City Looks To Bolster Media Industry

brown 14 City Looks To Bolster Media IndustryLast Thursday, at the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ annual conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped by the Waldorf-Astoria to deliver brief remarks to a ballroom about two-thirds full. Having just finished with a press conference on the fiscal crisis, he targeted his opening joke at The New York Times with a quip that seemed to capture the newspaper industry’s woes.

“Now it costs a $1.50, and it’s about an inch-and-a-half narrower,” Mr. Bloomberg said of a daily copy of The Times. “I think you must have misunderstood—in this economy I’ve asked New Yorkers to do more with less, not charge more for less.”

New York has long prided itself on being the country’s media capital, home to the publishing and magazine heavies, the television networks and two national newspapers. But the long-term future for The New York Times and just about every other printed product looks grim, spurring questions of whether the city’s media dominance could soon wane.

To this end, the Bloomberg administration is launching an initiative to boost the media industry, as the city’s Economic Development Corporation is searching for a consultant to craft a report on the state of the industry and give recommendations to bolster its growth in coming years. The media industry is one of the largest in the city, accounting for more than 160,000 jobs and $15 billion in wages, and occupying more than 14 percent of Manhattan’s office space. EDC envisions the study as a yearlong effort that would include CEO round tables, workshops with industry professionals and suggested policy actions to bolster the industry.

“In terms of the study, the city is looking frankly to understand more about the trends, and what steps we can take,” said Steven Strauss, the EDC vice president leading the effort.

While its language is broad in its request for consultants, the city does not seem to be searching for suggestions on how to prop up dying mediums. Rather, EDC seems to be focused on receiving recommendations on how to help many of the old, “traditional media” companies heal their wounds and better adapt to the digital world, while also attracting and growing Internet and tech-focused firms. 

“This is aiming at media broadly defined, but we’re interested primarily in the transition from traditional media outlets into the electronic age,” Mr. Strauss said. The initiative comes as old-media firms in the city and region are bleeding.

Book publishing, print media and television have long been the pillars of the industry, occupying prominent spaces in high-rent midtown office buildings. Now all three are feeling pain as the Internet captures a growing audience, especially from magazines and newspapers, for which an online future already means far less lucrative advertising and little or no money from subscriptions.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations reported that newspaper circulation nationally was down this past quarter almost 5 percent from a year ago; according to Publishers Information Bureau, magazine advertising revenue was down 8.8 percent in just the third quarter; and in October, a series of unrelated cuts were announced at a host of New York-based publishing companies. Time Inc. said it would cut 600 jobs; Condé Nast said it would cut costs across the company by 5 percent and limit its new monthly business magazine, Portfolio, to 10 issues a year; Hearst is stopping publication of Cosmo Girl; and the publisher of Maxim, Alpha Media, is cutting 50 to 60 jobs and sending its back offices to Tennessee. (The city’s initiative was hatched before the recent cuts.)

While other portions of the media industry are seeing far more growth, it is clear that whatever transitions the industry as a whole goes through in the coming years, there will surely be pain, regardless of what steps government takes to mitigate it.

“We have to hope that in a certain way, we’re regenerating new limbs on the tree, and some of that is Huffington Post, and some of that is NYTimes.com,” said Richard Edelman, president of the large public relations firm Edelman. “It will be some combination of the new and the old.”

 

FROM TIME TO TIME the city launches studies to find ways to grow various industries locally; and though a survey of an industry on its own does not necessarily offer much value, the accompanying recommendations can lead to policy changes.

As with similar studies, recommendations from the media study could theoretically come in the form of tax break proposals, investments in education and changes to zoning regulations, among other areas under the city’s control. The film industry, for instance, has seen growth since 2004 as the city and state ratcheted up tax credits for film and television production, with the payrolls swelling from about $1.8 billion in 2003 to $2.5 billion in 2007, according to city figures.