Media companies need to think like coders (really??)

The quote below from Marc Andreessen on TechCrunch got me thinking about the way we tackle complex problems for media companies at Digital Public.

[Marc] Andreessen’s observation is that media companies have no aptitude for technology, nor do they really understand what technology companies do. The one thing technology companies do really well is deal with constant disruption. “Microsoft is going through this right now,” he points out, “Ballmer is not complaining about it.” He’s tackling it head on. So did Intel when Andy Grove gutted it to shift from memory chips to microprocessors. So does every technology company CEO. It is ingrained in the industry Andreessen comes from, so it is just obvious to him: “You are cruising along, and then technology changes. You have to adapt.” Media companies need to learn that lesson fast. To the extent that their products are now delivered and consumed as digital bits, they too are becoming technology companies.

It alludes to the “always in Beta” ambition that drives Digital Public, and I’ll confess it used to be the single most frustrating thing I experienced as a ‘media person’ working with digital agencies. This was during my time at Endemol and in a former life in print media. Media companies need a good experience – a great experience if they’re to be re-bought or re-commissioned. Newspapers can’t go out with a half-arsed headline. TV channels can’t broadcast dead space. The reason media people are such luvvies is that they have to work together because they know intuitively that their audience has a finite attention span. The same could be said for advertising, although that’s a different story.

But tech companies have alpha, beta, and (heaven forbid) version one, one-point-one, version two. What frustrated me so much was that version one ought to be perfect. Like episode one. Or issue one. Or show one. A launch was a finished piece of work. A masterpiece. A reason to celebrate. Yet digital agencies seemed to be okay with a loose fit, the string-and-Sellotape that was holding a poor version together. And the reason they were okay with this was because in their world there was always version two round the corner.

Living Life in Beta – one of the internal mantras of Digital Public – is a mindset that suggests to me being okay with imperfection. And yet it’s not. As Andreessen says above (and my colleagues at DP echo) this ‘agile prototyping’ thinking reflects a desire to be on the constantly upward spiral of improvement. The media world of issue ones and wrap shows allows for a relaxation when the commission has been won or a new design rolled out. In the world of tech there is only the desire to be better. And better. And better. Media thinking will help a tech launch be great; tech thinking will show that great is not good enough.


About Morgan Holt

Morgan Holt is senior strategist at Wolff Olins, the global game-changing brand consultancy. He is also chairman of the Branded Content Marketing Association, and a non-executive director of CN Media Group.

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