The digital revolution continues to turn upside down the U.S. media industry. All of the traditionalcontent-generators face the usual challenges of attracting advertising dollars in traditional and online businesses.
But a handful will be scrutinized more than the others for a variety of reasons. Here three that we are going to put under a microscope:
1) The Washington Post: This will be the first full year for new owner Jeff Bezos, the Amazon titan, to reveal what his vision will be for the struggling newspaper.
The good news is that Bezos' financial fortune will take the pressure off the flagship newspaper and the once-reliable Kaplan education division.
Bezos has been the subject of much speculation about how he will try to impart Amazon's daring and highly successful business formula to a 20th century newspaper operation. If Bezos manages to show signs of a turnaround, by installing modern ideas, he will be hailed as a conquering hero by the media industry.
It's also likely that Bezos would then establish some sort of a new paradigm for newspapers (and possibly magazines as well). These old-line companies have been groping for ways to monetize the Internet. Perhaps Bezos can unlock the door.
2) Bloomberg: Founder Michael Bloomberg, whose third term as the mayor of New York expires on Dec. 31, will be keeping a close eye on the progress of his information and news goliath. What Bloomberg will do is a point of intense speculation at Bloomberg headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. Will he initiate job cuts across the board? Will he reduce the size of his global news staff? Will he do something dramatic with Bloomberg's lackluster television-news operation? Will he seek to acquire the New York Times or the Financial Times?
Or will Mike Bloomberg, a dedicated philanthropist and social activist, try to sell his enormous company for many billions of dollars and proceed to give his money away to the needy around the world?
Meanwhile, Bloomberg News had a tough year in 2013, stung by multiple controversies. This is a company that prefers to stay out of headlines and gossip and report on financial and political news on its own terms. But the company was rocked last spring when it came to light that some of its reporters had used company resources to snoop on its customers on Wall Street. Bloomberg was widely criticized (I noted wryly at the time that the company had accomplished the impossible, by making people feel sorry for all-powerful Goldman Sachs). Then a few weeks ago, the media suggested that Bloomberg News had compromised its integrity by suppressing coverage in China because it feared reprisals by the government. (Bloomberg then shrugged off the criticism). All in all, the news division had a lot to answer for in 2013.
With Mike Bloomberg returning to his perch from city hall, all of the staffers at the company had better start looking over their shoulders.
3) Apple: Yes, that is right. Apple is a media company in this discussion, all right. Even though it doesn't generate content or cover the news, Apple figures heavily in what media companies ail be trying to accomplish: devise ways to reach people and deliver news and information with its array of products.
And speaking of which…
Will the world (finally) see a major new product rollout by Apple? Or will Tim Cook's company lag in the shadows of the dynamic ways of his predecessor Steve Jobs?
Much is riding on the outcome. Start with the twin legacies of Cook and Apple itself. Apple became the world's most innovative company -- and its gargantuan stock price reflected its success in this area -- when Jobs was rolling out new products on a regular basis and dazzling the marketplace with his vision in design, tech prowess and ways to please customers.
Cook has done little of that so far. He has largely relied on the tried and true to keep Apple's sales humming. This strategy, however, won't work forever.
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