Are Canadian Media Companies on the Rebound?

The Web continues to swallow newspaper readers whole, and with them, advertising dollars. So many book and music shops remain shuttered. The television industry has so far resisted big disruption from online streaming and pirating, but people have begun to spend more time consuming digital media than watching television — a trend only likely to grow. But here’s the thing: those unwrapped DVDs and shrinking photo departments and sad old printing presses spitting out their final issues of yesterday’s news all come with a silver lining.

Finally, there’s evidence that media companies are learning to do more with less. Here are five recent signs of, if not modest recovery, then slow and steady repair.

The Web is growing

Two inspiring things are happening simultaneously. First, we’re spending a lot more time on the Internet — 41 hours a month per user on average in Canada, and 43 hours in the United States. At the same time, smartphones, tablet computers and faster broadband speeds have encouraged more of us to pay for content. Netflix, Apple TV, Spotify, and The New York Times are shining American examples.

According to this article in The Economist citing a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), we can expect revenue from online media and entertainment to increase by roughly 13 per cent each year for the next five years. Now that’s news worth holding the presses for.

Paywalls may actually be working

In Canada, The Globe and Mail is pleased with the progress of its website paywall, so much so that Postmedia, Torstar and Sun Media are now busy erecting paywalls of their own. And it isn’t just print subscribers who are migrating online — The Globe is seeing new revenue from digital-only subscriptions. What the combined effect of these paywalls will be, only time will tell.

Smartphones are enticing new customers

MobileSyrup reports the mobile market in Canada grew by 10 per cent in 2012, adding around two million customers to reach more than 22 million. With music, news and television now at our fingertips, many more of us are streaming content than ever before — and paying for it, too. It turns out cheap and easy access to mobile content may be the best answer to piracy since… ever.

Canadians just can’t get enough video content

Canadians are voracious video consumers, ranking second only to Brits in worldwide online video consumption. (The average Canuck watches 291 videos a month.) What’s more is, after search, video is the fastest-growing mobile content category — which means there’s a high-growth market for companies that can deliver compelling videos online.

Publishers are getting paid, sort of

Thanks to tablets, iPads and eBook readers, e-book sales are up. Total spending on books is unlikely to rise, but the growing share of e-books — around 14 per cent globally according to PWC — has publishers recouping expenses as storage and distribution costs are trimmed. Royalties from e-books are nearly 10 per cent higher per book than what publishers can fetch for print editions.

Are Canadian media companies rebounding? There’s hope for those with more than one profitable revenue stream — say, hard news and marketing, or publishing and entertainment — but that’s a topic for another story. The greater lesson is that so much now depends on how well companies can generate revenue from digital assets.

The almighty Internet giveth and taketh away. For now, at least, it looks like we’ve awoken a more generous spirit.