The Internet's Effect on Media Numbers

Technology expert Mario Armstrong talks about ways in which the Internet and other technologies may be affecting circulation and advertising numbers for newspapers and broadcasters.

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ED GORDON, host:

Daily newspaper circulation in the United States is on the decline. In the six-month period ending March 31st, it was down almost 2 percent. Broadcast television is delivering smaller audiences as well. With companies like Procter & Gamble slashing their conventional advertising buys, one has to ask is the digital revolution rendering broadcast and print media obsolete? Correspondent Farai Chideya turned to our tech expert, Mario Armstrong, for an answer to that question.

MARIO ARMSTRONG (Tech Expert): One thing is for certain, technology is changing the way traditional media--newspapers, broadcast television--are looking at their business models. It's certainly making an impact, but I don't think the sky is falling just yet.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Are there any pitfalls, though, to getting your news online? I mean, do you have the attention span to sit there and read a whole newspaper online?

ARMSTRONG: I don't know about you, Farai, but there's only but so many pages that I can view on the Internet at one time, and I love to read the newspaper. I love to read books and I love to have that feeling of the book, or the feeling of the ink on my hand. So--and I think there are a lot of folks that still feel that way, that have that novelty, have that attachment to the actual feeling.

CHIDEYA: What about e-books? Tell us a little bit more about them and what's the price of those things?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. This is an exciting industry, really, Farai, allowing people to read full versions of your favorite books but making them readable on your computer, your laptop or your handheld PDA device, which is really the most popular way of reading these books. You're even seeing libraries start to us e-books as means to offering their titles that they would normally give someone a paperback or a hard copy book; they can now offer that same book, available via download from the Web site. So e-books range from free to small discounted price off of what you would normally pay, maybe, for a hardback copy.

CHIDEYA: Let's talk a little bit about television. With TiVo, you have a situation where, you know, if I don't want to watch any commercials, I don't have to, as long as I tape a little bit in advance. Is that going to be the death knell for television?

ARMSTRONG: The death knell for television? Let me tell you, I talked to a friend of mine and I posed the same question to him a few weeks ago, and he said, `I'd trade in my wife before I'd trade in my TiVo.'

CHIDEYA: Ouch.

ARMSTRONG: I hope his view is not representative of how a lot of people feel. But certainly being able to watch a program when you and your family would like to and then being able to skip through what would normally take an hour of your time, you can watch in 48 minutes because you've skipped through the commercial, you actually gain some time back. The only commodity--that once it's gone, it's gone. So a lot of people love these digital video recorders.

CHIDEYA: Now I know that there've been some proposed regulations on ways that would stop you from skipping the commercials. What's the state of play on that?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. That's still in limbo. There's been a lot of discussion about the technology that is involved and blocking people from being able to bypass advertisements, and you're actually even seeing some new technology companies, or technology companies of the past, bringing out new technology tools to try to help stemming some of that change that seems to scare the advertising revenue stream of these broadcast television stations. This is how they make money, and if there is a technology or a tool or a way that they can help stop that, to force people to watch commercials, they're all for it. But there hasn't yet been any significant change. It's all been a lot of talk at this point.

CHIDEYA: So if you had to choose between your wife, TiVo or e-books, what would you choose?

ARMSTRONG: I'm no fool--my wife.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely.

ARMSTRONG: All day long.

CHIDEYA: Mario Armstrong is NEWS & NOTES' tech expert. He also covers technology for Baltimore-area NPR member stations WEAA and WYPR.

Thanks for joining us.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Farai Chideya, NPR News.

GORDON: This is NPR News.

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