Nearly one week after Helen Coonan’s mostly
non-specific announcement on media futures, it is worth reviewing some recent
straws in the wind – especially since the cross-media ownership regulations may
not be lifted until as late as 2010-2012. By then a great deal else will have
changed.

A survey by Google has shown that the British
now spend more time on the internet than they do watching television. British
internet users spend an average of 164 minutes online each day, compared to 148
minutes watching television.

Meanwhile in Australia, the take up of broadband has grown
seven times faster than pay television subscribers in the last year. Pay-TV
customers grew by about 2000 a week to 1.69 million last year, while broadband
customer numbers jumped 2000 a day to 1.67 million. Austar chief executive John Porter has said pay-TV has only three to four years
before advances in broadband speeds made internet-based entertainment more
commercially viable in Australia.

And yesterday a study was
released showing that nearly three quarters of Australians who bought a car in the last
six months used the internet to do their research – a 27% increase on
the last three years.

What do all these signs add up to? A strong
wind of change.

The fact that news and information on the
internet is seemingly dominated by existing big media companies is important,
but only part of the story. Search engines are overwhelmingly the most popular
sites, according to the internet market research company Hitwise. Google, for
example, has 20% market share compared to News Limited’s 2.85%
and Fairfax’s 2.23%.

The real question is where do people go
once they have conducted their search?

Shopping, very largely, and networking and to entertainment. But when people go looking for information the traditional media
sites are only one of a number of sources. Wikipedia is right up there at
number 17 in the top 20 of the most popular sites visited.

The media landscape is changing very fast. Will there be good journalism in the future?
Not unless journalists find ways of projecting the best of our values and
skills into the new era – and find some ways to make quality journalism pay.

Peter Fray

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