My first job was in old media. In the summer of 1986, I spent Sunday mornings constructing the San Francisco Examiner with my cousin, and venturing out via bicycle to share a heavy bundle of news, advertisements and stories from around the world. I was a paperboy.

At iHollywood Forum’s Digital Media Summit in Los Angeles last month, editors at BusinessWeek, the Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Times and The Wrap came together to discuss the coming demise of the paperboy. Specifically, they talked about the business model evolution and revenue uncertainty.

The 2009-2013 Communications Industry Forecast, released this week from Veronis Suhler Stevenson, made it explicitly clear: “No longer are newspaper and magazine subscription purchases and network prime-time viewing the norm.” Bicycles and other traditional forms of transportation are no longer the preferred means of distribution.

In the face of The Ugly Truth (no relation to the Sony Pictures movie), digital media heads from Lionsgate, Miramax Films and MTV Films came to the conference to discuss the Internet and all its social revolutions. The panel discussions at Digital Media Summit confirmed what we all knew before the day started: No one has figured out the best method for monetizing the Net, but there are game-changing developments that are empowering the former audience.

The Missing Paper and Law of Unexpected Consequence

I remember the frustration people on the paper route expressed if the newspaper was missing from their front yards. If Twitter was available 23 years ago, I could have let someone know when the paper was delivered, give a reassuring tweet that I just pumped my tires and even tease the headlines. At last month’s Comic-Con in San Diego, one ambitious attendee taught Miramax Films that even though their paper was missing, the law of unexpected consequence rewarded them.

Andrew Lin, a digital consultant for Miramax Films, shared an amusing story where a fan, Erin Wruck, kidnapped a Jason Bateman cardboard standee and created a photo album with Bateman posing throughout the show floor. Miramax, at the conference to promote “Extract,” didn’t anticipate this extra user-generated publicity, but it happily supported Wruck when they discovered Jason’s whereabouts.

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Photo by Erin Wruck

The incident demonstrated to Miramax that there is value in giving up control. Content publishers and studios are starting to realize that promotion can take on a life of its own on social media and Twitter.

Crowdsourced Animation

I imagined that I’d write for the newspaper that I carried on my handlebars someday. At the age of 9, I naturally focused on the comics. While I’m not the most gifted artist, I dared to believe that I could create a comic strip worthy of publication.

In movie animation, crowdsourcing the creative process is already making headlines. Last November, Mass Animation unveiled an ambitious Wikipedia-modeled way to produce animated shorts. With support from Intel and Dell, the company invited animators worldwide to contribute to a five-minute short titled “Live Music” through its Facebook page (currently more than 56,000 fans).

At the conference, Mass Animation CEO and founder Yair Landau showed the storyboards and a minute of the finished animation. He noted that 125 animators from 23 countries submitted shots for consideration with 50 making the final cut.

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A still from Live Music

“Live Music” will debut as a short that plays before the animated film “Planet 51,” due out on November 20. Mass Animation is working on additional shorts and a 90-minute film as well. Landau emphasized that, “High-quality work can be created through a virtual studio.” He also believes that crowdsourcing the film yields a new model of viral marketing, because “you’re building your audience as you’re creating the content.”

Rethinking News

The most contentious discussion of the day occurred during the “Rethinking News” panel where moderator Michael Stroud asked the participants, “Can paper survive?” in the midst of all the red ink. Sharon Waxman, founder and editor-in-chief of The Wrap (and former reporter for the New York Times); Andrew Wallenstein, digital media editor of the Hollywood Reporter; and Ron Grover, L.A. bureau manager of BusinessWeek led this spirited and still unresolved dilemma.

Wallenstein: “Paper is dying, but it’s not dead. I negotiate a balance between what we put in paper and online.”

Waxman: “Paper is dead. Clearly we all have to find new business models.”

Grover: “They said radio was dead when TV came out.”

With the pending sale of BusinessWeek, Grover also quipped, “I’ve got nothing to lose here.”

Meanwhile, Meredith Artley, managing editor for LATimes.com, enthusiastically previewed a simple-looking, efficiently designed website scheduled to launch in mid-August. When asked how the new site would make money, Artley explained, “Our sales team is working on that.”

Artley highlighted that LATimes.com reached its highest web traffic in June 2009 with 155 million page views and 26 million unique visitors, largely because of Michael Jackson’s death. She also noted the active social media presence of the LA Times with its Facebook profile and 170 Twitter profiles (sports columnist Bill Plaschke leads with more than 16,600 followers).

The LA Times and many other media outlets continue to extend their social media efforts in their marketing and content distribution strategies. While they’re moving forward with online engagement, they’re still considering the evolving role of print and legacy media, or at least its reinvention.

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and web companies on digital strategy, distribution and engagement. He blogs at The Social 7 and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

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