Does old media love the Web too much?
Old media should stop obsessing over the Web, and maybe even stop loving it.
NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - The media industry, in confronting the Internet, seems to have added an additional level to the oft-cited stages of grief. To denial, anger, depression, and acceptance, now many major media companies seem to have added self-abasement.
Some of the biggest companies seem to have stopped fighting the Web and instead fallen in love with it. They think it is better than they are -- that there is no answer other than to completely submit.
Almost every conversation I have with anyone connected to the newspaper industry more or less includes a troubled admission that the very concept of newspapers may be doomed. Craigslist is only one of the culprits people cite. Data released recently by the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicates that about 50 million Americans get their news online in any given day.
Yet magazine companies, too, seem inclined no longer to be much enthused about magazines, and book companies are increasingly morose about books. Television people are only slightly less cynical about their own long-term prospects. Yet executives from these industries are increasingly thrilled to talk about the Internet and its possibilities.
Ironically, Internet executives I talk to are much more excited about the prospects for old media. For example, Google (Research) is already placing ads in magazines using its automated systems, and bought a radio ad company recently to move into that medium as well.
There is no one answer for how print, television, movies, and music should face the Internet. My own belief is that the future of media, especially for print and TV companies, will continue to very much depend on strong brands.
Branded content can be used across many different media. Look already at how well Sports Illustrated has taken content and a brand that formerly supported only a magazine and leveraged it on the Internet and with video. (Sports Illustrated, like CNNMoney.com and Fortune, is owned by Time Warner (Research).)
Media companies have to go where the customers are. There's no question that the Internet is increasingly where many consumers are spending the greatest amount of time. But their time there is spent doing many of the tasks of daily life and work, not just "consuming media." I'm convinced most people will continue to enjoy reading books, magazines and newspapers, assuming what they find there is relevant to them.
Technologies often have unintended or unexpected impacts. I know, for example, that I have watched considerably more TV in the years since I got a Tivo (Research). While I may be fast-forwarding through ads, I see far more ads than before, when I almost never could coordinate my schedule with shows I would have liked to watch.
Similarly, I bet many of those 50 million Americans who get news online today didn't read the news at all in the old offline days.
Old media seldom die when we think they will -- look at how vital the movie industry became after the dawn of the VCR. People got more interested in movies -- period.
New technologies are also arising that will make unexpected forms of hybrid media possible. For instance, I was recently wowed at Esther Dyson's PC Forum conference when I saw the PressDisplay product from Newspaperdirect.com.
Here is technology that takes newspapers and magazines originally produced for print and gives them a great interface online, sometimes adding additional online advertising. It even makes it possible to have articles read aloud to you over your cellphone -- from a magazine!
In the end, media companies need to do what they've always done -- produce good content. If they don't stick their heads in the sand as many did in the earlier years of the Internet, perhaps they will learn that as wonderful as the Internet really is, it will neither kill nor replace anything they do. They just have to continue to do it well.
Fast Forward is a weekly column by FORTUNE's David Kirkpatrick. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.