Wetpaint CEO Ben Elowitz on the Future of Digital Media
Over the last several months, I’ve been out talking with leading media industry executives about the challenge we face in making digital media as successful as its analog predecessor. We can all name the roots of the challenge: the explosion of supply online, and the ease with which consumers can move from one property to another. We are now living with the results, including an extraordinary number of websites for users to choose from, and a challenge for publishers in getting and holding consumers’ attention and advertisers’ dollars.
While I’ve been on the road, 35 smart and talented people at Wetpaint have been working to address these challenges head-on: by inventing a new business model for digital media. A new model that uses technology in the most disruptive way at the core of the publishing business. Beyond just taking friction out of the workflow, my team has designed new advantages that can reduce the costs of content creation and audience recruitment by a factor of 5-10X vs. benchmark publishers, all while offering greater appeal to consumers and advertisers alike.
This weekend, we launched the first version of our publishing platform, with our first media property built on it: Wetpaint Entertainment. For consumers, it’s a breakthrough user experience – full of glossy photos, fun and interactive, and social to the core. For advertisers, it’s a rich, engaging, and premium context in which to reach core target audiences – the same audiences, in fact, that they already target with network TV buys.
But for the 35 of us at Wetpaint, it is far more: it is our first milestone in our mission to revolutionize media.
An audacious goal, isn’t it? Let me explain.
What Will Leading Media Properties Look Like?
In the four years since we launched Wetpaint, we’ve seen plenty of innovation in digital media. User-generated content, video, and social media have all risen from small fancies to widespread prominence. Meanwhile, we’ve experienced the rise of content distributors, such as Google, Facebook, and Huffington Post, to unexpected levels of audience and influence. But all the while, the precious core segments of the publishing industry – news and magazine publishing – have been suffering layoffs, closures, and an increasing sense of irrelevance under the pressures of the new digital playing field and amidst dwindling audience and advertiser interest in their brands. And with the specter of doom around the corner, no one has come up with a true replacement for their withering business model.
The question for us as an industry is (with a nod to Tim Armstrong, the CEO of Aol, for phrasing it): Who is going to be the Time Inc. or Conde Nast of the digital future? And, more importantly, how?
The answer is not so-called content farms, such as Associated Content or Demand Media. Content farms may be a valuable tactical business, but they do not produce leadership, loyalty, or destinations – much less brand premiums. Nor is the answer Facebook or Flipboard or Twitter. They are great conduits for content and attention, but they rely on content creation happening elsewhere – with few exceptions, the best they can do is surface what’s created on other platforms.
The answer is that the next generation of publishers must still create quality content – but they have to create it far more cheaply, or their business model won’t work. The editor-intensive newsrooms of The New York Times and Time Inc. are not models for a digital future; but neither is the Huffington Post, with its heavy reliance on an unpaid squad of volunteers in far-flung places.
The new leader will be defined by three key advantages:
When these three strategies perform in tandem, one can uniquely publish with high velocity, low cost, outstanding reach, and most importantly, earning huge consumer loyalty – all of which accrues not only to the metrics on a spreadsheet that indicate a healthy business, but more importantly to a brand premium that builds results year after year.
A Platform With Which To Create Leading Titles
And if a publisher were to possess a platform that can repeatably produce such titles, they would have golden egg after golden egg in the form of media titles that can serve one audience after the next.
Today we launch the new Wetpaint Entertainment, operating on our first iteration of such a platform. Our new platform is built on the idea that we can use technology and data from this morning to influence what we write this afternoon. That the editorial art can be informed by data science. And that with the fundamental changes of the last five years, we now have an environment abundant in data to inform what content will suit an audience – and empower publishers to write the content that audiences love, without chasing the red herring of ideas that sound good but won’t produce results.
While all that horsepower is brewing under the hood, what our audience will see is far simpler: whether on Facebook, on the web, or on an iPad, they’ll experience a beautiful site that entices them with rich visual imagery, fun experiences, and the most appealing content that completes their relationship with their favorite TV shows.
Today is the first milestone for Wetpaint toward a vision of revolutionizing media – for consumers and for the industry. Please, come visit and enjoy.