CanWest executive analyses media

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From the ivory towers of CanWest Global, to Trailer B at the U of C, CanWest Chief Strategy Officer Kenneth J. Goldstein gave a talk about the evolving media of Canada on Thu., Nov. 14.

So just what can one of the leading Canadian experts in media tell us? One hell of a lot, apparently.

"If anyone tells you that there is one way of looking at the media, they are wrong," said Goldstein to a handful of students and professors. "This is a very complicated subject."

It certainly is, with the emergence of convergence and the sheer volume of choices facing consumers. For our purposes, convergence means the eroding of borders, i.e. if Wal-Mart were to start selling fresh fruit.

"New digital technology can absorb each other's functions and can collect digital data about consumers," commented Goldstein. "There are some privacy issues that need to be addressed here."

With the new information advertisers are acquiring, we will see more ads tailored to individuals. Advertising companies will show different commercials to different households, i.e. selling GoldBond ads to seniors and Jell-O to households with young children.

With the growing dominance of cable providers over local networks, we are seeing a change in revenue for television.

"Since 1991, we've seen subscription profits exceeding advertising," said Goldstein. "Television is being driven by subscriptions more and more."

The direction of travel seems to be toward two types of channels, vertical and horizontal. Vertical channels are generally the local channels that you know and love, cartoons in the morning, soaps in the afternoon, and news at night. Horizontal channels are what you get added on to your cable package: the cartoon channel for kids, all soaps channel for bored people, and news TV for those who want to be informed. Digital technology allows for a seemingly endless amount of channels and program options, taking a lot away from local stations.

"Once we get past a certain point we are only going to be using one channel--yours," said Goldstein.

Content is also experiencing drastic change in today's world. This can all be related to Innis' stable theory of 1950: as the cost of navigation declines, so to does the value of the commodity that is transported. In other words, at the dawn of sea travel, sailing vessels transported pelts and gold. Today with trains and truckers, wheat and steel are common loads.

"I applied Innis' theory to television," said Goldstein. "As the cost of channels declined, less valuable programs emerged--game shows, syndicated talk shows and finally reality based TV."

So how does a major Canadian media think-tank end his presentation?

"I turn to the words of the most important philosopher of the twentieth century Yogi Berra, 'If you come to a fork in the road, take it.'"