The changing media business model
Last week, I led a panel on the impact of Technology on the content business, at the Software & Informatioun Industry Association Content Forum. The panel was my “dream team” of social computing, and included (by topic and speaker):
- Blogging: Six Apart, Marissa Levinson
- API’s and mash-ups: Google, Bret Taylor
- Wikis: WetPaint, Ben Elowich
- Tagging: del.icio.us, Joshua Schachter
- Social media: digg.com, Kevin Rose
The goal of the panel: to give “traditional media” attendees an idea of how new technologies are changing the way consumers interact with media. As readers of this blog, you are probably already experiencing the changes personally – everything from becoming content providers yourselves to just simply enjoying the proliferation of user-generated content.
But the question is terrifying for many media companies – the idea of letting go of control of their content and the experience flies in the face of most companies. And I got several comments from attendees that the panel participants were on average HALF the age of the attendees and other conference speakers.
One key idea I shared with the audience is my take on the role of media companies in the future. Media companies in the past derived their value from either: 1) their distribution channel; or 2) the content they created.
I believe that in the future media companies will generate the bulk of their value from serving their ability to aggregate and serve audiences better than the competition. It doesn’t matter if the media company actually creates or even controls the content that draws them. Channels will be transparent and content won’t necessarily even be owned in a syndicated and aggregated content landscape.
A case in point: digg.com produces no content of their own but has a very unique way to look into the interests of its users. Kevin showed a very cool software tool they use internally called “Trace” that looks at the stories a specific user is reading, and shows in real time how that user’s attention jumps to other topics. Kevin also showed how “diggers” were related to each other based on the stories they mutually “dugg”. The traditional “audience management” advocates like Tacoda have shifted toward behavioral targeting, but at the core, understanding users at a highly granular level will be an essential skill for media companies.
A few other examples: Google’s Bret Taylor showed two mapping mash-ups, housingmaps.com and mapmyrun.com. (The latter is particularly useful (albeit, a bit kludgy) as I’m having to re-plan all of my running and biking routes with my recent move.)
The general recommendation for media companies from the panel I think also applies to marketers in general – start small but start now. It won’t be easy or feel natural, but the sooner media companies and marketers can experience these technologies first hand, the better off they will be as more and more consumers adopt them.
So who’s doing it well in the media business? I like to point to CNET’s News.com, which has great news content targeting the tech enthusiast. Take a look at this story from today’s front page, “Microsoft making better music?” It’s a piece of news analysis, which is great original content. But they also provide a service called “The Big Picture” which “maps” how this story is related to other stories, topics, and companies. It’s a great example of an application serving as “content”. Other features on the story include 38 “Talkback” comments and Trackbacks (hopefully at least one from this blog post).
But what I think best typifies News.com’s unique approach is their “Extra” section. It started as “More News From Around The Web” where the editors selected top stories from other sites. It’s evolved into a place where you can read about tech stories from all around the Web, even if CNET’s News.com isn’t covering it. So there’s an article wireless technology from Business 2.0, and a story on Steve Ballmer’s comments on Vista includes a link to the News.com story, as well as links to stories from competitors like TechNewsWorld, PCWorld, and Wired News.
That’s akin to The New York Times linking to the New York Post, The San Francisco Chronicle linking to The San Jose Mercury News, and dare I say it, Forrester linking to Jupiter or Gartner! But if you take the social computing view that as a publisher, you can’t serve ALL of the needs of your customer yourself, then the best that you should do is to be the FIRST source of information for your audience. In that way, News.com ensures that although it may not be the ONLY source of technology news, it has a fighting chance of filtering and aggregating that news for its audience better than anyone else.