Content wants to be free. Advertising wants to be accountable. It’s a tough time to be a new media child.

June 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

The story in Daily Finance reporting on Jonathan Miller’sspeculation that one day Hulu may charge for content has ricocheted around the news forums and digests. Boy, I’ll tell you, every time media companies take a step or two towards the invisible fence line surrounding the free content playground online the dog collar starts spitting electrodes. Posters to the column on Daily Finance were quick to jump on Miller’s comments:

“The fact that executives are still trying to figure out a way to charge for content online is mind boggling to me. It doesn’t work. Hulu was an ingenious idea. Since people were watching shows online for free anyways, why not create create an online platform and shift power back to the networks.”

“Another exec with no clue. I love Hulu in its current incarnation, and would certainly abandon it if it wasn’t free. What an idiot.”

Most of the 60+ posts were like that. The first poster (above) linked to a survey on a related topic at EngadgetHDthat asked, “How much would you pay for HULU on your TV?” When I took the survey the score was pay “Nothing”, 4,590 (76.6%), to pay “Something” (there were a few options), 1,401 (23.3%). I was among the “nothing” crowd.

Michael Kinsley’s article eight years ago in Slate, “It’s not just the Internet”, is still the best thing that’s ever been written on the subject of content economics. It should be required reading for media professionals. The truth is, content for a consumer audience is free, offline and on. If it’s not for free, it’s for darn near nothing. It’s underwater. It’s in the red. It costs the producer, not the consumer of the information.

So, of course, advertising has foot the bill for content for 30 years, maybe more, and grew weary of it at the start.  Despite their carrying costs advertisers got no input into the editorial products, little input into the position of their messages, and only some insight into how much of their investment reached its target - which was maybe half. Advertising has wanted a little money back, too.

The Internet, consequently, has grown-up in the midst of a stormy relationship and the impact on its personality has been profound. If ever there was a child that needed a little play time, it has been the Internet.

Listen to the shrill voices of it’s guardians: Be accountable. Don’t skulk. Answer me! Act responsively. You get nothing until the work is done. Why can’t you behave like a grown-up? What’s it worth to you? What’s the matter with you? Why are you crying? Here, try this. Try this. Try this! 

Michael Kinsley said in his 2001 article, “Information has been free all along. It’s the Internet that wants to enslave it.” Funny how that statement rings true as it pertains to the other partner in the relationship, the advertiser. Do you hear the echo? It resonates through the whole matter.

It’s a tough time to be a media child. You really have to wonder about the parents.

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