What's behind recent changes in global media?
Virtually every leader we spoke with has experienced the pressure of ever-accelerating change on their business throughout the pandemic. In fact, many of those changes were already under way pre-COVID. Still, global lockdowns exponentially increased the pace of transformation, driven by the need to adapt quickly to remote work and the increased consumption of digital media by locked-down consumers with time on their hands. Our conversations revealed several forces at play driving these changes.
First, while on-demand platforms are currently booming, our interviewees predicted that only a few global and mass-appeal streaming platforms will thrive. Their success or failure will be based on their ability to fund a sizable intellectual property (IP) portfolio — with exclusive access to content.
Next, independent content makers will continue to shine with unique ideas and great storytelling. As control over IP is increasingly ceded to the major direct-to-consumer platforms, these independent players will continue to have an essential role in surfacing and developing new voices, creative talent and IP.
The rise of digitization is also profoundly changing publishing formats — from audio to web and mobile. Thanks to the lockdown lifestyle of the pandemic, the conversion of books and news from print to audio has gathered pace. As supply chain issues in traditional publishing caused a slowdown and pushed consumers toward digital alternatives, repeated lockdowns have similarly impacted print distribution and increased digital content consumption.
Emerging markets are particularly experiencing growth as more audiences embrace on-demand entertainment. These regions are also seeing a rapid transition from cash to mobile wallets — and for media subscription platforms requiring digital payments, this is a major development.
Recent news and developments surrounding social change have also spurred demand for "local" content with a global reach — creating an increased appetite for a broadened understanding of the multicultural world in which we live.
Newer technologies like non-fungible tokens (NFTs), tailored digital experiences and e-commerce through social and messaging platforms are reshaping the global media landscape each day — setting up a future of historic growth and innovation in every global media market and format.
Examining effective media leadership during a crisis
Once the pandemic hit, global media leaders found themselves suddenly juggling multiple priorities under great pressure. They had to quickly take stock of their people, plans and processes to help their organizations adapt to the new world order. Leaders' abilities and resilience were tested like never before — and a fairly common playbook for navigating crisis emerged.
Stability became an obvious key priority first. For many media leaders, safeguarding cash and liquidity was the first imperative. Whether companies quickly instituted furloughs and salary cuts, or dipped into rainy day reserves, most were united in not yet knowing “where the bottom was.” This uncertainty forced a series of immediate actions to preserve cash, enable remote work environments, and address employees’ professional and personal concerns.
For the media leaders we spoke with, extensive scenario planning was a common immediate follow-on, providing a structure for setting expectations with the board and employees.
Once mitigation plans had been laid out, virtually every leader we spoke with went through a process of reevaluating their strategic priorities and active investments — a period of rethinking, refreshing and resetting to simplify the business.
A few media leaders we spoke with took the opportunity to reengineer the entire go-forward sales process, while others used the pandemic to simultaneously reskill and cull the ranks while revenues were temporarily down.
In the end, effective media leadership during this unprecedented crisis boiled down to constant and transparent communication. It was the best way to provide direction, facilitate rapid decision-making and maintain an extended team's energy and commitment.
Today's media work landscape is forever changed
All of the leaders we spoke with acknowledged they expect some permanent changes in the global media industry — starting with the way work gets done. The rise of virtual meetings during the pandemic has meant less business travel, smarter communication and greater collaboration and exchanges of ideas.
Most leaders also acknowledge that a hybrid work-from-home model is the most likely outcome for future work arrangements — partly to retain found efficiencies and partly because employees are demanding it.
But even though virtual meetings and remote work have transformed the media industry already, leaders have growing concerns that people will become less fulfilled by their work experience over time. Many are looking to deliberate physical convening to maintain connections, reinvigorate creativity and mentor younger staff.
Global media leaders are stepping up like never before
A number of media leaders spoke about the evolving role of social responsibility in the corporate environment. They felt it was their duty to protect the health and well-being of their workforce throughout the pandemic. The realization that companies can drive social change, not just governments, has had a profound impact — and many media organizations are putting purpose first with a deeper sense of responsibility for their employees.
Many leaders we spoke with also recognized the importance of responding publicly to social issues when it is a chance to reinforce company values. This means strengthening the push for diversity, equity and inclusion. It also means doing a better job reflecting the audiences they serve by opening up recruitment practices at all levels.
Mental health support was another key factor identified by media leaders, especially in the age of virtual meetings and less frequent human contact in the workplace. Companies are finding new ways to bring renewed energy and engagement to a tired, burned-out workforce while increasing access to mental health benefits.
A new kind of media leader is emerging
During the pandemic, leaders learned that crisis calls for certain uncompromised leadership qualities like positivity, agility, compassion, communication, empathy, authenticity and more. As one leader aptly called out, leaders didn't need a new list of attributes, but to flex towards the qualities most needed in a crisis.
Universally, leaders were challenged to support their teams in a more personal way than ever before. Whether called to counsel colleagues who slipped into depression, or support those who lost a loved one, the pandemic forced leaders to hone their ability to have crucial conversations with team members in tough situations.
Plotting a future course for global media
The post-COVID business environment is forever changed — and the global media landscape is no exception. What will the future hold for organizations, leaders and employees?
A common refrain among the media leaders we spoke with was the continued rise of consolidation. With so many choices for consumers to navigate, they will inevitably gravitate towards brands they trust. This will create some very unconventional "mashups" and business models, blurring the traditional lines between studios, music labels, gaming, e-commerce, content creators and more. Most see room for just three to four major streamers, not unlike the old broadcast model — but on a global scale.
The demand for highly specialized and localized content will continue to grow, with many leaders pointing to the importance of speaking directly to specific audiences, cultures and interests. As sports and news migrate to digital streaming and publishing formats, traditional distribution outlets will disappear.
And while AI has already begun to revolutionize the world's newsrooms by automating more mundane tasks, journalism will need to retain its human touch in order to remain creative, curious and relevant in an ever-changing world.
Getting to know the global media workforce of tomorrow
During our discussions about the current state of the media landscape and where it’s heading in the near term, we identified several key talent challenges that will be essential for media leaders to address in the months and years ahead.
First, the recruitment race is on as a shrinking talent pool changes employee priorities. Following a period of layoffs and furloughs during the pandemic, many media businesses are currently understaffed. This challenge has been exacerbated by the “Great Resignation,” with employees dropping out of the workforce altogether, spurred by their desire to change their lives and find a bigger meaning.
To attract people back into the business — and retain others who are considering quitting — media companies need to be thoughtful about their employer proposition and adapt to meet the talent where they are. This means working smarter with rewards and being more creative when it comes to employee recognition and compensation.
Tomorrow's media leaders must also make progress toward elevating underrepresented talent into the executive ranks. Companies must invest more aggressively in inclusive leader training and recruitment skills, as well as professional development at all levels.
The media workforce of the future will be highly skilled — and it's incumbent on today's leaders to ensure this comprehensive expertise is well represented in the industry. Technology infrastructure, e-commerce, data and analytics, and social media marketing are just some of the skills in greatest demand. With talent shortages still persisting, media organizations should look inward — designing and developing new structures that meet these changing needs.
The challenges and opportunities of media consolidation
As media conglomerates become even more consolidated, there will be an increasing shortage of leaders proven at leading the massively scaled and complex behemoths that result. Bets will have to be made on potential, requiring organizations to carefully assess and develop entire benches of talent as part of a thoughtful and multi-leveled succession agenda. Coaching for development and other formal training programs will be important tools for accelerating capabilities to lead at scale.
Some media leaders we spoke with pointed out that too much scale can constrain the creative license within big companies if there are too many guardrails or inputs which ultimately dull the content, or too much conservatism for the sake of protecting a major brand.
The bottom line for global media
Even before the pandemic, the media sector was in the throes of significant disruption. The pandemic has accelerated that dramatically. As a result, the challenges of leadership have increased in difficulty and complexity — but the pandemic has engendered new leadership qualities. Agility, courage and emotional intelligence are the skills that count right now.
The workforce has changed forever. Employee priorities are evolving. Health comes first. Underrepresented voices are being heard. Tomorrow's global media truly starts today.
To hear directly from all the media leaders we spoke with, download our full two-part white paper on the changing global media landscape.