Media Companies and the Generation Gap

In our last podcast episode, we asked the question as to why so many media companies refuse to get with the times and continue to embrace a business model that’s over 80 years old.  I was suddenly inspired to write my thoughts on that . . . so now I am.

Comic from the awesome Bill Porter

Before I go any further I should probably explain what this “ancient business model” even is.  In ye olden days, a single company would own the rights to certain properties.  Sometimes these properties would be songs, sometimes movies, sometimes newspapers, and sometimes people.  Yes, in the history of entertainment industry artists were considered property or assets.  If a radio star wanted to release ANYTHING, from a song to an interview, it went through the studio.  Things have changed in some areas of the industry, but for the most part the overall idea is much the same.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s an example:

Tal Bachman is a Canadian song-writer best known for his 1999 hit She’s So High that hit #1 in Canada and was in the Top 10 in the USA and internationally.  It was a huge hit for such a breakout artist and many people expected great things.  No one ever heard from him until his 2004 album.  It turns out that his label had signed him into an exclusive three album deal, where he was legally committed to make three albums for them before being able to seek out other labels.  After his huge success from his debut album, the label felt that people would probably not want to hear him again and refused to produce any more of his music.  This caused a “Catch 22”; he was legally obligated to release two more albums under this company, but the company refused to release any more albums.  In essence, he was locked in and couldn’t do anything until the contract expired.  In the music world, being out of the public eye for 5 years is a hard thing to recover from.

Another great example would be OK Go, whose viral video on treadmills made them a household name.   Their label didn’t want people “stealing” the video by embedding it on other sites or posting it where they (the label) wouldn’t get money from Pay-Per-Click advertising and so blocked the video.  OK Go rebelled, stating that without people sharing the video and posting it everywhere like they did no one would have ever known who they were.  Now operating independently, the band takes great efforts to make outrageous videos and make them available to the public.

Now that we have the problem out of the way, we still have to answer why the problem still exists in today’s world.  I mean, surely a generation who was brought up on technology and media sharing should be more savvy with how to sell to other, technology savvy people.  Right?

In an interesting conversation with my mom (yes, my mom) we discussed the different generations and what defines each group.  My mother falls right on the dividing line between “Baby Boomers” and “Generation X”, somewhere in the “Generation Jones” group.  I fall in the “Millennial” generation (or, as some morons put it, Generation Y*).  My generation is often described as having grown up during the advent of such communication technology and so have a good understanding on how to use it.  We love to share (social networking), love to learn what could be considered useless info (Wikipedia), and love to expand our horizons (Google).  We also don’t put the same value on works of media as previous generations do, likely because of those three points I just mentioned.  As some experts have put it, my generation is the first to not have actually produced anything new but instead have embraced and adopted older works of media as our own.  Sounds harsh, but how many of you have a retro cartoon character shirt or something similar?

The Baby Boomers, on the other hand were raised during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  They learned how to control industry, media, politics, the works.  And by Crom, there were a lot of them; the “Boomer” part of their name is due to the huge population boom that happened with their generation.   The problem is, they grew up with a completely different mindset when it came to intellectual property and technology.  And while the Boomer generation is now starting to retire, many of them are still working . . . many of them in the top seat at many of these media companies.  Those that aren’t from the Boomer generation are the older Generation X’ers who might have once shared our idea of free information, but have since sold their VW Microbus for the new VW Touareg.

My mom’s observation was that in previous times, the older generation would have retired by now and left things to the newer generation.  However, due to the sheer amount of them flooding the workplace, the improved health care that’s prolonging their “working years”, and the worsening economy making it harder to retire in the first place, these older generations haven’t left the workplace yet.  The end result is a workforce of Generation X engineers helping to drive technology forward, Millennials deciding how new technology will be used, with the Boomers trying to control it all (despite not understanding how it works or how to use it).

This sounds like I’m inciting ageism, or trying to specifically blame a part of our society for the way things are now.  I believe everyone has a right to work, no matter your age, and frankly I don’t know a Boomer who wouldn’t love to retire and leave all of this mess to the rest of it . . . but can’t.  This is not a rant article.  However, this is a possible theory that might explain why so many companies that should know better are still using such outdated business models and losing money because of it.

And blaming it on those darn kids and their computers.  (ok, that was a little ageist)


*I think the term “Generation Y” is beyond dumb because it gives the impression that the next one will be Generation Z and the one before was W.  Modern civilization has had more than 25 generations in it, and each were named for what happened, not some letter.  Generation X was coined because they were described as an “unknown” generation, or a generation struggling to find identity. Naming every other generation after it off a letter for no reason is just stupid.



Executive Producer for Stolendroids Podcast. Also resident 'tech-head' and de-facto leader of the group.

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