News Column

New Media Pioneers Talk Innovation

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For the lone entrepreneur, "new media" -- the ever-evolving avenues of electronic communication -- has democratized communication channels, allowing a very real chance for exposure to millions, all on a reasonable budget.

For entrenched media giants, new media is an avenue to an unprecedented level of engagement. For consumers, new media represents a level of choice and empowerment that's redefining how news organizations see their audiences -- and, indeed, redefining revenue models.

The paradigm for providing information, experiences, and products has changed, and it continues to do so. HispanicBusiness Magazine spoke with three women who are testing the impact that new media can have on business and our daily lives.

Natali Del Conte is in an interesting position, being an on-screen reporter for both CNET (a division of CBS Interactive) and traditional broadcast news via a CBS affiliate in New York City. "Loaded," her daily Web show, launched in February 2008. There are tangible differences between the reporting she does for television and "Loaded."

For one, "Loaded" typically lasts about four minutes, operating on the assumption that attention spans are short. Further, her targeted online audience not only accepts casual terminology, references to geek sub-culture, and sophisticated tech talk, but expects them. "Tech journalism is very hard to do," she says. "It's a tough crowd. Computer geeks can see right through you if you are faking it."

Del Conte points out that news readers are increasingly fragmented, and learning how to find what's relevant to them, rather than being told what's important.

"We're moving from a model of pushing information to the audience, to a model where the public pulls information," she says.

But this audience fragmentation, she follows, negates the need for "Loaded" to be a one-size-fits-all sort of program. She writes the show, and its production is far more stripped down than an old-media equivalent. "Loaded" is very much reflective of Del Conte herself.

And with that comes advertising implications.

"Because of that audience fragmentation," Del Conte says, she and CNET "know what the 'Loaded' audience is interested in." Currently, the show is sponsored by Yahoo!, which runs a 15-second spot before the video queues up. She's grateful that ads have been sold and the show is able to make money. However, part of Del Conte's established trust and closer-than-traditional relationship with "Loaded's" niche audience dictates that she not compromise her ability to be critical.

"If I do a commercial for Yahoo! within the show, I can never cover the search business again," she says.

Yoga Classes On Call

Elsie Escobar echoes Del Conte's sentiments about audience trust. Escobar is an entrepreneurial yoga instructor who's brought her classes online, first via audio podcasting, and recently via an application for the ultra-hot iPhone.

Escobar, who came to the U.S. from San Salvador when she was nine, is striving to leverage her talents via new media. But she too walks a fine line. Yoga -- even virtual instruction -- is an intimate affair that demands as much two-way trust as a news source.

"It's a very unique and coveted niche," Escobar says. "I am trying to create relationships with affiliates -- products and services that will best fit my audience. It's a very targeted, driven, and committed audience. If I say 'I like this yoga mat' they'll go get it. I need to honor that trust."

Escobar is a practitioner of Anusara Yoga, which translates to "flowing with grace." The art basically involves moving one's body into optimal positions.

"It showed me I have strength in ways I didn't know," she says. Subsequently, she's been able to help relieve pain in her students, and help them "feel more comfortable in their bodies."

Escobar was concerned about yoga's limited accessibility. She acknowledges that a typical yoga class is expensive -- often $15 per session. "I think there's something in our consciousness that makes yoga seems like a luxury or for rich people," Escobar says. "It might be a little bit daunting."

When Escobar was introduced to the concept of podcasting -- distributing sound files via the Internet -- she saw it as an opportunity to expand her reach. She established "Elsie's Yoga Class: Live & Unplugged," a podcast that sees downloads of more than 40,000 per month.

She has more than 70 classes archived, and the barrier to entry is virtually nil: the podcasts are free. Even her iPhone app, from Wizzard Media, costs just approximately $4. It not only allows access to her entire archive, but has value-added content as well, like PDF files documenting poses and bonus videos.

"I'd like to be able to offer content that will help people -- that's the main reason I do it," Escobar says. "But if they want to dig deeper, and pay for some extra content, they'll have the option."

Escobar's online approach doesn't differ much from her in-person classes, because they're the same sessions. She records her live classes, and only turns the audio-friendly ones into podcasts.

"The class is live and unplugged, complete with laughter, instructions, private conversations, etc.," she says. "It makes listeners very much part of the class."

While the Internet has afforded entrepreneurs like Escobar the opportunity to expand their reach, companies like Disney already have an immensely wide audience.

Virtual Experiences

Laura Sandoval, Global Brand Manager, Interactive Media Group at The Walt Disney Co., explains, though, that the level of engagement aff orded by new media is extremely coveted nonetheless.

She's in charge of enriching the experience of interacting with many of Disney's best-known brands, mostly franchises related to the Disney Channel, and ensuring that the entertainment giant is reaching kids and teens through their preferred methods of communication.

"It's 'new media' to us, but to kids, it's what they know," Sandoval explains. "They are there in the virtual worlds, the YouTubes and media networks. In order to reach them you have to be in all of these places."

Sandoval has led the company's efforts in creating engaging new media experiences to complement some of Disney's most notable recent successes, like new media tie-ins with Hannah Montana and the High School Musical franchise.

But do powerhouse brands like these, supported by movies and/ or television shows on dedicated channels, find much value in new media tie-ins? Sandoval emphatically says yes.

"Traditional media is still core to branding and marketing most consumer products," she elaborates. "One of the biggest differences is that new media is more important for my market, the 'tween market. The masses still see TV and print, but you must have presence in social networks and video-based sites."

Presence, though, isn't enough. Much like Del Conte's tech savvy fans can see right through a charlatan, 'tweens and teens demand a quality product, something that goes beyond just slapping a Disney product name on it.

"Fandom is so strong that kids are looking for more experiences, interaction, and engagement with the brands. We define success by extending the brands in the right places. So the TV show-based projects create, we believe, much stronger experiences that are personalized, customized, and offer unique engagement."

Eyes On The Future

New media isn't going away, but, by its nature, will constantly be redefined.

Sandoval's job, so focused on future generations, offers some additional insight into the future of new media. "A lot of what we call 'new media' is pop culture today," she surmises.

"To have a handle on pop culture and youth trends can serve as an indicator of where things are going."

And, for people interested in entering her field, Sandoval's advice is simple: when it comes to entertainment and new media "hands-on experience is key."

For now, shows like Del Conte's "Loaded" can be a great crash course, both in terms of digesting its tech-centric content, and in terms of becoming familiar with how it's consumed.

Escobar may be a perfect bellwether: a curious mind drove her to use new media to expand her true passion.

Unafraid of trying something new, using herself as a brand, or risking untested business models, she's taking a leap of faith that she can mine some of that untapped

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