Wednesday, June 20, 2012

‘New’ business models dominate media economics summit

By Johanna Mavhungu

The recent World Media Economics and Management Conference (WMEMC) was a cornucopia of media management academic research and scholarship. Held in the second biggest city in Greece, Thessaloniki, the conference delivered thought-provoking presentations on the digital economy in Europe, South and North America, as well as in Asia.

Deliberations centred primarily on the voracious quest for ‘new’ business models, a topic that frames many of today’s conference and research agendas. The papers were presented with a blend of theoretical grounding in economics, political economy, management and the social sciences.

Concepts such as disruptive innovation, technological determinism, diffusion of technology, audience valuation and creative destruction, to name only a few, were the essence of research analysis. Unearthing new research directions and questions and evaluating the industry in four different continents was a remarkable achievement for the organisers.

Interesting research findings presented at the conference showed that:

- Young people in the US prefer online to print, using online as a form of ‘media snacking’ throughout the day (Chyi, H. Iris 2012).

- Newspapers using technology are not generating revenue to cover the significant costs of investment based on case studies from Finland, Russia, Germany and Austria. Austria was the only case study with evidence of sustainability (Koikkalainen 2012; Makeenko 2012; Freidrichsen et al. 2012; Grueblbauer 2010).

- The viability of media businesses depends on their business models and, to a lesser degree, technology (Peters et al. 2012; Graybeal 2012).

The theoretical analysis proved interesting, but little attention on media management research methodology was evident. Some conference participants asked critical questions that elicited responses from presenters about the challenges of data gathering, sampling, response rates, selecting the appropriate research paradigm and methodological approaches as well framing questions concisely, just to mention a few.

Other delegates mentioned that the conference could benefit from more rigorous economic data analysis and production of economic and organizational models informed by a quantitative research approach.

Nevertheless, the voice of African media management studies was ominously lacking at the conference. For media management scholars and academics in Africa, it is without a doubt that conferences such as WMEMC are expensive to attend but we need to find ways of participating in other forms locally and create platforms for different institutions to share ideas and collaborate more often on research projects.

Media management as a subject is fragmented, borrowing from a number of established disciplines, evidenced by the conceptual framing used in the synthesis of most of the papers.

But the fragmentation is an opportunity to study media work and organizational practices from diverse perspectives and to harness knowledge that benefits professional practice from a vast array of disciplines. The breadth and depth of the subject is an opportunity to research and contribute to public discourse about media management and leadership as demonstrated by the 120 researchers who presented papers at the conference.

Key words: WMEMC conference, media management, scholarship, Africa, Europe.

*Johanna Mavhungu is a researcher and lecturer at the Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership at Rhodes University in South Africa. She can be reached at