An Anniversary That Celebrates An Industry

This month, VideoAge celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Now, one could ask, “What’s so special?” Hundreds of magazines celebrate their silver and gold anniversaries every year.

VideoAge, however, is unique for several reasons, and this anniversary is special because it not only celebrates an industry, but three generations of executives as well.

First, it is the only publication in its field (television trade, that is) without a sales force.

Second, it is the publication that introduced the concept of market dailies to the TV industry.

Third, VideoAge was conceived by the TV industry itself, which decided to support Italian-born Dom Serafini in the launching of a new trade publication in New York and, later, with offices in Los Angeles, CA, London, U.K. and Milan, Italy.

To VideoAge , television is more than an industry; it is a universe of stars (vice-presidents) superstars (CEOs) and quasars (chairmen) from the worlds of politics, regulations, sociology, psychology, finances, production, distribution, ratings, broadcasting, cablecasting, satellite, IPTV, piracy, new technology, etc. VideoAge makes complex new technological topics digestible to non-geeks and rich technophobes alike.

VideoAge offers Dom Serafini’s 2¢ worth of editorials and book reviews online and in print, but the latter are available only in hard copy.

Finally, it has remained independent amidst a wave of big media consolidations.

The name VideoAge was chosen because the time of its launch, 1981, was the age of video. Indeed the “video age” soon after became The New York Times’ favorite expression to describe the foreseen 500-channel universe (of the “push” type). Today, with the advent of Internet TV and one-channel video (of the “pull” type), the “age of video” still resonates.

Anniversary Cartoon

When VideoAge was born the sector had five publications: Variety , The Hollywood Reporter , Broadcasting , TV/Radio Age and, in the U.K., TV World . Both TV/Radio Age and TV World closed down in the late ’80s. Today, the television trade counts at least 10 publications that cover all aspects of television, especially international TV. In addition, there are many more which cover specialized TV fields such as mobile video, Internet-TV, cable and/or satellite TV.

However, whereas in the early ’90s TV trade magazines could count on a client base of 500 companies, today the sector survives on some 80 TV production and distribution companies.

Publications in the TV trade media business are a peculiar lot: They serve an audience that tends to know more than they do. They report on events that most readers are aware of beforehand, and they can only cover the tip of the iceberg. Additionally, they have to walk a fine line and report on people and companies that are also their advertisers (subscription revenues are negligible). VideoAge ’s hard-biting editorial has been known, at times, to lose advertisers, but not their admiration.

Of course, VideoAge must be doing something right, useful and necessary, as it has been at it for the past 25 years. But, it has been a challenge -- and an evolving one at that: editorially, graphically, technologically and sales-wise, without counting the TV industry’s upheavals.

The sum of those changes has had one main result for VideoAge : the end of its sales force. When vertical integration was all the rage the publication sought to counter-balance negative effects with more sales power, so sales staff were added in New York, Los Angeles and London.        

However, it soon became clear that, despite all that sales power, ad sales improved only marginally; but VideoAge was reluctant to do away with the sales team because of the ad material servicing requirements.

But, with the advent of digital technology VideoAge could seamlessly eliminate all sales positions, relying on limited marketing for its advertising support. This was because the printers, especially those fully digitalized, were able to electronically manage ad-material.

Indeed, VideoAge could well be the only major TV trade publication without a sales staff -- only editorial and distribution people -- but certainly not the only business, as evidenced by the evolution of the airline sector, where most of the seats today are sold on the Internet.

Now, why was VideoAge able to take this major and seemingly risky chance? Simply because at all the TV trade shows -- where companies concentrate most of their advertising budgets -- VideoAge focuses on reporting, both for its monthlies and for its market dailies, while its competitors are concerned with ad page sales for their next issues. And, at these trade shows, the impact of an easily available early-morning editorial vehicle is not diminished by online services.

VideoAge ’s premise is simple: Deliver an excellent editorial vehicle, and an even better distribution and circulation operation, and the ad sales take care of themselves. On the other hand, publications that struggle with these two essential elements have to be much more aggressive in their sales approach.

The interesting aspect of this new business model of no sales force is that it is based on an old business model pioneered by one of VideoAge ’s largest competitors -- Variety -- before its founding owners sold it to a multi-national, which promptly abandoned the model in favor of an aggressive sales force.

Dom Serafini, a former international editor of TV/Radio Age , created VideoAge with a unique formula: The key companies in the TV business upfronted the money in exchange for ad pages. Among the first 20 supporting companies were: MGM, MIFED, Rusconi Editori, CBN (Pat Robertson), Canale 5 (Silvio Berlusconi), ABC TV stations, Eastman Kodak and Brazil’s Globo TV.

In early 1983 VideoAge introduced, at NATPE in Las Vegas, the industry’s first trade show daily (subsequently branded as The TV Executive ) by using Polaroid pictures for the photo-page. This was an era without one-hour photo developing, without easily available fax machines and, in lieu of yet unfamiliar cell phones, bulky walkie-talkies and pagers were used. The now popular yellow VideoAge T-shirts were then worn as a way to identify reporters on the trade floor.

Among the first companies to support VideoAge ’s dailies were: Enter-Tel, France’s TF1 and Telepictures. Today, the concept of dailies has been rendered more valuable by online services, which, in the hectic market schedules, are limited to e-mail checking, while trade news is more convenient in the printed format.

But this doesn’t mean that VideoAge neglected the Web. Indeed, it was one of the first trades to utilize online services in 1997, first with its English site (www.VideoAge.org), followed by the Spanish-language site (www.VideoAgeLatino.com) and its Italian-language version (www.VideoAge.it). Today, VideoAge Online serves the industry with its daily E-Beat (e-mail press release round-up) and its weekly Paper Clips (a press sampling e-mail service).

And VideoAge is still at the forefront of new technological initiatives. Starting in October 2006, advertisers will be able to run three-minute audiovisual promos on a DVD that will be distributed with the print version, and placed as a streaming media video clip on VideoAge ’s website.

In its 25 years, VideoAge has served the Baby Boomers, Generation X and now is pleased to serve the flip-flop crowd and its offspring. But, being a creature of the ’80s, VideoAge doesn’t find redeeming values in vertical integration, consolidation, monopolies, cartels, deregulation, and dominant positions. VideoAge loves the film and television industries, and values competition, fairness, opportunities for all, innovation and equal playing fields.

What the future holds for VideoAge is hard to predict, but it is determined to continue serving the industry with its biting editorials and aggressive distribution.