mermigas on media

Next digital step leads to content near you

This year localization will emerge as a powerful catalyst for transforming old media into new, forging unique online revenue streams and generating indispensable content and services less prone to being pirated, all of which will be as close as consumers' own backyards.

The creative mining of the local businesses, services, resources and interests so ingrained in our everyday lives can take the personalization of digital broadband interactivity ? as well as the profits of participating companies ? to the next level and remind struggling newspapers and radio and TV stations of how they can more ingeniously tap what once was their exclusive domain.

The trend toward embracing and monetizing online localization also can inspire very big deals, such as a heightened alliance or even acquisition among the likes of Barry Diller's InterActiveCorp and Comcast, or Time Warner's AOL and Yahoo!, whose national businesses are rooted in community-based services and functionality. Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen estimates that AOL's advertising business could be acquired for about $18 billion by Yahoo! in which case the deal would be immediately accretive with only $100 million in combined cost savings and the acceptance of Time Warner as its new largest single shareholder.

That said, there is relatively scarce digital prospecting of consumers' local connections among the more flashy digital technology devices and new-media platforms that are largely driven by the lucrative but vulnerable exchange of movies, television programs, information and data and personal communications. There will be no sexy celebration of the value of local content and services in the bustling exhibition halls of this week's annual Consumer Electronics Show or next week's NATPE convention, both in Las Vegas.

Still, localization is a wild card of the user relevance that drives the Internet. It is a quiet, untapped venue that smart players are beginning to embrace as a way to cater to the unique needs, interests and tastes of consumers where they live and drill down into local places where money can be spent.

Nascent efforts by local newspapers and radio and television stations to work with local merchants by using interactive links have not generated as much consumer support and new revenue as could be possible in the future by taking more enterprising interactive tacks. For instance, how useful would it be if that same interactive "to do" list was interfaced with consumers' individual electronic payments, phone service, scheduling, budgeting and personalized comparison shopping? Such natural interactive connections between consumer online destinations and activities, and retailers and commerce, could prove a potent alternative to Google's algorithm-directed and ad-supported search.

Pulling together such fundamentals of personal living in a more efficient and cohesive way than existing software and services allow would prove a tremendous advantage for busy consumers and local merchants seeking to enhance repeat business with new digital technology. The user recommendations and reviews that accompany local content and service postings or Web sites will create a new web of niche customers and sales.

A spate of new products and services at CES could help thrust localization onto the digital broadband stage, from WiFi routers for cars to a slew of new smart phones to a living room hub to provide a seamless interface for the transfer of personal and community as well as entertainment content among phones, computers and televisions.

In his CES keynote Sunday night, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates made the important but woefully overlooked observation that consistent and uniform connected experiences are lacking in this "digital decade" and in a digital consumer ecosystem that equally values shared personal experiences and communications as well as commercial events and entertainment.

So far, that half of the value proposition is being underserved in what Gates calls the developing digitized home of the future and consumers' own physical communities. (To better understand the concept, think about all cell phones ? the most universal device ? providing users with a running electronic grocery list that cross-matches items on sales at local stores, or a favorite playlist of tunes automatically cross-listed to local concert information and related local retail new movie downloads, or electronic sweepstakes that award locally distributed products.)

That is the same personal and local-rooted concept of community that will anchor the revamped social networking site being unveiled at CES (complete with MySpace-styled interactive profiles, video games, film clips and music downloads) that could easily become a software driver for the Walt Disney Co.'s young person's smart phones, armed with parental controls and locators. After all, Disney had to best itself and its year-old breakthrough TV series download arrangement with Apple's iTunes that has been overshadowed by countless content arrangements with cell phones and other devices.

The rapid morphing of services, the inundation of all kinds of content, the frenzied shifting of advertising dollars and the self-consuming nature of the Internet's big black hole should be making the prospect of exploring new forms of personalization through localization rather appealing just now to the entire spectrum of media-related players, who had best get their heads out of the digital blue long enough to understand and embrace the grass-roots consumers now seated at the controls.
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