The top media stories of 2012 show that in the changing industry, some people and companies find new success, while familiar media icons face surprising struggles. These are the top media stories that will help shape the future during these uncertain times.
Facebook's initial public offering (IPO) of stock was a huge test of whether Mark Zuckerberg could compete with the tycoons of traditional big business. That question has still yet to be answered. All the hype surrounding Facebook stock led to disappointment for reckless investors who had hoped the buzz would easily convert into cash. The initial stock price was $38 a share, which quickly fell after the May 18 launch. That cost Zuckerberg, one of the 10 media people to watch in 2012, billions of dollars. While no quick fortunes were made, it's too early to predict Facebook's Wall Street performance over the long haul.
NBC has been in the prime time ratings cellar for so long, its iconic "Must See TV" days are but a hazy memory. For the 2012-13 season, the Nielsen ratings show that the drama Revolution and the comedy Go On can be called hits, two of the first since cable TV giant Comcast took control of the network. The question mark is how NBC builds momentum when Sunday Night Football and The Voice end their seasons and it is left without those building blocks.
NBC's Today show had been on top of the morning news ratings for so long, it was hard to spot the cracks in the fortress. But it's easy to see that the walls are now crumbling. Good Morning America on rival ABC put a stop to NBC's 17-year reign, which also brought massive profits to the Peacock network. That development triggered a series of missteps, from the dismissal of Ann Curry as co-host to the blame her one-time partner Matt Lauer took for her exit. Viewers have suddenly turned on Lauer, who had just signed a $25 million contract earlier in the year. NBC must now contain the damage, repair Lauer's reputation and develop new co-host Savannah Guthrie, while fending off GMA from creating its own dynasty.
Newsweek had to do something to ensure its survival. Still, it's hard to believe that the familiar news magazine will no longer sit next to archrival Time on the newsstands. In a dramatic move, Newsweek decided that becoming an Internet-only publication was its path to profitability. In the past two years alone, Newsweek made many changes to stop the bleeding, following the most common advice to save the magazine industry. Building this brand online will present its own challenges as it co-exists with partner The Daily Beast.
Investor Warren Buffett didn't become a billionaire by following others. For that reason, maybe it's no shock that he made a $142 million investment in the struggling newspaper industry by purchasing dozens of newspapers. This comes on the heels of his purchase of his hometown newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald, last year. While that could be written off as a sentimental deal, this year's buy shows that he sees value in an industry that critics had written off.
The look of USA Today has taken a dramatic shift, both in print and online. Not everyone has embraced the giant blue circle that represents the new logo. Anytime a well-established business decides to tinker with its look, there are risks involved. It takes time for users to become accustomed to finding the content that was once at their fingertips. For the newspaper, readers can find the familiar color-coded sections. The website took a more dramatic approach, which is normally one of the top 10 website design mistakes if not handled properly. It will take time to determine whether the new navigation will attract new readers.
The 2012 presidential election showed a country that nearly equally divided. So it should be no surprise that the liberal-leaning MSNBC can find the millions of viewers it needs to challenge the conservative Fox News Channel. But it took the presidential race for this contest to materialize with Rachel Maddow leading the charge. That puts a more dire spin on the long list of CNN problems as that rival sinks futher into third place. It also makes the worries over the future of MSNBC after the sudden departure of Keith Olbermann in 2011 look like ancient history.
This may be the year that Oprah Winfrey finally started turning the corner with her Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) cable TV channel. While you can read the list of OWN's struggles which haven't totally ended, she has found a powerful new partner. Winfrey is turning to Tyler Perry to develop programming, starting in 2013. A Winfrey-Perry combo will generate a lot of attention, but the quality of his shows will determine if viewers will stick around.
The idea that website paywalls are the best way to reverse the revenue decline that confronts most newspapers got a big boost when Gannett erected them at most of its newspapers in 2012. This company's decision affects about 80 papers, which may be the critical mass needed to gain widespread acceptance from readers. Paywalls alone are not enough to save the newspaper industry, but they represent a first step to combat dropping subscription numbers as papers try to find ways to make money with a media website.
It's not news that the newspaper industry is shrinking, but knowing that Google, a single Internet company, is larger than the entire newpaper business is indeed startling. Adding to that, a report in Forbes magazine says Google makes more money than newspapers while having fewer employees. That statistic should lead those working in newspapers to come up with a personal strategy for surviving media layoffs that could be around the corner. It's becoming more apparent that selling newspaper advertisements and print-only subscriptions won't be enough to keep many papers afloat, unless they look for new ways to generate money from the Internet.