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What Does News Media Own?
Have you read Ben Thompson’s article, titled Manifestos and Monopolies? It’s worth digging into the editorial. Thompson paints an interesting picture of the future of the world’s largest platform. Of all platforms, really. You could easily search and replace "Facebook" with any of the other platforms, and the points would be just as on point.
Today the fundamental impact of the Internet is to make distribution itself a cheap commodity — or in the case of digital content, completely free. And that, by extension, is why I have long argued that the Internet Revolution is as momentous as the Industrial Revolution: it is transforming how and where economic value is generated, and thus where power resides...
In this brave new world, power comes not from production, not from distribution, but from controlling consumption: all markets will be demand-driven; the extent to which they already are is a function of how digitized they have become.
There are about half a dozen other points in Thompson's article that require attention and consideration, but the one above stood out for me while reading. The ability to control consumption, and drive demand for digital content is what's missing from the revenue equation that everyone is trying to balance in the media industry lately. How can a media company, built on the open, world-wide-web compete with platforms, unless they become platforms themselves?
Facebook and Google are the internet now (it’s been that way for a while), and there may be no going back. One company controls the web’s entire social graph and the other controls access to inquiry-based searches. But, what do media and news sites control?
Enter Thomas Baekdal’s fantastic tweetstorm (Twitter should officially embrace tweetstorms, btw). Baekdal argues that advertisers prefer to place their money with platforms because platforms offer audiences more than “overwhelming negativity.” Another point that’s hinted at, but not stated overtly is that Google and Facebook have done a fantastic job in creating ecosystems where brands have a moment to stand alongside the other content. That’s something newspapers, and other news-centric media companies have struggled with over the last decade, especially on the internet. They’ve taken print journalism’s paradigms and tried to apply it directly to the internet.
But, the term “alongside” makes all the difference here.
Looking for something specific? Google created an opportunity for marketers to advertise against those queries alongside other search results. Want to connect with friend and family? Facebook made it acceptable to also check out brands and influencers alongside updates from friends and family.
Want to get the news? News sites have also made it possible for brands to… to… popover, under, between, above, around, and in place of what you’re looking for on a page.
That’s a big difference in approach. That’s what news companies are up against today. That’s why people keep going to platforms first, and why destination websites are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Consumers want more “alongside” and a lot less “instead of” based advertising paradigms. That's the field the industry needs to start playing on if it wants to turn this game around.
PS. We're working on a podcast series that focuses on the future of ad tech. Can't say too much yet, but we're looking for people across the advertising and marketing industry to chat with, so if you're interested, please reach out. I'd love to hear from you. (firstname.lastname@example.org).