The End of Parties

Like the canary in a coal mine, the decline of media industry parties

signalled the decline of the entire industry.

There is nothing that compares to the feeling of walking into a great industry party.  Striding into the room, in step with the music, the party draws you in and acts like its own life form, ingesting the tired and the overworked and transforming them into effervescent party-goers, seeking only fun and frivolity.  

When I started in media, there were parties for everything; yearly parties for all the big TV networks and some of the specialty networks too.  Parties for newspaper conglomerates, publishing houses, outdoor advertising companies, and launch parties to celebrate a new portal, web site or service.  Parties where interns rubbed shoulders with executives, where humour was valued over political correctness and where the next morning was a mixture of large coffees and greasy egg mcmuffins, dappled with calls and emails rehashing the most salacious events from the night before.

Perhaps after over a year of covid restrictions, the light I’m shining on parties may be too bright.  But the pandemic is not the cause for the end of parties, they were in decline way before the virus took hold of our little rotating rock.  The media industry prior to 2010 was a bastion of frothy profit and investment dollars, able to splurge on large workforces, great benefits, luxury executive retreats, and, of course, a baller party every year.  Now, the media industry is a shell of its former self, the froth has been stripped away, along with any fat and all we are left with a downsized cup of flavourless swill.

In the glory days of media, all a company needed to do was to create or display content and advertisers would flock to their door, paying for the privilege to be featured within that content.  

Now, the world is awash in free, user generated content that provides endless data points to the platforms that host such content such as Google and Facebook.  Advertisers stopped caring about where their ad showed up, instead they opted to target the person by leveraging complex algorithmic services provided by these large tentacled platforms.  Great content found comfortable shelter in subscription based offerings and anything left over was forced to rely on the dwindling traditional advertising format to make money.  

This is not an attempt to lay blame at Spotify or Netflix’s door – ad free content is one of the best outcomes from these partyless days.  My aim is to showcase how the media industry transformed from an ecosystem of different and diverse companies to a few platforms that control the advertising equation – the consumer and the advertiser, while providing very little in return. Facebook’s use of free content (and consumer data) in the form of pictorial updates about weekend adventures, and Google’s access to detailed user data obtained by controlling both sides of the online advertising economy has given them unfair advantages over traditional media outlets.  These media platforms have systematically dismantled an entire vibrant industry of investigative journalists, local news reporters, media execs, content curators, media buyers and planners, account coordinators etc. and replaced them with automation and a diminishing overworked labour force. 

I’m the first to admit that the media industry as it was prior to 2010 could have done with a little culling.  I met my fair share of empowered media directors who took sadistic joy in belittling their 20 something teams.  And there were definitely some sales reps that brought in a hefty salary just for adding up line items on a rate card.  But sometimes it might just be better to keep the wheat and the chaff together, not just for the more dynamic workplace, but for the betterment of society.  Isn’t it better to have many people contributing to an industry than a select few?  And don’t we need a full mix of personalities to supply a little of the hijinx at the aforementioned media parties? Sure, a bit of fat is bad for you, but it certainly adds to the flavour.  

As the advertising ecosystem moved away from traditional advertising towards platform based advertising there was hope that the new digital business leaders would grab the party baton and run with it so to speak.  But Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and other like minded global conglomerates saw little value in a big party where people are encouraged to whoop it up with unadulterated glee.  Instead, they invested in company-centric conferences where attendees are force fed corporate kool aid masked in fireside chats, game theory presentations and high profile keynote speakers.  If the attendee née partygoer happened to control a large budget, they got the pleasure of extending their day into the night where the propaganda continued at a dinner featuring the loudest mouths of the conference up close and personal.

Then there are the big festivals and events – Cannes, SXSW, DMEXCO, CES. Surely if you spend all that money you can enjoy a couple reckless party moments?  Not really.  The private jet crowd definitely have their fair share of party invites, but the rest of the crowd is relegated to large line-ups that are managed by overworked social conveners who feign deafness when asked about the chances of entering the party before the night is over.  

It’s not just the parties that have gone missing from the advertising industry, entire media agencies, newspapers, broadcast stations, publishing houses have vanished as well, wiping out aspiring and established careers with them.  The days of carefree partying are gone, maybe that’s a good thing as there aren’t very many people left to enjoy them.

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