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Traditional media in the new age still likely to struggle

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In the Dec. 30 Media Watch, Danny Vinik, the man who runs Brink Media and put together the deal with the city to replace the old Access Tucson model, said in regards to the changing landscape of the industry, "Television is dying. Your paper is dying. Everything in the next 10 or 15 years will be on the Internet, and it will be very video driven."

As harsh as that may read, Vinik clearly isn't alone in that assessment, and major organizations that run more traditional media operations such as newspaper, television and radio have been well aware of the transition for some time. The latest effort, certainly for newspaper and television, is imbedding video into its stories, and as such, imbedding advertising into those video streams. Radio does much the same thing by pushing listeners toward viral video content on social media platforms.

But the reality is the transition hasn't been complete, and those industries don't enjoy near the success that occurred before when advertisers weren't able to track the effectiveness of their purchases. In the past, at best, an advertiser's ratio of success would occur in anecdotal forms. How many people clipped coupons from the paper and brought them into the store? How many people mentioned they heard an ad on radio or saw one on TV?

In the digital age, it's easier to track firm success, and as a result advertisers have become savvier. Translation: they don't spend as much in the older mediums, and don't make up the difference through digital platforms.

Before one gets all peaches and cream about the way folks are going to make money for their modern visual creations, the reality is advertisers aren't seeing the kind of returns on those platforms either. Sure, there are a handful of individual PewDiePies pulling down exorbitant sums on platforms like YouTube, but one person's success through hit counts does not translate into enough revenue once a company decides it needs to hire talent in an effort to exponentially enhance success. What works for a fortunate one here and there doesn't necessarily work for many. Moreover, so-called "influencers" have shown little consistent success in driving subscribers to ventures outside their limited realm of interest and familiarity.

Take Yahoo, for example. Believing the model for success was to borrow from the Netflix and Amazon push toward original content, Yahoo! snatched up cult hit comedy Community and bankrolled a season-worth of shows for viewers to check out online. From there, it reasoned, folks would watch Community and then use it as a leader for other original programming, in this case Other Space and Sin City Saints.

Advertisers bought some spots on Community, sporadically bought time on Other Space and bailed on Sin City Saints altogether. The experiment lasted all of one television season, and Yahoo! jettisoned the concept at a reported loss in the neighborhood of $40 million.

The entertainment and media industry is in disarray, and companies continue to attempt to navigate their way through minefields with a roadmap and rules that seem to be changing by the minute.

As has been a familiar refrain, last year wasn't good for the media biz, but it might be important to reflect upon what happened in 2015 to gauge the course for 2016.

How are larger media companies faring, and how are those numbers reflecting upon the properties they own in Tucson and the surrounding area?

The answer: not so good.

The biggest negative hit on the radio side occurred with the meltdown at Cumulus Broadcasting, the Atlanta conglomerate that swooped in and bought Citadel's properties from bankruptcy, employed a strategic, cookie cutter format model that mirrored chief rival iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel) and managed to send its company into terminal velocity.

In 2015, Cumulus eventually fired longtime CEO Lew Dickey. When that happened, stock prices plummeted and were in the neighborhood of 75 cents. The change hasn't exactly instilled confidence in the brand. Cumulus stock is selling in the 35-cent range and is in danger of being delisted.

Cumulus operates five radio stations in Tucson.

By comparison, iHeartMedia had a banner year. It only lost 8 percent of its value in 2015. Scripps, which purchased two Tucson television and five radio properties from the Journal Broadcast Group, was up 1 percent. It's also the only electronic media company in the market that seemed to be consistently hiring staff in 2015, albeit many of those positions were of the part time variety.

Radio's only bright spot occurred in Spanish language, which enjoyed a 15 percent boost. That news is pleasant for Lotus Communications, which operates two of the more listened to Spanish language radio signals in the market.

On the newspaper side, Gannett recently oversaw another layoff/forced retirement swath at the Arizona Republic in Phoenix. Locally, Lee Enterprises, owners of the Arizona Daily Star, continue to report a slight growth in digital platforms, but not nearly at the level necessary to offset deterioration of its print structure and looming balloon payments on its bankruptcy debt.

At its high point last year, Lee stock was in the $3.50 range. It is now selling closer to $1.70.

This column is now scheduled to appear every other week in the Tucson Weekly, owned by 1013 Communications. New Year's tends to bring new hope, but for media in Tucson, and the business beyond, 2016 is looking a lot like more of the same.

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