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: www.ign.com (News), www.huffingtonpost.com (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.

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