Q&A with John Carey


Courtesy of John Carey

John Carey, Ph.D., FCRH ’68, has designated his life to studying all forms of new media — the way consumers gather, interpret and produce information. After receiving his graduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Carey went on to teach interactive telecommunications at New York University. But after some time, he left and opened is own media researching business.

He spent 25 years studying all forms of media and technology — from Internet-based social media to television to commercial radio — before returning to Fordham.

Carey currently teaches undergraduate and graduate media courses in the Schools of Business. He continues to do research for various high-profile media companies, including NBC and Sirius Radio.

So, a lot of your research has to do with behavior and how it relates to new technology.
Exactly. The way I look at it is, I study consumer behavior and why consumers accept or reject technology and if they adopt it how they use it. That then feeds into two things. One is marketing, and the other is product design. 

New media — even new technology — is a broad term. Is there a particular medium you tend to focus your research on?
It’s new media in general. Certainly recently a lot of it has been related to new forms of television. But also I’ve done a lot about the online world. I’ve done work for satellite radio. I’ve done work for cars. So, it’s pretty much across the board new media.

Can you talk a little about the television research you did during the most recent round of Olympics for NBC?
In terms of viewing habits, a lot of things that 20-somethings were doing two to three years ago, 50-somethings and 60-somethings are doing now. There has been a lot of use of second and third screens — by that I mean a tablet, a laptop, a smartphone during the London Olympics, much more than during the Beijing Olympics. If you went back five years, you’d have a fair number of people on their laptops while watching television. But what they were doing on their laptops had nothing to do with the television. It’s still the case that most of what they do is not related to the television that they’re watching, but a much higher percentage is. Social media comes into this in a big way. There was a lot of chatter on social media about the Olympics. In particular, teenage girls were using way more social media and it had a big impact on their television viewing.

Would NBC be happy with the apparent increase in viewers utilizing multiple screens?
Happy is the wrong word. They have to know what’s going on, and then adjust to it. The findings — for the moment — are good for NBC. They were afraid that if people watched an event online, they wouldn’t watch it on television. That was bad because [NBC] gets more money from a television viewer than they do from a laptop viewer. But during the London Olympics that wasn’t the case. People who watched part of the Olympics online watched more television than people who watched the television only. I wouldn’t guarantee what that means for the future.

Is it a bad time to be a journalist?
That’s a very good question. It’s a bad time to be a “journalist,” but it’s a good time to have journalism skills. There’s no question that the news industry is under tremendous pressure. The network news has been closing down bureaus for the last 20 years. Newspapers are getting rid of people. However, journalism skills have never been more in need. If you open it up, you’re writing for what? Your company’s blog or information for a website. Journalism skills, yes; journalism as a profession is under a lot of pressure.

What does the future of newspapers look like?
I think what’s going to happen is a number of middle-sized newspapers — for example, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer — are going to go under. I think that you’ll have some national newspapers and then you’ll have like a weekly town newspaper. The national newspapers will continue for a while as print newspapers, but, even those, the days of the printed version are numbered. It has maybe 10 years. They’ll then continue successfully as electronic newspapers. But I think the industry will change. There will be much more sharing and there will be more [cross-platform] journalism.

Are you concerned about aggregators taking over the news industry?
Aggregation is where we’re going, and that’s one of the problems. At the end of the day, someone’s got to create the content that they can aggregate. So, you take Google — it’s aggregating all this news, but its’ not creating any news and it’s not paying anyone to create the news. At a certain point, their sources are going to dry up. At that point, would Google pay The New York Times to produce that content? I don’t know. It all remains to be seen.

Do you think young people would be willing to pay for news content?
I think they will. Newspapers in the ’90s and the early 2000s tried to get people to pay for online content, and the reaction was no way. And the culture had established that content should be free. Introduce the smartphone, introduce the iPad, and right away some content costs you money. Apps cost you money. The newspaper [paywall] has been much more successful on smartphones and tablets rather than online.

From an education standpoint, are online courses the vehicles by which classrooms will roll into the future?
I don’t think that universities are going to go away or that classrooms are going to go away, but some percentage of courses are going to be online. There are going to be some online courses because it makes economic sense — it costs less to run a course. And there are also reasons of convenience. You can take classes any time and professors can teach remotely.

For many professors, it will mean additional training. Do the benefits outweigh the costs?
That’s an excellent point. Some professors already use technology. Some professors only use chalk. Those professors it’s going to be very hard to train because they often do not go to the training seminars set up by IT staff members.

But I haven’t found that students are afraid to use new technology in the classroom.
Students, by and large, are ahead of the professors on all of these technologies.

I think of communication classes and I typically think of the Communication Department. But you teach in the business school. How is it different?
We emphasize more how companies get revenue; why customers are willing to pay for something; how the cost of technology effects things. And then there is some overlap in terms of consumer behavior, content and where it comes from and how it’s designed. There’s probably a 50 percent overlap, and the other 50 percent we’re quite different.

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