Wetpaint CEO Ben Elowitz on the Future of Digital Media
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.
One of my favorite questions to ask recruiting candidates is: “What content sites have a unique and differentiated user experience?”
The usual answers are as tiresome as the state of web design: YouTube (yes, it is fun to keep clicking), Hulu (yes, they got the experience right for TV viewing), and lots of pauses and comments like “I don’t know, it’s kind of all the same.”
Let’s face it: publishers are formulaic herds. And the formulas are boring and tired for users. How bad the state of the art is when Huffington Post gets major props for going with a single full-screen hero shot on its home page – and that’s considered breakthrough!
So that’s why I’m incredibly impressed with what MSN’s Scott Moore and BermanBraun’s Lloyd Braun and Gail Berman have done with their newest creation, Glo. From logo to flow, the site’s design lets go of the old formulas, tries something new, and most importantly, takes risks. New layouts, new interactions, and new forms of content all create a feeling that this is not an ordinary website. Even more, they have defined their own style that is adventurously well-suited for their audience.
To start making money, publishers need to create consumer experiences that stand out. As MSN’s Scott Moore said in a post by Kara Swisher, “we see a lot of room to grow by offering something different and of higher quality.” These premium visceral experiences are exactly the path to profit in digital media: they will attract loyal audiences, premium advertising dollars, and over time create opportunities for upselling to consumers. And those premium experiences are, after all, the root reason why everyone is so excited about the iPad this week.
Apple doesn’t need to be the only one that can innovate. This kind of innovation is rare among publishers, and yet all too valuable.
For heaven’s sake, if MSN can do it, everyone can.