Pervasive media.

My wife asked me recently why I go everywhere with not just my iPhone but my iPad and my MacBook Air as well.   The point, she thought, was that mobile technology has become increasingly smaller and more powerful to avoid such a need.

I thought for a second or two about constructing a convincing argument relating to a hierarchy of functionality being essential to my everyday needs.  But then I realised she knew me better than that.  I confess, I just like gadgets and so much of my life is spent immersed in digital content.

Even seems a little daft calling the content ‘digital’, as haven’t we been watching TV, listening to music and reading newspapers for a lot longer than the d word has been in common use?  Maybe a better description is ‘pervasive’. 

Ask Andy Gray and Richard Keys whether a world which enables the visual evidence of verbal indiscretions to be circulated in seconds provides a good example of pervasive media.

Ask the producers of The Social Network whether the 103,000 tweets on their opening weekend reaching 54 million users was a massive dose of profitable irony.

Ask the list of politicians and celebrities whose casually scribed tweets have hit the headlines within less time than it takes to recharge a battery, and often brought them down.

The digital revolution is in all our lives and almost everything in our lives.  So how come the BBC cut their online budget by over £30 million and culled half of their 400 online sites?   Is this revolution not immune from economic downturns?

A brief look back into recent history will help us find the answer.  I wrote an article for a now defunct industry title (although their demise really wasn’t my fault), reporting from an internet convention in Los Angeles in 1996.  Remember the date because what I’m about to repeat will make it seem like 1966 and not just a decade and a half ago.

There were just 9.5 million internet users at the time, with a forecast of 200 million by the year 2000.   Many thought the claims were nonsense by the way and that the ‘super highway’ was not going to provide the sea change that only a few were predicting.

How’s the current tally of 1.8 billion internet users and 4.6 billion mobile users to make those forecasts look like a pretty modest punt?  Even a single product, like Apple’s apps software, has been downloaded over one billion times.

The numbers are massive as is the speed with which they have been achieved.  In broad terms, the penetration levels of pervasive digital media have taken around a third of the time it took TV to establish itself.   Speed to market, speed to interact, and speed to succeed.  Or fail. 

Let’s take a step back from the staggering stats and give ourselves time for a reality check.   Without a proper focus on old fashioned business basics, digital platforms won’t do anything other than to hasten the day when you call in the receivers.  Remember the infamous bubble bursting year a decade ago when 57% of business failures had .com in the business name.

By all means, revel in the excitement of ‘visits’ and ‘eyeballs’ but if you don’t mention revenue, profits and cash flow in the next breath, you may have a problem.

In 1996, I reported from LA that only 23% of internet users had ever made an online purchase.  My guess is that figure might be close to 100% now but it’s a sobering thought that over 85% of websites are NOT transactional.   76% of online revenue comes from 1% of the sites.

The BBC cull is a timely reminder that resources devoted to information, and not customer engagement with a transactional trigger, are vulnerable when the economic chips are very much down.

Our world is passing through the mother of all retrenchments.  For many businesses and individuals, this is a pretty rotten time.  To come out of the other end at all, we have to ride the learning curve with a little more concentration and focus on business goals. 

Whether online or offline or the crucial space in between, we need to work harder on the boring objective of making money. If we harness the incredible technologies evolving around us, we’re going to have all the fun we want on the journey.  If we get it right, we’ll arrive with a smile on our face and cash in our virtual pockets.



Ray Hanks