Digital Transformation

How media companies became technology companies

If your company makes money based on the attention of an audience then you are a media company, says Overture editorial lead Chris Mohney.

Overture editorial lead Chris Mohney explains to TechRepublic's Dan Patterson how media companies become tech companies. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Dan Patterson: Generally, when we talk about media and technology, we are talking about advertising. But you have seen so many fist bumps come and go, were there foreshadowings of the disruptions to come or were there conversely markers that you can point back to and say, "Ah, we were kind of on the right track with monetization and with..." The entire narrative in media has been disruption equals death. But were there markers of, "Okay, we are headed in the right direction here"?

Chris Mohney: The big story, which is I think inarguable, is just that media companies have essentially technology companies of one kind or another, and they happen to produce... their product is the media. The strictest definition of media that I can think of is that you sell advertising or something against your content. That's why so many tech companies were strenuously claiming they weren't media companies or they were next generation media companies or something else, because of course all the bad associations with being a media company which was likely to fail due to the bad prospects of the advertising industry.

But the sort of the lesson that you can take from all this, is that the general trend toward technology being an integral part of the media ecosystem is ultimately positive, but probably the vast majority of the attempts to productize that have been abject failures or ridiculous or both. Or, in my mind, the most pernicious is when some sort of attempt is made to force the company or the product or the content in a direction which is meant to be sort of performative toward the investment community, since so much of the intentionality around media companies, especially ones that are not enormous already, is to put yourself eventually in a position to be acquired by those that are. And so therefore there's this kind of stance that is taken to attempt to appeal to the things that we perceive those companies to want or to be looking for down the road, whether that's Google or Facebook or anyone else, or Disney for example.

Dan Patterson: Well, I'm glad you mentioned those companies. As well as media companies' attempts and endeavors to become technology companies, there's a raging debate about technology companies, especially platforms and firms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter. In your opinion, and this isn't... I don't know that there is a right answer, but in your opinion, are these companies media companies? More importantly, what responsibilities do these massive technology platforms have for regulating, controlling, and exerting an editorial influence on their content?

Chris Mohney: I would say that in every aspect of the question that matters they are definitely media companies. And to make that definition a bit broader than my old fashioned kind of restrictive idea is that if your company makes its revenue based upon the attention of the audience, as opposed to selling them a service or a product, then you're a media company. And the vast majority of Facebook's revenue comes from advertising. So I would say in any sense that matters they're a media company. Yes, they have a much more complicated way of going about it, of capturing and channeling and directing attention then directing who pays for that attention, but that is the essential nature of a media company as far as I'm concerned.

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So in terms of how they're responsible for that, I think that they should be as responsible as any company that in essence produces content for that attention. The fact that they are not themselves making it, the kind of idea that they can sort of avoid responsibility or avoid having to meddle with that, I think that is sort of the result of two product-driven ideas that are kind of weirdly arcane in the world of tech which have to do with a, that you should avoid dealing with anything that actually originates in the human activity of your users, it should be just data to your system and to your business, more importantly; and secondly that one of my favorite syllogisms which I absolutely despise which is that humans don't scale line, which is a cop out, probably the worst cop out in all tech, because it basically is a way to wash your hands of any responsibility of any, in fact, interaction with your users or community or what have you, and certainly with the broader culture, or being responsible for the consequences for your inattention, like Facebook's problem with fake news in politics.

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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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