago at http://www.dev.mobi/blog/if-not-now-when.%5D

  • nic

    Jo – good to hear from you! And also nice to see you are still a good year or two ahead of me 🙂

  • nic

    Jo – good to hear from you! And also nice to see you are still a good year or two ahead of me 🙂

  • use a variety of communications methodologies which complement each other in order to meet business objectives. But if you’re not quite sure which direction to follow, here’s an elementary rundown of the differences between these main three areas of communications.Media is all about delivering an enjoyable experience to the consumer whilst communications is all about delivering a highly efficient service. The price of entertainment is arguably going up whilst the price of comms is undeniably heading towards zero.Both the church and technology are ever changing. Churches have to work strategically to maximize its staff, resources, and work processes; otherwise, they'll likely experience duplication of effort, inefficiency, excessive expenditures. This is more true with IT, Communications and Media than any other area of the church.

  • marcus

    how is telecommunications and network have extended the use of computers in the work place or home

  • you take is valid but like in many arguments, there is two sides to it. when we recently were looking out for a part time PR person to help us at http://www.quickbuffet.co.uk the learned quickly that these fields are merging and practitioners are having to juggle between the two seamlessly. so in that regards, they’re much the same. of course I could be wrong in which case my excuse will be, I come from and engineering background so beg to be excused.

  • I agree PR and comms are merging from a company perspective. However, that’s a little different to the comms and entertainment services I wrote about.

  • perhaps a rephrase of the tittle then might be warranted…just an observation