Bill Gates and the Demise of Traditional Media

I wanted to attend the Microsoft SAS event this week but had a conflict. Bill Gates’ keynote was sweeping and made lots of bandwidth-driven predictions about marketplace changes. Among them, that traditional media would be completely disrupted as users adopt digital platforms. Here’s the Seattle Times’ coverage.

I watched the Webcast. Here are some excerpts (pardon the sentence fragments):

  • On mobile: Directory assistance morphs into search, and voice is the “quickest way into that capability.” He touts the Tellme acquisition without mentioning the company name.
  • On Virtual Earth and “virtual worlds”: 3-D interfaces will be mainstream.
  • On social media: Social networks become integrated so that it “feels like a single experience.”
  • On traditional media ad models:
  • Newspapers: subscriptions have started an “inexorable decline.” Combination of TV and Internet are chief ways to get news, even local news. Print ad budgets will decline as ad dollars will follow users. But online is much more competitive and there’s no “sure winner, except the consumers themselves.”
  • “[Newspaper and magazine] reading is going to go completely online.” Ads are “completely targeted” and can be in “new and richer formats.” The only drawbacks of this are things “associated with the device.” He predicts this will happen within five years.
  • Discusses how online video can target niche audiences, which is now “complimentary” to traditional media. “Every household in America watching a new video feed is now practical.” Video will be delivered over the Internet/IP networks. He also discusses the interactive capability of IPTV and potential user interaction with ads during programming. He discusses user-generated content.
  • Gates speaks about Xbox Live as a set-top box, VOD, community and simultaneous online/TV viewing activity with two-video.
  • “Broadcast TV will not be competitive [with the Internet].” Ads will be personally targeted to the viewer. TV “will completely go online.”

On online marketing/advertising: He alludes very obliquely to an online ad exchange to bring buyers and sellers together to better monetize content and target advertisers and suggests MSFT will be a big player or the biggest player. (This obviously suggests acquisitions.)

Gives Zillow a plug (Zillow uses Virtual Earth).

Says that voice will be a customized interface for lots of devices (references Tellme technology). Discusses mixed voice/screen interfaces as optimal: “voice-screen interaction” far more “robust” than only voice.

And now the yellow pages zingers:

Yellow pages are going to be used “less and less.” Gives plumber example: “Presentation you’ll get will be far better than what you’ll get in the [print] yellow pages.”

Yellow pages usage “among people under 50 will drop to near zero in the next five years.”

My thoughts: much of what Gates says is probably accurate; however, the recent PEW research argues that Americans are far more ambivalent about technology and slower to adopt that Gates’ ambitious vision.

His sweeping predictions about the complete demise of traditional media or their total transition to digital formats “within the next five years” is way too aggressive, although in a generation he may be largely correct.

There are also fundamental questions about Microsoft’s ability to be at the center of all the changes and developments that Gates asserts. The company may need some aggressive acquisitions to do so; and while Microsoft will certainly be somewhere in the mix, its not clear precisely where that will be.


Related: Traditional media, in the form of film/TV producers and distributors say “not so fast.”

3 Responses to “Bill Gates and the Demise of Traditional Media”

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    […] Earth as a “geobrowser.” The discussion in the post is consistent with some of the remarks about emerging 3-D environments and virtual worlds that Bill Gates made in his keynote […]

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    […] playfully combative discussion among the search engines is the fact that lots of folks are writing off (print) newspapers to varying degrees. But at this moment of their seeming weakness, relationships with them are in […]

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