Crises will always create conditions for change simply because to be a crisis the status quo must be in a significant state of disruption. 50,000 jobs never returned to Wall Street after the financial crisis of 2008-12 because of structural change in working methods – in that case accelerated automation. Covid-19 is another crisis – but because of its universal ability to disrupt it is generating conditions impacting all sectors of economic activity.
Some trends of change were there before Covid but the lockdown and social distancing have accelerated their rate of progress. Working from home, online shopping and video conferencing have probably been the big three changes affecting the most people in both our professional and personal lives with an overnight transition from being office-based to holding face-to-face meetings as well as how we consume.
Remote working has changed assumptions that many activities necessitated onsite face to face conditions. Whole structures of work activity and managerial control have been swept aside that are either no longer needed or can be replaced by technological substitution.
This has been very noticeable in the media – and has impacted both the content and commercial aspects.
Products have been closed as advertising has crashed – magazines, free newspapers and catalogues have all had their casualties. Compared to digital advertising the value of printed advertising is substantial and without it or in a much diminished form the media will suffer.
Free newspapers were launched to capture the printed advertising that was in danger of being lost as paid for circulations shrunk. As economic activity is restored whether they are relaunched will be an indicator of whether publishers believe consumers of news have been lost permanently to the internet.
Exhibitions and conferences both generate editorial content but exist primarily as significant sources of revenue often in publishers of printed products have ceased in the UK and noticeably media owners are developing platforms to be permanent alternatives. The interdependence of such activities on other parts of the economy such as hospitality and travel in turn reduces ad spend which is critical for printed media.
The effects of the coronavirus on ITV is obvious in one sense as investment in original content falls but it also means the current attack upon a licence fee financing of the BBC cannot just switch over to advertising. The popularity of the BBC website during Covid has allowed it to expand its coverage but if it had been dependent upon advertising before the lockdown where would we be going for our news and cultural sources?
Murdoch news channel
The rival GB news channel being set up from the headquarters of Rupert Murdoch is said to be FOX News in style and content. With that on the horizon and the ever expanding social media with its lack of regulation, a tech savvy government (and some are) would love that.
Encouraged by the Chancellor’s recent announcement of the intention to ditch the Digital Service Tax these tech giants are currently required to pay, leaves them with a competitive edge that our regional news providers cannot beat. Even Reach, the fifth largest online provider after the big four has only this year launched a strategy to monetarise their online users, until now an invisible customer base.
At the start of the crisis newspaper companies rushed to offer free or subsidised home delivery but it has not worked to stem ever-declining circulations. Online news and TV have become the key sources of information for UK citizens, yet editorial redundancies have continued and increased across the whole pantheon of UK media. Those with deep pockets are moving rapidly to fill the gaps left by the retrenchment of the publishing establishment.
So much of our media has become trite and superficial. The celebrity world which fills more space that almost anything bar sports has been exposed for what it always was. Who cares that some luvvy is finding it tough going being restricted to their homes when we all are and most of us do not live in mansions or even in many cases reasonably comfortable accommodation?
Regardless of the impotent actions of the government we are re-entering a world of mass unemployment, increased economic insecurity and less consumer choice. It was suggested younger generations were going to be worse off before Covid – now there can be little doubt.
And all of this without mentioning the impact of automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning on an industry fixated on cutting costs anywhere it can. From a media perspective quality, employment and choice are all going to be victims of this virus too.
By Louisa Bull, Unite national officer for GPM members