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 Make Your Brain Bigger(TM) - FORTUNE.

'What I see
here is a traditional media company
that is just
to have its full new media potential developed'
Tom Rogers on Primedia's
potential as an internet player

Magazines, the power of print and niches

By Jeremy Schlosberg

      There are a lot of things that Tom Rogers doesn’t know about the job he just accepted as chairman and CEO of Primedia.
     Rogers doesn’t know a whole lot about traditional print publishing, having spent his corporate career at NBC. He doesn’t know yet how he will transform Primedia into a web powerhouse.
     Rogers doesn’t even know exactly when he’s supposed to start work.
    But Rogers knows a lot about leading a traditional media company into a position of leadership in new media, as he proved during his 12 years spearheading NBC’s push first into cable then onto the internet. If he likes what he sees at Primedia—and obviously he does, to make the leap from his high-profile perch at the Peacock network--it has a lot to do with what he already knows about building new media ventures from old media organizations.
    "Primedia is in my mind a collection of assets that have performed very consistently," said Rogers at a press conference yesterday. "What I see here is a traditional media company that is just waiting to have its full new media potential developed."
     He said he believes strongly in this potential because of how niche-oriented most of Primedia’s properties already are.
      "Primedia’s broad-based collection of assets have one overwhelming characteristic which is critical to development of internet asset value--targeted reach." On the internet, he said, the sites with tightly defined audiences are those that can most reliably create and support new assets.
     "Niche, targeted audience reach becomes the prime characteristic for success on the internet," he said.
    If the internet has learned a lot from the cable narrowcasting model, perhaps the new media world has something to learn additionally from niche-oriented magazines, suggests Rogers.
      As the broadband market emerges, and with it new and as-yet undetermined programming opportunities, Rogers believes highly targeted print publications have content and audience expertise that may be highly valuable.
   "What’s going to grow is the ability to create what I’ll call ‘microniche’ video opportunities out of these existing enthusiast publications," said Rogers. "There simply haven’t been opportunities around for that in the past."
    Another thing Rogers likes about the print world is an obvious but often overlooked point: for now, and for the foreseeable future, the internet is a text-oriented experience.
    "In the television world, broadcasters have begun to use TV as a way to drive people to a PC and what is largely an experience of reading on a PC," he said.
      "In the magazine world you have readers in your traditional base; they are already reading something, and you are involved in less of a stretch when you’re involved in moving people to a reading experience."
      As such, he sees some inherent advantages to coming to the internet from print—and admitted at the press conference to being surprised at how relatively undeveloped a new media presence the magazine industry has thus far had.
    When Rogers talks about the internet, people listen. Earlier this year, he was named one of the 21 most influential people in the internet economy by The Industry Standard.
     While not everything he’s done at NBC has been a runaway success—he was responsible for the network’s notoriously unsuccessful Olympic "TripleCast" in 1992—he is obviously a smart and resourceful media player who knows his nuts and bolts just as well as his big-picture strategies.
     A lawyer by trade, he spent six years as  senior counsel to the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Telecommunications before going to NBC. While in Washington he worked prominently on the writing of the landmark Cable Act of 1984.

  -Jeremy Schlosberg is the senior editor for new media.