March 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
We were discussing Content Ascending in this space a few weeks ago. How about Media Ascending? This was essentially the point of David Carr’s column in the New York Times describing the evolving mission of Google from Technology Company to Media Company. “In essence,” he wrote, “Google, which cracked the code on the Web advertising model, has come to realize that if content becomes just a commodity, then advertising will follow suit.”
Indeed, the stakes are very high for advertisers in this regard, where the separation between soap-the-brand and soap-the-commodity is wafer thin. Content and creativity are the only things keeping the affects of advertising from being overwhelmed by price and promotion. Commoditize content and the burden upon creative to make the case for brands will exceed advertising’s ability to create compelling messages. It is just too hard to produce great creative - which is why so much advertising depends on the ability to intrude on consumers with the volume up.
…But, as to Media Ascending:
The pattern was pointed out in an iMedia column long ago: every new media revolution starts with technical innovation, followed by rapid adoption, a dominant technology culture and then, finally, a media proposition grounded in content. Most recently, of course, it was television and radio. Once their respective boxes had been packed and shipped and switched on in the parlors of America, manufacturers saw the need for content to keep their enterprises growing. They built networks, as David Carr describes:
“RCA commercialized a spectacular invention called radio, but by the mid-1920s the company realized its new wonder needed great content, so it bought and merged several radio stations to form a media company called NBC. Later, RCA did the same trick with another catchy invention: television.”
Today, RCA’s legacy is NBC. And nobody – nobody – sits at home marveling at the fact that the picture on their tube is bouncing off a satellite over the equator. There is, instead, only, ever, one question on their minds: what’s on?
It is a media question.
March 10, 2011 § Leave a comment
Peering through the lens of search engine optimization (SEO), over at the Nieman Journalism Lab, Richard J. Tofel looks into the future of the World Wide Web and reaches this conclusion, or so it seems: the media business model will reset around the value that binds a reader to content. Call that value loyalty and intent.
Tofel is tipped-off by two events. First is the widely discussed action that Google has taken to shore-up the quality of its search results against the tide of search engine manipulators, optimizers, content mills, etc., that has been building for years. Second, is the sale of The Huffington Post, a reputed master of SEO, to AOL for $315 million. In these things, Tofel sees the signs of backlash and correction. He writes:
“…SEO itself is an inefficiency, a transaction cost rather than a value-creator — it is a technique designed entirely to compensate for the failure of the search engine to correctly analyze site content, searcher desire, or both. Over time, economics teaches us, inefficiencies tend to be wrung out, and transaction costs reduced.”
And then, later, referring to the Huff Post/AOL deal:
“But if it is true that most entrepreneurs sell out near the top, and it is, then perhaps we have just been sent a signal by one of its masters that the dark arts of SEO have peaked and that the century’s second decade will see them fade, perhaps into near nothingness by the third decade. In other words, it seems increasingly likely that, when the history of this era is written, SEO will turn out to have been a transitional phenomenon.”
Transitional from what to what? If I may, the short answer is from big to small. But that’s not a complete answer. Richard Tofel would probably say transitional from an advertiser-centered media business to a reader-centered media business, with the difference being that readers will substantially subsidize the cost (if not the profits) of the media through their wallets, or their loyalty.
“…a focus on readers rather than advertisers as the heart of business model will, inevitably, create a more segmented dynamic, as the strongest appeals to readers tend to be in niches, and as, to venture an impolite reminder, some readers are a great deal more valuable than others. This is not only because some readers have more money to spend on content (as they do, admittedly, on the goods and services offered by advertisers), although that is true. But it is also, and ultimately more importantly true, that some readers are willing to spend more time, to develop greater loyalty to particular content, to value it more highly.”
As a media consumer I can say unreservedly that this is what the internet has meant to me from the beginning: the value of particular content. I can also say unreservedly that search engines have never been especially good at connecting me with that value. The process has always been awkward and imperfect and time consuming. It has always been inefficient, just as Tofel observes.
The search engine business model, however, and its exploitation by publishers, with both good and bad intentions, mimics our experience – what we have known – with traditional media. Long ago media started playing an audience game, which mostly continues today. Richard Tofel is describing the results of SEO, but he could be just as easily describing the results of media business behavior the past 30 years when he observes:
“SEO has been, more than anything, about growing pageviews and unique visitors — any pageviews, and any unique visitors, the more the merrier. It is a force, therefore, for lowest-common-denominator publishing. And after a decade of SEO, a lot of lowest common denominator is what we have.”
How about after three decades? The Real Housewives of New Jersey, anyone?
I suspect Tofel is rooting for a backlash against lowest common denominators. I’m with him. Advertisers, if they could be persuaded to stop chasing sticks around the yard, would do well to root for a backlash, too. A more “segmented dynamic” media world exists to give them what they need for their “segmented dynamic” brand world. It is not more audience. It is loyalty and intent.
March 2, 2011 § Leave a comment
MediaBistro’s FishbowlNY points to an article in Fast Company by Steven Rosenbaum, the author of Curation Nation, who is seeing signs of the past in the curating, blogging, sharing media world of today. In this case, Rosenbaum makes note of the early days of Time Magazine, which began life as a news digest. He writes:
“Now, 90 years later–the magazines of Time Inc. are among the elite of publishing–the top of the content creation food chain. But that wasn’t how it all began. In fact, as Luce biographer Douglas Brinkly tells the story–there were sliced-up copies of The New York Times and piles of foreign magazines everywhere around the offices. Luce’s idea, and that of his business partner, Briton Hadden, was to condense all the news busy people needed to know into one weekly read. The magazine, Luce wrote, would ‘serve the illiterate upper classes, the busy business man, the tired debutant, to prepare them at least once a week for a table conversation.’ There was not a lot of brooding about other people’s intellectual property rights.”
The next paragraph of the story offers a more colorful description from Michael Kinsley taken from an article by him in the Atlantic:
“Time was intended from the start to be what we now call ‘aggregation’ or (if we’re being hoity-toity) ‘curation.’ Although it later succumbed to bureaucratic bloat–an insane system of researchers feeding material to reporters that fed it to writers–at the beginning it was just a lot of smart-ass Yalies rewriting The New York Times. “
Happy? What’s old is new again. So much for all the angry, resentful talk from the content creators of today aimed at the content curators.
Except that as sure as history repeats itself, today’s curators all want to grow-up to be Time Magazine – or any similar vestige of the bureaucratically bloated media era. In fact, at the beginning new media had another word for it besides “bloated.” The word was, “portal.” It makes you feel bloated just to say it. Bureaucratic and portaled.
Same as it ever was. Count on it.
March 1, 2011 § Leave a comment
The IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau), the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) and the 4As (American Association of Advertising Agencies) announced this week at the IAB’s Annual Meeting that they have joined forces to finally make sense of online brand measurement. It’s clear that the broader media and marketing community recognizes that if brand advertising can’t safely follow consumers online through successful planning, buying and measurement then the opportunity represented by new media, and the chance to connect with digital generations, now and in the future, will pass them by with whatever undeterminable affect on the future of the world’s major marketers.
Not that that was ever going to happen. Even in the darkest days of the early internet when the idea of one-to-one, risk free advertising was being spooned into the hookahs of the industry was the “end of branding” a plausible reality. Brands are people. People are brands. To posit the end of branding would be to posit the end of the consumer. Not likely. Not yet.
Ergo, the announcement by the chief marketing councils that brand measurement will be brought forth online, or else, is the signal that brands and branding are off the ropes, making it likely – and just write this down, you can check back on the claim later – that the internet will usher in a new era of marketing intuition and seat-of-the-pants decision-making. Measurement, after all, is the net under the performance, not the performance. If you follow my meaning.