Can syndication make niche media profitable?

One of the indisputable truths of the digital age is that it has fragmented the media landscape[1]. There certainly are big draw cards in media still, based on big audience products: (News), (AOL) and Netflix being prime examples of companies thriving in the digital space.

What is evident from the digital age, however, is that people seem to love niche products. Websites like the satirical AFL site ‘The Daily Maggot’[2], run by a Melbourne entrepreneur, sees over 30,000 hits per month in unique viewers.

Other, similar niche products exist. Take Private Media Partners in Australia, who run a series of niche, politically orientated digital properties[3]. As products, they represent very niche groups of people. As a group, they hold around 1 million monthly and unique viewers.

As a company they have not managed to scale their business. What they have proved is a demand for smaller, niche products. The question that remains is how do you turn this model into a profitable business?

Well, the answer lies in an old trick from traditional media, particularly television: syndication. It is something which the modern media world hasn’t ticked onto to take small, niche sites, and scale their behind the scenes cost model.

Take two websites: one is a women’s fitness site, one is a women’s food site. The syndication opportunities there are endless. You could take nutrition content and cycle it through, or you could take fitness regimes that complemented your food intake. Building a content plan that works for both of these properties in conjunction is key to aggregating the audiences of both, without forcing them into a property they don’t identify with.

This may be a more obvious example above, but for media companies looking to exploit the niche markets, this surely is the model they must take. Rather than working out how to model niche sites into mass sites in the consumer facing model, digital instead offers the opportunity to forge the economy of scale behind the scenes.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon brought on by the ease of access within the digital world. And it is a skill that old media companies will understand, and be able to do well.

Why not aggregate into one big site, you ask? Well in some cases that would work, and will provide enough for your audience to not disengage them through irrelevant content. But for sites where relevance is increasingly crucial, building the syndication links between your properties will be important to driving profits and margins that otherwise wouldn’t exist.


How ‘Generation N’ can put profit back into newspapers

Colin Morrison hits the nail on the head – content portals to be the future of media for the Digital Generation.

Flashes & Flames

It’s been just like the old days in Britain this week. There’s been fierce coverage for and against Margaret Thatcher. And sell-out newspapers reporting her life and death. Fittingly, UK daily sales peaked 24 years ago when Thatcher became Prime Minister. But it’s been downhill ever since.

The problem is that a fixation with the advertising-subsidised past is obstructing fundamental change. How else can you explain the 450,000 of “bulk copies” distributed in January by UK national dailies to hotels, airlines and railways? It’s all about hyping circulations for the “benefit” of advertisers but the obsession with sales figures is holding newspapers back. And some of the worst offenders are strong brands which are already filling the revenue gap.

The UK’s Financial Times is the world champion at increasing its cover price: up from £1 to £2.50 in six years after a four-year standstill. It has thus been able to generate…

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It’s time for the media business to leverage free content

One of the big challenges for media in the 21st century is the abundance of free content that the internet throws up. It smashes apart the previously subscription driven models, forcing publishers to rethink how they create value outside of providing content for their audiences.

For many, this has involved expanding on their core offerings to provide multi-channels solutions. Take, for instance, one of my favorite companies: ShortList Media[1]. ShortList provides EDMs, web, tablet and print content to an upwardly mobile audience.

But as the value of content diminishes, so to must media companies recognize this. One of the best examples I have seen is Australian company ‘The Roar’[2]. The Roar focuses on providing sports opinion, rather than news, and boasts around 500,000 viewers each month.

The best part about the model, though, is their content model. The Roar has recognized that some of the best submissions come from fans, and as such, fan edited content is an essential part of their model. Fans are happy to provide content as it gives them an official platform for their voice to be heard on. This gives them the legitimacy to have their opinion heard, which is something they place a value on (and hence are happy to donate their time towards).

More importantly, the costs for The Roar of content are virtually nothing. Editing, sure, and subbing. But the journalist cost? Virtually nil.

The Roar recognizes, as any good publisher, that this cannot exist in absentia of any legitimized content from ‘expert’ columnists, and still go down this path. But by embracing the UGC [user generated content] model, they smash apart some of their content costs associated with the journalism model.

For big media, this is a great way to ensure your content is relevant whilst diminishing your cost of publishing. It creates a strong, two- way conversation with your readers that you know remains relevant. As a model, it provides one of the best ways for media businesses to leverage the diminishing value of content in the digital age.

Any good media business is going to have content-curation as a core part of its business. The Roar is showing the way in how media can increasingly embrace new content production models to fuel growth and reduce costs, all whilst keeping their great content relevant.



Why media should get on and create retail advertising solutions….

The power of advertising has driven the success of media for years and years. The ability to place your product into a target audience has been, well, a billion dollar industry over the past century or so, and until very recently, was a booming industry.

Now, with the full face of media fragmentation shattering audiences and a complete revolution in the nature of (paid-for) content, we’re seeing declining advertising revenues and a shift in the engagement strategies of media-marketers.

One of the big winners out of all of this has been in the content marketing space[1]. Brands are increasingly recognizing that they can enter the publishing game, and do it well. In the age of free content, this is an increasingly valuable skillset.

But why should publishers get into retail as well? What benefits are there to flipping the content marketing model the other way around?

Well, for one, audiences will prefer you for it. Ultimately, your audience cares as much about convenience these days as it does the content it is looking at. Take mobile. What good publisher doesn’t have mobile apps delivering content these days?

The reason for that is to facilitate a convenient user experience. And for more and more people, this concept expands to the types of services their media products provide. A buying service, increasingly, will become a massive part of this, making the user experience a far more convenient process.

For advertisers, it makes sense. They only pay for what they are selling through your platform, and essential media brands become the shop fronts of the digital age. After all, people don’t want to limit themselves to single brands – rather they want to be exposed to a variety of brands which meld with their lifestyle view (don’t be surprised if you see someone content marketing joint ventures in 2013).

The risk of this is publishers are taking on product risk – as such, they’ll be reliant on funneling resources of this type to the bigger brands, rather than relying on launch products. The result? You’ll get a few media brands that become experts in matching experimental products to their audiences (ie they take a risk for greater revenue share on smaller, untested brands).

All in all, publishers need to embrace the technology offered in the media space. Merging and offering platforms to provide a shopfronted in a fragmented media landscape makes sense: for audiences, for advertisers and for publishers.


[Short Rant] Is Vine too disruptive?

When Vine[1] was first announced, I got excited. Finally, a product which provided those lovable, short “GIF” style videos on a social media platform. In a word; awesome.

But the more I think about it, the more I dislike the platform. Video and social media is always an odd mix – look at your own social media feed. I’m willing to bet there are a few videos mixed in there, but you will probably only look at one or two.


Because social media is largely based on the scrolling platform. With social media, your data is constantly being thrown at you, you are constantly moving through sources of information, and always gaining a broader, overall social insight. It’s a platform which discourages more than a three sentence update.

Both Twitter and Facebook know this – Facebook, with its ‘continue reading’ feature for long updates, Twitter with a character limit. And both tend to leave video just sitting there – avoiding actively pushing the content out.

The most interesting thing about this, however, is with Vine. Twitter have almost thought that they can find the happy medium between the disruptive nature of video on social media, and the clear and present emotional tone it can convey. They’re banking on it not being disruptive enough that it allows you to still watch.

Having used Vine, though, I’m not convinced. There isn’t enough video to truly tell a story – and to truly tell a succinct story, you’ll need more video. Slightly ironically, a picture here does not paint a thousand words.

Twitter have banked a lot on Vine, and I hope it goes well for them. My gut feel, though, is this is just a little too disruptive for the format.


The future of big media is not in personalisation…

In the digital age, we increasingly hear that personalising content is king. Marissa Mayer, arguably one of the architects of Yahoo!’s shift toward generating a strong, media and news focused platform for users, extensively touts this as one of the arms of the media giants’ future[1].

In broader terms, the demand for personalised content is charging ahead with the growth of content marketing. Facebook provides sponsored stories and content based on what it thinks you want to see. Increasingly search is geared towards monitoring and measuring your history – evidenced by tools like Graph Search for Facebook, Discover for Twitter or even Google’s increasingly dominant ad presence.

There’s an issue with personalisation, though, that no one is talking about. The success of old media, magazines, newspapers and TV alike, was that it produced content broadly enough to engage a commercially viable audience, but niche enough to keep their engagement and content tight enough to interest them.

One of the great elements of this process was known as discovery[2]. This concept came out of people not knowing what content they wanted to see – did they know the specific dress types, for example, they wanted to wear? Did they know every genre of music they liked?

The idea being, that the editor could push or curate content that was often ‘similar’ and the audience trusted the editor to make the right judgment on whether that content was relevant to them. A simple concept? Definitely. An easy skill? Definitely not.

And in an increasingly free world of content, with masses of information being thrown at us every day, suddenly the emphasis is again placed on content and information being valuable. Associations, like the IPA, are seeing a resurgence through their use of digital content[3] – and employing publishers, and more importantly editors, to make those content judgments for them.

Of course, this suggests there is perhaps a different opportunity presented in the world of digital. Rather than leaning towards to process of personalisation, perhaps technology can be used differently: to refine the journey of discovery.

Media brands are going to have to start thinking this way for the digital future. It’s not in personalisation their ad revenues will come. It’s in discovery.