Blogging From Washington With Lois Vossen

Posted on February 3, 2009

Ted Koppel welcomed back the attendees for the second panel, titled "The Global Media Marketplace" by giving a brief history of the television news business. Koppel explained that when CBS launched 60 Minutes in 1968, it surprised everyone by making money. Suddenly, the network said "maybe news can be a revenue generator" and it went from being a bonus to being an expectation. 

The economic model has driven network news into a consistent mode of cost-cutting and having the primary goal as reaching younger audiences to maximize and monetize advertising dollars. Network evening news is somewhat of an exception to this rule, but it too has moved quickly to an advertising-based model. The Global Media Marketplace panel includes Smita Singh, director of Global Development Program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; Edward Borgerding, CEO of the Abu Dhabi Media Company; Carol Giacomo, editorial board member of The New York Times; Mika Salmi, president of global digital media of MTV Networks; and Sydney Suissa, executive vice president of content at National Geographic Channels International. 

The first topic raised by Sydney Suissa was funding. According to him, the U.S. public television system is dramatically underfunded (especially compared to all other Western countries). As a result, the United States is not getting the amount of foreign news that it wants or needs in a democracy. Koppel asked Giacomo to predict what will become of The New York Times in the next ten years given the financial struggles it also faces. Giacomo said the owners remain committed to the longevity of the newspaper and to first-class domestic and international news coverage. 

Edward Borgerding of the Abu Dhabi Media Company then explained it is impossible to separate the business side of media from the content side. The business models are changing in fundamental ways because people can get access to content in other ways without paying for it (i.e. in the music industry where fans can get it online for less and therefore the revenue pie for the music industry has shrunk). The revenue graph for global media is a melting ice cube, Borgerding explained. 

The media industry is going through a fundamental shift in its business model and therefore how content is funded and created. "We're trading analog dollars for Internet dimes," he said. Smita Singh of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation spoke about being the odd one out on the panel since she does not come from commercial media. Following 9/11, many Americans were asking "How come the world hates us so much?" and the Hewlett Foundation board of directors asked the question, "Why do Americans know so little about the rest of the world that they have to ask this question?" Through that question, the Hewlett Foundation began to understand how they could become a catalyst in the media landscape and support international filmmakers in the U.S. media marketplace. The goal of their funding of ITVS International is to stimulate an appetite for international stories across the entire scope of the U.S. 

The panel discussion wrapped up with a final question about the future of news and its financial sustainability. Former Ambassador James Collins summed up that in the marketplace, "News is a loser." It doesn't make money. It can't sustain itself financially in the business model that is now pervasive in the media world. Sydney Suissa of National Geographic feels that the solution is a strong, well-funded public broadcasting system. Mika Salmi of MTV joked that the government could buy Facebook. While the idea is meant as a joke, Salmi believes that the U.S. government must support expansive media. 

Carol Giacomo of The New York Times thinks that if we believe news sources like The New York Times are vital to a healthy democracy, then we must find a way to fund and support them, perhaps even with public funding. Ed Borgerding of the Abu Dhabi Media Company reminded us that there will always be news and what we need to focus on is how to keep it from being commercially corrupted. Smita Singh of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation made a call for more public funding of media that will advance public diplomacy, but also stipulated she’s not advocating that government create media but rather they need to be arms length away from the content creation. Koppel closed the panel by pointing out the popularity of NPR's two morning news shows that have an audience of 14 million, and that alone proves there is an appetite for substantive news. 

-Lois Vossen, vice president and Independent Lens series producer

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