Using research to ‘time travel’
MARC... MY WORDS
I once traveled back through time — 10 years to be exact — a trip that helped me make critical business decisions.
In 1973, when I joined e Associated Press in Denver, reporters used typewriters, editors made changes on paper, and Teletype operators “punched tape” and posted the stories on various AP wires.
Within my rst year at AP, we were told that we were getting computers in place of typewriters, and that the Teletype operators were going to be laid o .
We were all nervous about the change, and sad that our friends, the operators, were losing their jobs. We feared that a catastrophic failure would occur.
Instead of disaster, the change proved to be a huge success. Reporters and editors quickly learned to work with word processors that had memories and digital editing tools.
Ten years later, my wife and I and a partner bought a weekly newspaper in northwestern Montana. When I arrived in Bigfork, Mont., it was as if I had traveled back in time to the typewriter age. Our paper had ve typewriters, each with one broken key. We had an old-fashioned darkroom, used old-style typesetting, and bought lm in expensive bulk rolls. Can you imagine: typewriters, lm, and a wet darkroom?
Having had a decade of experience with the AP, I knew that stories could be written on computers, that photos could be taken digitally, and that wet darkrooms could be converted to digital darkrooms.
My new peers in the community newspaper world may have thought I was a bit touched in the head when I began to evangelize for what shortly became known as desktop publishing, but I was 99 percent con dent in my e orts — because I had “time traveled.” How can we “time travel” now? Research can be one of the best alternatives to actual “time travel.”
Borrell Associates uses the Delphi method — panels of experts — to try to forecast future developments.
I just served on such a panel, and the preliminary results, and even just the questions, were intriguing.
Here’s a condensed rundown of the research ( based on 10 statements):
Statement 1: “More than half of Prime Time television programming is watched via streaming on computers, hand-held devices, and other devices than by traditional cable or broadcast TV.” Well over half of the panelists believed this would happen, with 57 percent predicting a three-year time frame.
Statement 2: “More than half of consumer purchases are handled via mobile payments rather than cash or credit cards.” Twenty-four percent of the panelists (the largest group) said there was a 41-50 percent probability, with 54 percent saying the timeline for this to happen would be within four to ve years.
Statement 3: “ e rst personalized outdoor digital billboard is unveiled, displaying messages keyed to the demographics of a passing crowd, gleaned through reading their smartphone data.” e panel was evenly split on this, with 17 percent giving this event
happening at between zero and 10 percent, and 20 percent predicting a 91-100 percent probability. (I was in the more skeptical category.) e time to occurrence (assuming it happens at all) was set at four to ve years by 43 percent of the panelists.
Statement 4: “ e U.S. Postal Services declares bankruptcy.” irty-seven percent gave this a zero to 10 percent probability, while a cumulative total of nearly 50 percent said it was more than a 50-50 probability. e highest time to occurrence was four to ve years, at 38 percent.
Statement 5: “Streaming audio programs are so prevalent that less than half of the AM and FM radio stations that existed in 2014 are still in business. e panelists were pretty evenly split on the probability of this happening. Seventeen percent put the probability at 0-10 percent, 23 percent (the largest segment) predicted a 21-30 percent probability, and more than half the panelists (in cumulative categories) said the probability was over 50 percent. Forty-three percent of the panelists predicted a time of occurrence of four to ve years, while 31 percent said it would take 10 to 14 years.
Statement 6: “Newspaper online readership using readers, computers and mobile devices surpasses print readership.” A whopping 74 percent of the panelists said there was a 91-100 percent probability of this happening, and only one percent put the probability at less than 20 percent. Time of occurrence was put at one year by 15 percent of the panelists; two years 28 percent; three to ve years, 42 percent. Five percent predicted a timeline of eight to nine years, while three percent predict 15 to 19 years.
Statement 7: “Virtually all local media websites look more like interactive TV screens, leading with video footage instead of photos and written copy.” e largest segment, 26 percent, gave this a 41-50 percent probability, with the largest segment, 54, predicting a four to ve year time of occurrence.
Statement 8: “Nearly all digital ads are bought and managed programmatically rather than by manual insertion.” e largest segment of panelists, 36 percent, gave this a probabil- ity of 71-80 percent. e largest segment, 54 percent, predicted a time to occurrence of three years.
Statement 9: “Print coupons no longer exist.” e panel doubted this would happen; 31 percent gave it a zero-10 percent probability, while 23 percent gave it an 11-20 percent chance. If coupons did go away, it won’t happen for at least four to ve years, the panel predicted.
Statement 10: “Social media su ers major backlash, sending Facebook into a tailspin.” e panel results skewed toward this not happening, and if it did happen the time to occurrence would be three to ve years out.
Are the panelists are prescient? Only time will tell.
But the questions themselves are thought provoking as we hurtle into an ever-changing technological future.
Marc Wilson is CEO of TownNews.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.