Beyond transformation: 20 years of media

What an incredible 20 years it has been for the Canadian media business. 

What an incredible 20 years it has been for the Canadian media business. A challenging time for many, to be sure, but certainly a time of great opportunity. So much has changed that even the word “transformation” cannot adequately describe what has really happened to our business. Long gone are the days of the low profile, back-room “media department.”

Today the media function is at the forefront of any contemporary communication process, armed with tools and research we could not have even imagined 20 years ago. Identifying the key drivers that have collectively contributed to such a dramatic change is no easy task. But here is my pick for the top five:

From department to business

Twenty years ago all major agencies contained a “media department.” All of that changed in 1990 with MacLaren McCann’s launch of Canada’s very first stand-alone media management company.

I well remember those early days and the scathing criticism from competitors. Then, one by one, they saw the light, and today the term “department” has faded into oblivion. The change brought business focus and a whole new perspective to what was previously a service function.

Mass to superniche

In 1989, mass media still ruled the roost. Specialty television channels were in their infancy, with MuchMusic and TSN launching in the fall of 1984. Specialty was generally regarded as the poor cousin of the television business. Any magazine with a circulation of less than 100,000 was regarded with great suspicion by media buyers.

How the tables have turned. Mass media today are on the financial brink. The targeting ability and the connectivity of special-interest media forms are the crown jewels in any media owner’s portfolio. The ever-increasing spectrum of niche communication channels opened the door for new levels of media innovation and creativity.

The digital dimension

Twenty years ago, little did we know how digital communications would transform the media business. We had started to think about interactivity and the impact of “the Information Highway.” In fact, it was not until 1996 that M2U launched one of Canada’s first agency digital media operations – still headed up today by Peter Vaz. Without question, digital has impacted every aspect of our business and is now an integral part of any communication process or plan. 

The transfer of power to the consumer, the ability to share experiences and to talk back to marketers has changed the communication process forever. And as we move into the mobile era, a whole new dimension will be added to the mix.

Global media networks

Domestic or local media agencies are a rare breed today. The acquisition spree of the 1990s resulted in a handful of global companies dominating the media scene in almost every country. And so the Universal McCanns, the Initiatives, the Starcoms, the ZenithOptimedias and the OMDs became part of the worldwide media vernacular. This paved the way for global account assignments requiring global coordination and operating consistency.

It also led to significant advancements in research tools and other resources. Many were mandatory for servicing global accounts. The critical mass and centralized funding led to increasingly sophisticated channel planning and optimization models.

Audience measurement

Remember the sweeps? These were audience measurement windows for radio and television stations. It was just coincidence, of course, that stations ran their blockbuster programs and their very best promotions during these measurement periods. It seems incredible now that we relied on consumers completing paper diaries to make media decisions worth billions of dollars.

Fast forward to 2010, when Canada will have one of the most advanced PPM-based radio and television measurement systems anywhere in the world – 52 weeks of audience information with some data available within 24 hours. A dramatic advancement in our ability to provide timely and accurate accountability metrics.

Jump to:

Ken Wong: 20-year review – The marketer’s view

Nancy Vonk: Five Canadian creative game-changers

Frank Palmer: Frank’s big five – The ad biz revolution

Covering 20 years: The strategy cover challenge winner and finalists