Howard Kosky on PR and Digital Broadcasting

In a multi-platform, wi-fi age, TV no longer delivers the mass audiences it once commanded

In today's 24-hour news landscape, brand owners and PR practitioners are highly attuned to the opportunity a strong media profile provides and perceive the perils of ignoring the media. Some have sought to minimise risk to their reputation by proactively courting the media spotlight.

Sir Richard Branson's personality and media persona immediately comes to mind. The ebullient entrepreneur is one of the business world's most adept and prolific figures when it comes to harnessing media publicity opportunities, with his exposure literally ballooning in the Nineties.

In recent times, the airline industry has produced charismatic communicators such as Michael O'Leary from RyanAir and easyJet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou, both of whom are able to convey ideas with clarity and consistency. These brand ambassadors successfully tread a line between representing their companies and becoming a brand in their own right, with the latter going as far as to allow his business to become an ITV documentary called Airline.

Big personalities aside, all large organisations can reap rewards from effective media management. Done well, it can make the difference between a managed incident and a media crisis. A case in point is Mattel. Faced with a number of potentially embarrassing product recalls, the toy company tackled the issue head-on with a video message from the chief executive, Bob Eckert.

The video was posted on Mattel's corporate website, spread virally across the internet and appeared on some TV news bulletins. The move limited damaging speculation and helped contain the situation by quelling the media storm. Compare this to the images of queues of concerned customers seeking to withdraw their savings from a crippled Northern Rock. The story was allowed to run unchallenged by Northern Rock for several days and the resulting collapse was inevitable.

As Mattel's actions illustrate, TV, though still important, is today only part of the picture (if you'll excuse the pun). Crucially, the way we consume moving images is evolving in this era of YouTube, BBC iPlayer and 3G phones. Radio stations have been quick to capture the digital opportunity and stations such as LBC and the BBC are using podcasts to grow their listenership.

The widespread take-up of broadband connections has made video on demand a pervasive reality. Business is only just waking up to the huge potential of creating well-placed brand funded content. With media owners keen for rich content, those that do it well are reaping the early adopter benefit. Bebo's Kate Modern is about to enter its second series and leads the way in working with brands taking advantage of new opportunities.

Captivating content can now be delivered to consumers when they please via the platform of their choosing. According to Ofcom figures, three out of every five UK adults now have access to the internet at home, up from just over half three years ago. Interestingly, there is not a huge disparity between broadband take-up in urban and rural areas, underlining its undisputed arrival in the mainstream.

It may be argued that we are now in the third age of the broadcast era that has taken us from one wireless age to another – from radio to wi-fi – interrupted by a period when television reigned supreme.

Today, TV is still a formidable medium and there is more of it than ever. For example, the BBC alone broadcasts over 12,000 hours a year of news, up from around 5,000 a little more than a decade ago. However, in our multi-channel, multi-platform age, TV can no longer deliver the mass audiences that it once commanded and for that reason has lost its pre-eminence.

The advent of wi-fi and the growing uptake of portable devices (and their declining cost) has allowed consumers to access internet content far more easily. Browsing the internet from the comfort of your sofa using a wi-fi enabled lightweight laptop is a pleasurable experience – and as a result more people now seek content in this way.

There has also been an upsurge in wi-fi hotspots, benefiting those on the move.

According to the iPass Mobile Broadband Index, in the second half of 2007 the number of internet sessions at wi-fi hotspots in the UK grew by 121 per cent.

The potency of audio and video in conveying stories remains undiminished. In fact, now that the constraints of broadcast scheduling need not apply, the opportunities to connect and influence are greater than ever. Those brands that choose not to supply audiences with informative or entertaining content increase their own vulnerability.

Howard Kosky is the chairman of markettiers4DC

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