The Top 100: Traditional media losing out to people power

Here is a list of the top 100 sites from Alexa. Today, I count three traditional media sites (BBC, CNN and NY Times — just squeaking in at number 100). The web of five years ago would have shown a different picture all together. It begs the question: Will there be any traditional media sites in the top 100 in three years time?

Dominating the list are search engines, social media sites and e-commerce sites. Shows how the internet is levelling the playing field, and that traditional media is far from the dominant force it once was. JP Farinha, CEO of, did what I thought was an excellent and pretty insightful presentation at the web 2.0 conference in Cape Town today, where he made the point.

These lists are inherently misleading. I think it would be wrong to interpret this as “the end” or “decline” of the traditional media model. Social networks and self-publishing movements have existed in society before the internet arrived. Perhaps now we’re just becoming more acutely aware of the power of social networks and individuals as information sources. On the other hand, the web — one big network itself — has given a more coordinated, meaningful and therefore more powerful expression to them.

Also, size isn’t everything. For example: How would you measure the influence of a small, niche publication read by the political and business elite in a society vs a broad-based tabloid, read by millions? Arguably the former, which is in a position to influence policy and bring down a government carries the weight? Same goes for comparing a social network like Facebook to a traditional media publication like NY Times. Size is not the sole determining factor of influence. So it’s not a simple case of looking at a ranking and making a determination.

Another point to make is that the media sector is a mature sector and therefore more fragmented. Compare this to search engines and social networks, which are relatively new and aren’t really facing tough competition yet. Google is so big and dominant precisely because there is no substantial competition out there, but if there were — I doubt the search engine would be as dominant. In contrast, there are millions of traditional media publications competing against one another, so the the dominant players wouldn’t be as dominant because they have to share the market with tough competitors. So it’s no wonder that there are big, oversized market leaders like Facebook, Google and YouTube on a list like Alexa. Compared to traditional media publications, they look very big, but they are competing in a very new market with less competition and fragmentation. It tells me that looking at a ranking doesn’t tell the full picture here. And again, size ain’t everything.

There’s also an overlap here: For example social networks and aggregators are distributors of traditional media content, so it’s not that clear cut either.

Comments (8)

  1. Seriously, Matt…that’s a bit like saying that I opened my newspaper today, only saw mention of two social websites, and concluded that thus traditional media is “winning”.

    A list like that doesn’t tell us anything with regard to the health of traditional media, and certainly doesn’t imply that “traditional media is losing out to people power” (Although I think it is, but this is not the way to prove it).

    Far better to offer statistics as to how many people consumed news via tv and newspaper, and compare it to how many people consumed it via social media, or just generally online. Then figure out the overlap.

    And let’s not forget, that even though the NYT “scrapes in” at 100, it has one thing that just will never have: a strong offline audience. Now it just has to figure out how to maintain that as a competitive advantage

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 12:58 pm #
  2. matt wrote::

    Seriously Eve, I’m talking about the traditional media MODEL, not just offline media. The traditional MODEL applies to online media too. So you missed my point.

    And I’m saying that its increasingly clear by these stats that there are other, more dominant forms of information production and distribution. People are getting information from other sources, ie people themselves via SNs, blogs etc.

    Also your analogy of saying that using a global web ranking tool in Alexa is “like” opening your newspaper is a bit scratchy. It’s what I call a straw man.

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 2:16 pm #
  3. Luke wrote::

    Looks like NYT’s “strong offline audience” has a case of rickets:

    As for flickr’s offline audience, its a UGC community first and foremost, and as such its audience / community members currently sits at around 13 million, all of them offline snapping away, chasing more comments and views on their profiles.

    That said last time I checked Alexa stats were a bit bum, relying as they do on a world of seo’s sporting their toolbar.

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 4:09 pm #
  4. Sorry..I misunderstood your message. Thought this was just another “death of traditional media is not exaggerated” post. And, to be fair, your post was amended to be clearer since I posted that comment.

    So yes, it is interesting that traditional media does not feature more prominently online. The reason might be one of culture: traditional media is used to talking, and not so much to listening and reacting.

    I wonder, though, if traditional media is not underrepresented as an initial *source* of the content/opinion/posts of the non-traditional media. In other words, are we relying on traditional media to report the news, so that we can then extrapolate it online? After all, where do we get most of the news about offline stuff from (eg Iraq), originally?

    Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 10:25 am #
  5. Adrian wrote::

    Hi Matt

    There is something very misleading about using Alexa’s top 100 to judge the health of “traditional media” on the web. The web brings all kinds of different business models onto the same medium. Social networks used to live in little black books. Search engines appeared everywhere from library indexes to telephone books. Retailers used to live in shops. E-commerce was when my mom’s mom phoned the butcher down the road for a side of beef to be delivered. Now they’re all online, competing for positions on Alexa.

    Saying that 3/100 is a bad score for traditional media is problematic because we don’t have a benchmark. Perhaps 3 of the busiest 100 business globally in 1950 were media businesses, perhaps not. Now that everyone runs their business on the web, we can compare them eyeball for eyeball, but does it tell us anything about their relative strength or health?

    Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 10:42 am #
  6. matt wrote::

    @eve yeah i suffer from that disease of constant tinkering and changing… sorry — i do that. The essence of the post is the same, I just elaborated more on it.

    During Iraq, we also get reportage from bloggers and ordinary citizens… although it’s haphazard, often unreliable and disorganised. (It’s also dependent on accessibility to technology.) Would be interesting if there was an online tool, mechanism or site that could organise the spontaneous citizen reports into something intelligible and co-ordinated. A gap in the market?

    Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 2:56 pm #
  7. matt wrote::

    Hey adrian. I recognise it’s problematic in my own post, but I do think it tells a story. Yes commerce and social networks existed pre-web (and impossible to measure how they stacked up then), but now in the web era they’ve been given a more powerful and co-ordinated expression. Ie a social network on the web today is a more powerful thing that it was pre-web.

    Let’s think for a moment: What if Google or Facebook, with their massive audiences, had to start producing media in the same way the NY Times do? Maybe its a lesson for traditional media to do more aggregation and social networking? Ie their model of just producing content and not networking or connecting with their users in a significant way means they are losing out. I don’t know the answer and I may be accused of comparing apples with pears — but can I bet you something? In five years time, I doubt we’ll see even the BBC in that list.

    To use this rather over-used quote by Rupert Murdoch: “To find something comparable, you have to go back 500 years to the printing press, the birth of mass media – which, incidentally, is what really destroyed the old world of kings and aristocracies. Technology is shifting power away from the editors, the publishers, the establishment, the media elite. Now it’s the people who are taking control.”

    Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 3:15 pm #
  8. matt wrote::

    I guess another point to make is that the media world is more fragmented. ie: there are only a few dominant search engines* and social networks as we are in an early stage of their development — whereas there are millions of traditional media publications that are more fragmented. Stack these two classes of sites up against each other and the result may be different to the above? ie, it may be too crude to look at those rankings and make any assertion.

    * arguably, there is only one dominant search engine.

    Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 3:44 pm #