How did the last year turn out for the media industry, what conclusion can be drawn?
Of course, I can only speak for my specialty, innovations. In my opinion, the media landscape has become even more divided. There are those who have coped well because they have already built up innovation know-how and capacities over the last few years, such as NDR or DIE ZEIT, and were able to react quickly.
And then there are the others. That’s the larger part, which seems to be overwhelmed by having to survive. They seem to be so busy with the effects of Corona, such as the organization of home offices and the loss of advertising money, that nothing really new is coming.
The media industry is the industry that first implemented digital transformation. Why, despite this, does there still seem to be no clear plan for exploiting digital opportunities?
The simplest answer is because the need was not great enough. But you have to clearly distinguish between two sub-areas when it comes to digitalization.
There is the internal, the New Work discussion. Basically, the work worked and there was no serious need to change anything. I was impressed by how quickly and well the changeover to home offices went in the media companies.
On the other hand, there is the obvious: building and expanding digital products for users. In analog, everything is going well enough to really feel pressure for innovation. On the contrary, the need for information and consumption is increasing. Our media industry has not yet understood that people will switch if the products are better. We’ve seen this for years with social platforms. When a new one comes along that is halfway good, users switch and, in case of doubt, don’t get any news or only fake news because news providers adapt to these playout channels faster.
At the beginning of the year, there was the Clubhouse hype. How innovative is Clubhouse and why does it work?
I think it’s innovative. Audio-only as a USP. Few dare to make such a reduction, but that’s how the best startups work: focus on one thing and do it really well.
Clubhouse wisely put together what has worked for others, like onboarding via invitations. But they’ve also optimized. Social interaction is a high priority: “Someone is there, welcome them.” “Leave quietly” is not to be underestimated either, because it implies that it’s okay to change rooms at any time without being rude.
The hype can perhaps additionally be explained by the right timing. If everyone hadn’t been on lockdown and had more to do, it wouldn’t have taken off. Fun fact: Four years ago, there was a team in Bavaria working on a very similar idea. But they were just four years too early.
When there is a lot of general talk about digitization, digital transformation, there are often also disruptive developments in an industry. Is that still to be expected in the media industry?
Yes, but it’s happening gradually. I’m no longer convinced by the term disruption. When you look back, it seems that way, but meanwhile it’s not disruptive.
My favorite example of this is Netflix. I think the streaming market is seen as disruptive compared to everything that came before. But Netflix wasn’t always what it is today. They started out shipping DVDs ten years ago and have grown relatively slowly. If you look at it now, compared to TV 20 years ago, it’s disruptive.
That’s what’s coming in the media industry, too. Gradually, the daily newspaper will do away with itself. We’ve been talking about this for ten years, and in ten years we’ll look back 20 years and say, “Wow, there were somehow daily printed newspapers, what nonsense, nobody needs them.”
Why do most innovations in the media sector fail in Germany? Where are the obstacles, perhaps also structural?
Someone from Axios Media, a news site, once said that journalists are people who report on things that have happened and don’t invent stories. I found that an interesting thought, because it shows that journalists have many qualities, but “inventing” is not one of them.
Now they are supposed to be innovative and invent something. That’s why I think this profession is having a hard time here. In industry, for example in the automotive sector, it’s different. Here, it’s normal for new models to be launched about every two years; inventiveness is part of everyday life and is also “expected” by customers.
However, this is not only due to the mindset of the employees, but also to the ignorance of the management. There is often no clear strategy and little foresight. You have to take care of the culture of innovation and the people, give them tools and empower them.
But where exactly does the mindset need to change?
Everywhere. In fact, we see a lot of younger people already thinking differently. It’s just that barriers are often put in their way because management doesn’t take it seriously enough. There have been enough situations where a manager says, “We have to innovate now,” and at the same time asks every week about print circulation numbers and why they’re not increasing.
Then the employees don’t believe that innovation is the priority now, but apparently print is. They then cling to the idea that inventing is not their job. Of course it’s challenging to do everything at the same time, and of course there’s still enough money to be made in print and television to say we’re not going to do that. The management has to understand what the goal is and set an example. In the end, the core is really a mindset story with a lot of structure behind it.
Is there a project in this area that is particularly worth highlighting that has recently been initiated by the Media Lab?
We now have two labs, the Media Lab in Munich and the one in Ansbach. The Ansbach lab is strategically geared toward students. With it, we want to address students in the media sector in order to create the innovation elite of tomorrow.
There is a project there called Innovation Traineeship. There are currently many graduates who can’t find a job and at the same time many media companies that don’t have the time to do innovation work. We have sifted through graduates. They are now working for six months in a media company in a position that is financed by funding from us. These funds are specifically related to innovation projects. We teach the graduates methods and exchange ideas on a regular basis, but they work on projects at the media companies. This has started very well, both partners and trainees are enthusiastic. There will be a second round of calls for proposals sometime this year.
Which part of the media is the most innovative?
I think it was the newspaper publishers that started it, not the magazine publishers, because they were doing badly enough. Then came private TV when streaming was booming. JOYN and TV NOW came out of that. Now the public broadcasters are slowly catching up. There are now good projects emerging, such as the Audio Lab from NDR, the SWR Lab or IDA from MDR and ZDF.digital.
Only then will the rest come along, which is partly a question of money. Radio has always had a hard time financially, especially local radio.
Who or what could spur media innovation? Will VR and UX play a big role?
VR, in my opinion, not necessarily at the moment, maybe someday. Here, the effort is still too great to be suitable for current journalism. It’s more of a relevant technology for museums and the like.
I think everything that is newly developing in terms of technology and is suitable for conveying information is fundamentally exciting. In theory, that’s artificial intelligence in my eyes for the media landscape. Everything can be automated with it, if you can get it right. Especially in the direction of image recognition there is a lot of interesting stuff and in various media areas text recognition has already been strong during the last years. The best, or rather the most disruptive and innovative companies, have chosen a technology and asked themselves: “What can we do? Where are there potential applications?”
Campus Founders is heavily involved with the topic of “values” when training founders*. How important is this topic for you and do you perhaps even incorporate it into the training courses?
Yes. (laughs) We deal with it internally and also pass it on. Recently, during a team-building workshop, it became clear to me, maybe even for the first time, that shared values and visions are the basis for sensible work. It simplifies many of the things that matter. It needs to be a high priority and a recurring theme. All those new to the team should be given the basic company values first thing.
For us, those are “We celebrate innovation” and “We celebrate every person who comes to us and wants to do anything in the media, because before they had enough skeptics around them who didn’t understand him/her.” We are the ones who find the first step. Then we set everything in motion to help. On this basis, every decision is made.
For founders* We have these blocks in the team building workshops. For many, it is often not so clear how important a vision is, where they want to go and what they want to be. That’s where our vision comes in. We help by raising awareness and showing them how to get there.
The topic of corporate values is often closely linked to the topic of role models. Who can young founders look to for guidance? Which person is perhaps particularly innovative?
For me, innovation is not necessarily a value, but rather a vision. If you consider it a value, diversity is also part of it. How do we present ourselves to customers? How do we treat each other in the team?
This is a difficult question to answer, because it is often impossible to tell which values a company explicitly has, because it is often something internal. Let’s take Amazon as an example: They are extremely user-centric. As a customer, I notice that in everything I do there – from the simple ordering process to the uncomplicated return options. Customer satisfaction is certainly a value that the team has. I think whether I feel the values outwardly is a marker of how well they are embedded.
But it’s hard for me to name one person, because you’d have to know the companies very well to say “Hey, he/she has super values and is a role model because of it.”
How can you stay open to new things and innovate, or what can you draw inspiration from?
Innovation is part of my DNA. I question everything to make room for new things. That gets my team down on a regular basis. But rethinking things is where innovation comes from for me: does it make sense that way to someone who doesn’t know it yet and is looking at it for the first time? That’s where weaknesses stand out. I think innovation is also somehow a constant optimization mania. I often think, “Nah, nah, the world has moved on. We can optimize that. Because if we do it the same way today, it’s standard. But I don’t want a standard, I want to do it better.
Decisions play a big role here in this context: How do we manage that they are not constantly taken back and if they are, at least transparently ? How do we manage to stick to a decision when we have a better idea ?
Otherwise, I read and listen a lot and watch stuff that feeds the brain on the side and provides inspiration. I usually get my inspiration from talking to other people, too. However, that doesn’t work out so well without conferences on lockdown. Soaking up what other people are doing always starts linkage processes for me: “We could do that sometime.”
About Lina Timm:
As Managing Director of Medien.Bayern GmbH, Lina Timm supports the digital transformation of the media industry. After her training at the German School of Journalism, she worked for FAS, ZEIT, ProSieben and ARTE. In 2015, she founded Media Lab Bayern, which today supports talents and startups in developing innovations in the media at two locations in Munich and Ansbach. In addition to the Media Lab, Medien.Bayern GmbH today also includes the location marketing XPLR:Media in Bavaria, the Start into Media training initiative, MedienNetzwerk Bayern, Medientage München and XR Hub Bavaria.