Traditional Media: The Moving Finger Writes, Warns Gates

10 May 2007

SEATTLE: There is a widespread belief that awesome success in business confers equally awesome prophetic powers on the globe's richest movers and shakers. And none more so than planet Earth's most moneyed human - William H Gates Junior, chairman of Microsoft.

And thus it camer to pass that over 1,000 advert-ising, publishing, media and technology leaders from twenty-seven nations this week dutifully flocked to the shrine of Microsoft's annual Strategic Account Summit to learn what they already knew.

Gates socked it Cassandra-style to the pilgrims, predicting that the evolution of online advertising will transform the way advertisers reach and engage more directly with their core audience.

Traditional media like newspapers, TV and directory services will face tremendous upheaval fashioned by technology. All newspapers will be online within the next five years, the Master opined, claiming it would have happened by now but for the user-enmity of current electronic reading devices.

In a lesser being, some might suspect a degree of rah-rah, an agenda driven by commercial interest. Others might recall the infamous axiom that if a lie is repeated often enough it becomes widely accepted as a truth.

Gates' prognostications are, of course, not lies - merely musings and ambitions. Laced with hype.

However, he expressed sympathy for those about to be sacrificed on the altar of technology. "This is a wrenching change for them," he said, opining that newspapers' subscriptions are in "inexorable decline" as news consumption becomes an online habit.

Citing the technological advance of voice-based search via mobile devices (to which Microsoft treated itself in an $800 million acquisition two months ago), Gates predicted that most paper-based directories are doomed to obsolescence.

"Yellow Pages usage among people below fifty will drop to near zero within five years," he said.

As to network television, Gates is but one of an army of seers predicting its imminent demise at the hand of Internet Protocol TV, predicting (like everyone else) "dramatic change" for TV in over the next half-decade.

Data sourced from AdWeek (USA); additional content by WARC staff