Paywalls Don’t Determine the Difference Between Good and Bad Media

May 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

My understanding of the whole paywall issue isn’t that it’s so much about making subscription money as it is about reasserting the value of proprietary content to advertisers.

It has been widely discussed, here and elsewhere, that content is substantially free. The single copy price of a newspaper doesn’t approach the cost of printing that copy. TV is free if I want it that way, but I choose to pay a cable provider for access to hundreds of channels, most of which don’t share in the subscription proceeds. As for the other channels, I’m paying for them, I suppose, in the same way I’m paying for all the Internet content I get as a consequence of the cost of my connectivity. The market generally regards that content as free, and I agree.  I pay Verizon. Frankly, I don’t know what they do with the money. I assume they keep as much as they can.

Paywalls aren’t going to change that math, overall. So I don’t think Paul Hayes, Managing Director of Commercial operations (effectively, ad sales) at News International, should be as concerned as he was at the Haymarket Brand Media “Big Media Debate” in the U.K. this week, when he said his neck was on the line if internet paywalls fail. According to the story in Media Week, Hayes said “If the [paywall] doesn’t work then I’m in the shit;” adding, “I think if it doesn’t work we face a future of less good media.”

That won’t happen. The paywall experiment may fail, but “good media” won’t fail with it – at least, not because of collapsing paywalls. All the so-called paying-for-content in the world isn’t doing enough to sustain its beneficiaries, anyway, yet we are awash in media, “good” and otherwise. Yes, traditional media business is “in the shit”; but it’s not because subscription prices fell off. It’s because people walked off for greener new media pastures and advertising has gone progressively with them.

Erecting paywalls is about fixing advertising for traditional media players online, which is probably why Paul Hayes is the supposed author of the plan at News International. Paywalls make money by trying to establish the higher advertising value of content for which people will “pay” versus content for which people will not. If paywalls fail, however, I guarantee you “good media” won’t fail with them. Paying for content is not a pre-condition of “good media”.

Ultimately, only the quality of an audience determines what is good or bad media, and while I may be an ungrateful wretch toward what I consider to be “good media”, it’s not my opinion that I pay for any of it. As such, please don’t blame Paul Hayes if paywalls don’t work.

Internet Media Value Does Not Require Further Integration

April 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

In a comprehensive piece in AdWeek (“Too Many Moving Parts”) reported by Brian Morrissey and Mike Shields probing the online advertising success (or not) that Google has had apart from search, there is this little quote from Barry Salzman, who is currently working as Google’s Head of Media and Platforms for the Americas (on the same problem he was working while Head of Global Media at DoubleClick). Barry says:

“The really exciting opportunity was to come to Google…to execute on the very early DoubleClick vision. That was about recognizing that the Internet was a medium that would deliver unprecedented media value only by integrating technology with that media offering.”

Others may swallow this sort of commentary effortlessly. I choke and gag.

What does it mean, “…a medium that would deliver unprecedented media value only by integrating technology with that media offering”?

“Only by integrating technology”?

“Only”?

What does that mean, “only by integrating technology”?

Does it mean the Internet’s media value remains dormant pending some further integration with technology above and beyond the technology that gave life to it among audiences in the first place (setting fire to millions of acres of valuable traditional media property in the process)?

Does it mean there are integration codes necessary to awaken Internet media value that will make it unprecedented compared to other media, but otherwise it’s not unprecedented and we should be surprised that audiences seem so fascinated by it 15 years later?

What “media value” are we talking about here?

That’s mostly a rhetorical question, of course. The value Barry Salzman has been trying to isolate for years is in the audience data. He is joined by countless others that insist on looking past the obvious for something unprecedented, such as advertising that comes with our name on it (which I still get in the mailbox and throw away every day at home). Elsewhere, for instance, Michael Katz, President of interClick, was responding to the stone-throwing between ad networks and publishers in Mediaweek by observing “…that the promise of digital advertising is very bright. It will be driven by the efficiency and accountability afforded by technical innovation;” which in his world means “…that data will bring about higher ad rates for more valuable audiences, which ultimately benefits the publishers.”

Evidently, the publishers aren’t buying it, at least judging from comments in the same Mediaweek article meant to clarify the position of some of them (TheStreet.com for instance) regarding the bright future offered by the innovation of ad networks:

“We have run into these issues with other networks as well. Moreover, we believe that many other publishers have faced these issues. We believe there may be widespread unethical behavior in this segment of the industry, which a public airing may help to remedy.”

Great. Oh so valuable.

Regulators and privacy advocates aren’t any more sympathetic: there were more wasteful lawsuits last week against Google, Yahoo! and others over behavior targeting practices.

So, what greater, “unprecedented media value” is being unlocked here, and is the noise it’s making from the other side of the door convincing us it sounds like a good idea?

How about we stop fishing in our pockets for the keys and get comfortable with the media value of the Internet as it exists right now, on this side of the door, as furnished by all of the relevant content. Such value made the Internet big with audiences. Harvesting such value made Google rich. Promoting such value has been the simple desire of all web publishers. Sinking into such value offers visible comfort for all.

Accordingly, from his respected perch atop the Internet kingdom Barry Salzman might be inclined to say, “The really exciting opportunity was to come to Google recognizing that the Internet was a medium that would deliver unprecedented media value.”

Meaning, it comes integrated into the lives of audiences. Value included.

Can the Online Publishers Association learn how to share value?

June 19, 2009 § Leave a comment

The Online Publishers Association(OPA) and comScore are hitting the road with a study about the ability of display advertising to support brands online. Excellent news.

The report in Mediaweek talking about the study takes a shot at ad networks – “Perhaps not surprisingly, besides defend display ads, the report also touts the power of branded content sites (rather than say, ad networks” - but we feel fine about that and are inclined to agree that not enough networks do enough to sell the value of content online. Most of them can’t, because they don’t work transparently with their publishers, which makes it hard to extol the virtues of place and position and content quality – all the things, frankly, that attract users.

That said, the OPA remains an emblem of one of the Great Barriers to advertising progress online. As an entity, it is informed by the right instincts and sells the right things online – notably, the important value of content - but it feels it must contest the ability of anything besides the large, branded media members it represents to create that value. That is preposterous. It is like anyone contesting the wisdom of self-government. Really. If, instead, the OPA or its members - as experienced advocates - could embrace the audience engagement created by the thousands of niche publishers that, in fact, make up most of the Internet, then the OPA could do a great service, and play a larger role, as an advocate of the value of online overall – and value might, after all, see daylight online. It has a clear advantage over the IAB in this regard, which has had to pick its way through all manner of sellers and agents, many of which got rich doing end-runs around value.

You see our problem. One trade group is conflicted. The other trade group is conflicted.

It’s a pickle.

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