October is a time for falling temperatures, falling leaves and, it would seem this year, falling executives in the media industry. Top management is changing faster than program lineups at some of the major networks, as Jonathan Klein from CNN and iconic Jeff Zucker from NBC brush off their resumes. ABC news chief David Westin and Bill Roedy, head of MTV International, will also depart by the end of the year. Of course, when the big guys start to head out, other management changes will be quick on their heels.
Most news stories on these departures emphasize “a time of rapid change” in viewer habits, with internet content and online entertainment drawing more and more viewers away from the advertisers that are essential to the business model of today’s networks. While there are also issues of timing to consider…Comcast is buying control of NBC from General Electric Company for example…there is also the concern for changing the culture of these media behemoths.
Of course it is interesting to speculate about the departing chiefs, what they have done right or wrong and what sort of walk-away deals they might have negotiated (Zucker’s is pretty sweet from what I understand), although there is nothing particularly productive about listing all of their foibles and downfalls. What might be more interesting is watch what happens next.
In my opinion, these changes in the media industry are not only the right direction but they are long overdue. The internet isn’t going anywhere and those who have established their chops in a business model based on network ratings against each other are going to find that they are battling the wrong threat. For change to happen, the visionaries at the top of the organization are going to have to re-establish their view for different mountaintops. And that’s hard to do when the only mountain range you really know is the one you have climbed yourself.
Zucker captures this for me when he says that he knows every “nook and cranny” of NBC and that this has been his entire life for the past 24 years. The problem is that the world is not NBC and the walls of traditional business, whether its media or banking or automotive, have blocked the view of what is going on in the life of the consumer. CNN is what I watch in the morning from a hotel room when I’m travelling or in the airport or doctor’s office. It’s not where I get my news on a consistent basis. And I left MTV for my music entertainment after I graduated college a long long time ago.
Will the new guard fare any better than the old one? We’ll have to wait and see. Not only will the leaders in these roles change over the next few weeks but by default, the competitive landscape and inter-relationships of the media industry will change as well. If the bosses change but the culture stays the same, not much will happen. But if those coming into these positions come with a 21st century vision and understanding of how today’s audience wants to consume media, there could be some interesting developments ahead.