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Synopsis

A fresh perspective on the ongoing war for media profits, and why the ultimate winners will surprise people

Every day brings new headlines about the decline of traditional media powerhouses like Time Inc. and the triumph of digital native media like Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, and Politico. Old media giants like the New York Times are betting everything on their digital offerings to replace the shrinking revenue from traditional advertising.


But the ugly truth, argues Michael Wolff, is that digital media isn’t working for any content creator, old or new. Sure, Google and Facebook make a fortune selling online advertising—but they’re aggregators, not creators. Both old and new media are barely making any money from online text. And as major advertisers conclude that banner ads next to text basically don’t work, they flock back to the one format that still gets big results: television. The value of an eyeball’s attention to digital media has plummeted, while the value of a television eyeball continues to increase.


Of course television isn’t what it used to be—it’s now “an almost unquantifiable flood of video across ever-present multiple screens, witty, informative, specialized, erudite, culturally prescient and perceptive (along with low and empty), that more and more annotates, curates, and informs most aspects, and hours, of our lives.”


Wolff shows how the leaders in digital media, from the mighty platforms to brand name magazine and news sites, are now trying to become video producers and to effectively put themselves into the television business as distributors and programmers. Native advertising and sponsored content are the new forms of soap opera. Television, by any other name, is the game everybody is trying to win—from Netflix to YouTube to the Wall Street Journal.


The result is both a new golden age of television—a competition for discerning niche audiences willing to pay big fees—and a commodity age, because the more video you make and own, without much regard for quality, the more advertising dollars you accrue. Wolff predicts what will happen during the next few years of this gold rush and war for survival.

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