Archive for May, 2010

by Ben Elowitz

Among all the major categories of premium digital media, political news may be the toughest to make money on.  It’s incredibly fragmented; it has no endemic advertisers; the content is often unpredictable, sensitive and/or polarizing; and it relies highly on original reporting, making it especially costly to produce.

With all those black marks that make it both especially difficult and especially rewarding, it’s refreshing to see MSNBC take up the experience revolution challenge:  According to Mike Shields at Media Week, MSNBC is talking with BermanBraun about launching a new politics site with an out-of-the-box concept.

Based on the innovative work they’ve done for MSN’s Glo and Wonderwall, it’s a safe bet that if BermanBraun takes on the case, politics won’t look the same after this makeover as it did before.

And that’s a good thing.  We know the old model is increasingly challenged to stay afloat.  So we need someone in the industry to take some big risks and try their hand at a new approach to the category – which will hopefully not only increase engagement, but monetization.

While I don’t expect that this will significantly replace any of the existing and valuable political coverage out there today, it does have the potential to inspire other news publishers to revolutionize their own experience for consumers – which is exactly what’s necessary to improve the health of their business.

by Ben Elowitz

Social Networking as Entertainment

For most of us, particularly in the media business, the word “entertainment,” is synonymous with content: movies, television programs, music, books, and the like.  The better the content, the more “entertaining” it is.  However, a new study released today highlights that the majority of consumers now have a different definition of entertainment, one that extends beyond content to include interactions that they have via social networking sites.  Given this, publishers need to reevaluate the business they are in.   In a world of Publishing 2.0, we are in the audience business, not the content business.

Today, Edelman released summary findings of its fourth annual Trust in the Entertainment Industry study.  The notable highlight is that over 70% of people 18-34 in the U.S. consider social networking to be a form of entertainment.  Over the past year, Edelman found a significant rise in the number of people who consider the web a source of entertainment; in 2010 the Internet surpassed movies and is now second only to TV.  Additionally, out of all of the entertainment categories, social networking scored the highest in perceived value, with 40% of U.S.  respondents saying that it offers excellent or very good value.

This highlights how the entertainment sector is undergoing an experience revolution, with consumers revealing that not only is social networking displacing traditional media as a significant mode of entertainment; but that they appreciate that social networking provides better value than other options.

The implications for publishers are clear:  by creating compelling, interactive experiences for consumers, we not only get them more deeply engaged but can also increase their perception of our value. Read the rest of this entry »

by Ben Elowitz

With yesterday’s announcement of the acquisition of Associated Content, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz has sent a loud message:  Yahoo is investing in becoming a new kind of digital media company for the new age of digital media.   Cheers to Yahoo for recognizing that their “1.0” model needs an upgrade to be more effective in a 2.0 world.  The only problem is that this move gets Yahoo just one step toward where it needs to go.  It could be a powerful first step to add content and audience to their network, but will only be strategically valuable for Yahoo if it is layered with additional new investments to build true destination media sites with premium positioning.

Let’s explore what Yahoo gets from AC first, and then cover what Yahoo must do from here if it is serious about winning in media.

1. Yahoo gets commodity content at commodity cost. With Associated Content’s marketplace, first and foremost Yahoo can source commodity content – i.e. the kind of content that doesn’t need a particularly differentiated author, original reporting, or other hard-to-find talent – cost effectively.

2. Yahoo can improve time (and value) on network. In this age of deteriorating portal power, users come to portals primarily for one reason:  mail.  (According to data from comScore, 73% of Yahoo’s viewers of its most valuable real estate – the home page – are Yahoo Mail users.)  Once they arrive, however, there is far more money to be made by vectoring them to networked media properties like Yahoo Finance, Sports, and Entertainment than by serving additional pages of poorly-monetizing email.  So, by beefing up the available content in the network, Yahoo receives the benefit of extending visits at low cost.

3. Yahoo increases its audience by drawing traffic from Google. Yahoo’s made the strategic decision to move its focus out of the search game and onto media.  And so rather than just feeding them from mail and search, Yahoo needs its content properties to draw audience on their own.   The AC content marketplace can produce thousands of pages per day of content – each one baiting more search engine traffic, and all produced at modest cost.  A recent EConsultancy interview with CEO Patrick Keane revealed that the bulk-buy strategy works:  “80-90% of our audience is driven through natural search,” and according to comScore data, nearly 50% of the traffic that AC’s content sees each month is incremental to Yahoo’s core audience that comes for mail most days.

All three of these improvements have financial benefits to Yahoo – both in increasing revenues with greater reach and traffic; and in bringing down average cost of content. But they miss out on the strategic positioning that Yahoo absolutely must own if it wants to ensure a leader as a top digital media company:

Yahoo needs to be a premium destination; and the AC acquisition message undermines that positioning. Read the rest of this entry »

by Ben Elowitz

We need an experience revolution.Revolution Fist

Each week, we hear of major publications and traditional broadcasters who are struggling to stay afloat in a digital age with new economics and new expectations.  Despite the promise of interactivity made with the internet revolution over the last 15 years, most publishers have done little more than replicate dead trees online, with zero innovation beyond the hyperlink, the slideshow, and an embedded video now and then.

And yet we can see from the rising successes of the last decade like Facebook, Google, Zynga, YouTube, and others that what catches audience attention is interactivity.

To earn loyal audiences today, publishers need to go beyond content creation:  they need to produce compelling experiences that distinguish them and get the consumer coming back for more.  The Pew Internet & American Life Project concluded that “when asked whether they have a favorite online news source, the majority of online news users (65%) say they do not.”  In an era where the consumer’s cost to switch is the flick of a click, publishers must offer compelling, differentiated experiences to earn loyalty.  Choices abound consumers:  there are scads of publishers online in every category; content suggestions offered constantly via social networks; and blue links proffered by search engines dozens of times per day per reader.  In an environment of choice, as brand experts have known for years, nothing builds loyalty like a great experience.

And now is the perfect time to create those breakthrough experiences.  The enabling technologies for the digital customer experience have improved considerably in recent years: we now have ubiquitous broadband, flash and other streaming video, plus HTML5 and maturing mobile application platforms.   Add to that personalization, targeting and social graph access, and there are some amazing opportunities to innovate.

It’s not just consumers that are thirsty for upgraded experiences.  Advertisers are showing that they will pay more for immersive interaction over basic display ads next to text.   Video ads during full TV episodes on ABC.com, Hulu, and others, or mid-day live sporting broadcasts command many times the CPM of typical display ads. Indeed, according to Michael Learmonth at AdAge, The Wall Street Journal’s online video content is bringing in envy-inspiring CPMs at $75 – $100.

But video is not the only way to create an immersive customer experience online.  Online sites of traditional publishers like Better Homes and Gardens are experience train wrecks (to be fair, they’re not alone in that regard).   Contrast that with the much more successful (certainly from an ad rate perspective) MarthaStewart.com which has many of the same elements – a top stories slideshow, cross-promotions for the print magazine, etc., and it’s a substantially better experience due to the focus on design and usability that is expected of the Martha Stewart Omnimedia (MSO) brand.

Even still, much more can be done with today’s technology to put the consumer’s needs and interests first.  The latest example I’ve seen of true creativity in user experience design is Microsoft’s (MSFT) Glo.    There are additional signs of greatness in the tablet demo that Time Warner (TWX) built for its Sports Illustrated brand.   And The New York Times (NYT) continues to excel in their applications and interactive graphics which enjoy significant pass around (bit.ly shows over 5,000 social media clicks to a recent budget infographic and today’s “A Moment in Time” project has already generated over 100 tweets in the first 15 hours).  But too few companies are making similar efforts to distinguish themselves.  The opportunities are there, and we need to step up.

Consumers will decide which brands deserve their loyalty and content alone won’t cut it.  We are on the brink of a total revolution of experience.  For publishers, it’s reinvent or fail.

Do you know additional examples of publishers innovating?

by Ben Elowitz

This article by Ben Elowitz originally appeared as a guest post on paidContentEngaging Readers Online

Last week, I explained why the traditional ways of judging “quality” in published content are useless in the digital age. Judging by readers response to that piece, those dated values (which I labeled credential, correctness, objectivity and craftsmanship) are still sacred to many people. But here’s the problem: They simply aren’t enough to win audiences, drive financial success, or, for that matter, ensure viability. The demise of institutions like Newsweek proves that—and shows that publishers that don’t move beyond these anachronistic measures of success will perish.

So this week, I’m offering part two of my take on the changing definition of quality in published content. Here are the four new rules of quality that publishers must obey to flourish. The biggest difference between the old and new definitions of quality are who’s doing the judging. In the era of Publishing 1.0, when production costs were high, alternatives low and time ample, the editor deemed something quality or not. But today, content isn’t scarce at all—in fact, it is in oversupply. And it is the audience that judges quality directly, dozens of times per day.

So, according to the audience, what is quality?  It comes down to these four characteristics:

Relevance. Read the rest of this entry »

by Ben Elowitz

This article by Ben Elowitz originally appeared as a guest post on paidContent

Old MediaIf old-media traditionalists can be relied on for one thing as the world digitizes, it’s to bemoan the loss of what they call “quality.” In fact, the quality of published content has never been better. So why does traditional media get it wrong here? Because they’re using a definition of quality that made sense for the world of Publishing 1.0, from Gutenberg until 1995. But for Publishing 2.0, it’s about as useful as the cubit is in modern architecture.

The traditional-media definition of quality is based on four key criteria – and all of them have fundamentally changed and become invalid. Here they are, along with an explanation of why they’re no longer useful. Next week, I’ll do a follow-up piece on how quality should be defined in the digital era. Read the rest of this entry »


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