OnMedia: It’s differenter than you think

I’m at the Always-On OnMedia confab in New York (yes, another conference… life is a conference). I’ll not liveblog it; after DLD and Davos, I’m liveblogged-out. This one is focused on investment and that’s good; that is the mother’s milk of innovation. But I’m frustrated that the people on the stage — as innovative as they are — are still thinking in old media terms on the internet.

They think it’s content. “The perceived economic value of content is approaching zero,” said Drew Lipsher of Greycroft. The reason that people come on the internet is for the content, says Jim Spanfeller of Forbes.com The problem with that, I think, is that the internet is more about connections and relationships — that’s where the core value is and content is a vehicle for that. This is like measuring the value of a car based on how much we like the seat. We don’t value cars because we can sit in them but because they get us somewhere. We’re valuing and measuring the wrong things.

They think it has to be big. Eric Hippeau said that critical mass for advertisers to pay attention is growing from 1 million to 3-5 million users. Jonathan Miller is waiting for a blockbuster hit on the internet that spawns sequels and t-shirt sales. That’s still treating us like a mass. That’s still about lazy advertisers who want to buy upfront and don’t want to converse with us as individuals or at least communities. We need advertisers’ money; that will be the primary support of online media. But we need to both retrain them and give them the infrastructure and data to enable them to market smarter and create meaningful relationships — and, in the process, support small instead of big. Part of that infrastructure is technology to enable better measurement and sales. And part of it is putting together curated networks that do make buying advertising easier.

They think life is neat. We’re still hearing this red herring about advertisers not wanting to be associated with bad things online. Name a brand that has been truly ruined because a banner ad appeared on a porn site. Name one. Oh, yes, there’ve been teapot-tempests — boiled by media — about a banner that ends up on a neonazi page but, c’mon, no consumer is going to assume that the brand is Nazified. The answers to this are first to recognize that life is messy and second to use networks that curate content. The draw of being included in that network and getting its money will be the thing that keeps the content safe. But, hey, advertisers, life is not neat. Shit happens. (Oops. I said shit. I guess the ads on the right will be disappearing.)

They think this is about selling. We’re still hearing about standard ad models and measurements. But someone on the panel pointed to Nike, which is moving away from CPMs and GRPs and heading to providing the infrastructure for communities to do what they want to do. Nike is turning from a manufacturer and marketer of products into a platform.

I don’t mean to say that everyone’s in the past and issue a they-don’t-get-it rant. Indeed, these people get it more than most. I’m just saying that the online life is — pardon me — differenter than we yet realize. The very model of media is only starting to come into focus. We think. We hope.

  • lurker

    Some people use the internet primarily for content , others for connections and relationships, some use it for both. It’s silly to argue content’s not important when it clearly is.

  • http://lookdeeper.com Crispin

    Jeff, you are absolutely right. Being on the media side I can tell you that what the old guard (of new media ironically) is saying, and thinking, is at least in part because that’s what the big content publishers are selling them: Reach – Unique Visitors – Time Spent – Page Views. Until the industry gets past that model I’m afraid the game will not change much. As it stands now, the biggest publishers and sites still have the loudest voices and therefore take the biggest piece of the pie, and anyone sitting on the long tail gets left with the scraps. Which is totally backward if you ask me. Niches should command a premium.

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  • David

    Jeff,

    So what is the value of content in the off-line world then? I would argue that much of its value, whether it’s TV, movies, books, or the theatre (going back thousands of years to ancient Greece and Rome) can be attributed to the direct or indirect role it plays as a form of social currency.

    Also with respect to advertising, the content with which an ad appears has a significant effect on most measures of ad effectiveness. Moreover, the emotional state of the person exposed to the ad–induced in many cases by the content–has a similarly powerful effect on perception of the product or brand. There’s just no getting around it – it’s possible that advertisers may never embrace user-generated content. There are just too many variables.

    You’re completely right IMO about mass vs. small though. The web is by definition not a mass medium and it never will be. In fact I’ve seen some academic studies that suggest that fragmentation (of potentially everything from audience sizes to search keywords) in the online world may be increasing at a parabolic rate.

    However, I doubt there’s much ROI for advertisers in social networking or similar relationship-based models that might emerge. There has to be some way to prove that you’ve generated revenue like there is with paid search and traditional media. Having seen misguided companies spend $80,000+ to build an island in Second Life that is visited by 2,000 people with not surprisingly zero impact on sales, it’s not really clear to me where this is going to go.

    David

  • http://gradyrose.blogspot.com Larry

    As much Nike can be applauded for the progress it’s made in leveraging social media, the question still remains: how will this exposure be bought & sold? Will Facebook adopt a Cost-per-3rd-pass-along? Will the long tail be paid for or just baked into a higher, dare I say, “upfront” CPM?

  • Chris

    “the internet is more about connections and relationships — that’s where the core value is and content is a vehicle for that.”

    I disagree. The value of any Web site is the quality of its content.
    First, I’d argue that any connection/relationship a site provides is content.
    But even social networking sites that trade in connecting users really build on the content those users create. Take Facebook as an example: People go to the site because others have added content to browse. People would stop going if their friends stopped posting pictures, journal entries and the like. Even groups are only useful if they add content. It’s useless for me to join a group for a humanitarian cause if someone in the group doesn’t add content to the page, such as how to actually be involved in the cause.
    I don’t think your car analogy works; I think Web sites are more like coffee shops. People go to coffee shops for the coffee (the content). Perhaps one keeps going back to a particular shop because relationships are formed—you think the barista is cute, you enjoy talking to the guy who’s always there to use the WiFi (though attractive employees or interesting customers are as much content as connections). But if the shop starts serving terrible coffee, everyone will quit going. Maybe you stop in sometimes to chat with the people, but when you really crave a good cup of java you head to the place across the street.
    Web sites are the same. If they don’t have quality content, they are worthless. The problem for most journalism Web sites is they haven’t proven the value of their content. Sometimes that’s because our content isn’t of value, and sometimes our ad sales people must be idiots. The answer: Create better content, and give sales people the proper incentives to sell the good content for appropriate prices.
    My fear from your statement quoted above is that we (journalists, the media) will be led down the wrong path. I think too many media companies are too busy trying to out do Facebook and myspace and youTube. Let them do what they do best, and let’s stick to reporting what goes on in the world and delivering the report. That billions of people get news from a print or digital product every day proves our work has value.
    We’ll never beat them at their game; it’s our fault if we let someone beat us at ours.

  • http://www.bookdepository.co.uk Mark Thwaite

    Content versus relationships is a non-starter. It’s both — and each can be both (and both need to be good/extensive). But I think Jeff is right to say that the online world is yet still “differenter” than we all think…

    I run/edit/write one of the biggest British literary blogs (ReadySteadyBook.com) and publishers are very keen to get their books featured and seen on my site. But many don’t take the time to see what my site — and the community that has cohered around it — is about. I get approached to feature sci-fi, chick-lit, fantasy, crime etc. books — but I NEVER feature such books (they aren’t bad books necessarily, it is just that ReadySteadyBook is a site for fans of Literature with a big “L”).

    The “Reach – Unique Visitors – Time Spent – Page Views” doesn’t work for them for me because my community is comparatively small (5-10,000 unique visits a day). But it is hugely informed and passionate about its subject. This is “fragmentation” at work. And it is difficult for advertisers thinking in an old mode to know how to approach it.

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  • http://www.newsgroper.com Greg

    “Name a brand that has been truly ruined because a banner ad appeared on a porn site.”

    Amen to that. If advertisers don’t take risks with edgy content, they’re bound for obscurity.

    Besides, CMOs get fired every two years even when they do play it safe.

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  • http://www.benmcinnis.com Ben

    I was at the panel Jeff moderated yesterday and I thought the speakers had a few things backwards with respect to their brand. They all seemed to agree that head-end media would be somewhat replaced/augmented by niche content, but at the same time they thought their brands (WSJ, WashPost, SI, Reuters, etc) would be what helped their content rise above. To me this seems contradictory. If Jeff’s opening assertion about the latently social nature of the Internet is correct, and I believe it is, then these publishers should recognize that if I’m sharing a piece of content with a friend on Facebook or any other social arena then the source brand is deeply secondary to the value of the primary brand which is me. My friends will read it not because it is from the holy and trusted WSJ but because a person they know said they’d like it. Doesn’t that erase or at least hugely discount brand as a key to advantage for publishers?

    Am I over simplifying here?

  • http://taylorw.wordpress.com Taylor Walsh

    Hey Ben, let’s highlight that nugget:

    “…the primary brand which is me.”

    That is the truth of the matter.

    I have thought for some time that there must be a way to do for the buying process what the web has done for the get-information process. The latter process is assuredly all about “me” (even with an endless multitude of linked bloggers each one is still serving up their posts to the handfuls of “me’s” who come by.)

    I’m not suggesting that users can create and share ads. Or am I? Would a brand marketer encourage people to build their own “ads” out of pieces of the brand? Then put them up into a MyAds app, accompanied by a “People who Played with this Harley Ad Also Played with These Ads…” app?

    (FB appmakers, please dial ELdorado 6-2000)

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  • SteveSgt

    I agree that reputation is only going to become more important as the media and the audience fragments further. But some media projects will always be large undertakings, requiring a broad range of specialized skills and hours upon hours of work for each minute experienced by the audience. If you devalue content over-all, wouldn’t we wind up in a world where those kinds of projects are no longer possible?

    What relationship did Cecil B. DeMille, or Peter Jackson as a more modern example, actually have with their individual viewers? Would they have even attempted their projects if the value of their content was zero? Are we doomed to a future of poorly-lit and composed amateurish video, and noisy, overly reverberant, poorly-edited, or worse, phone-quality audio, put up for free by amateurs?

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  • http://www.favequest.com allan isfan

    I was at OnMedia and caught the panel you moderated. You did a truly awesome job … stirred things up real good … and had them admit to things I didn’t think they would likely secretly wishing they were software companies! The seem to have finally realized that content is not enough but don’t know what the heck to do about it because basically that’s what they have.

    Many of these old media guys think it is about them and their brand. It isn’t … it is about us … the viewers and the readers. The reason content is shrinking in importance is not because the content doesn’t matter anymore. It is because the context is rising in importance. People want to do stuff with the media they consume … they want to comment (like I’m doing here), share it with friends, mash it up with other stuff, use it as a platform for their own purpose (again … like I’m doing here). In doing so, they are no longer consumers … though I haven’t come up with a good name for this new beast (viewtributors? constributors? mesumers .. Jeff … any ideas …. I’m no good at this?). It is about ME not the media company. I kicked off a company last year centered to help forward thinking media companies become relevant by giving people the reigns … it is called FaveQuest.

    Check out my recent blog post based on the OnMedia conference entitled “Hello, my name is Old Media and I’m an Adaholic” http://isfanstartup.blogspot.com

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  • http://www.komiktir.com komik yaz?lar

    I agree that reputation is only going to become more important as the media and the audience fragments further. But some media projects will always be large undertakings, requiring a broad range of specialized skills and hours upon hours of work for each minute experienced by the audience. If you devalue content over-all, wouldn’t we wind up in a world where those kinds of projects are no longer possible?

    What relationship did Cecil B. DeMille, or Peter Jackson as a more modern example, actually have with their individual viewers? Would they have even attempted their projects if the value of their content was zero? Are we doomed to a future of poorly-lit and composed amateurish video, and noisy, overly reverberant, poorly-edited, or worse, phone-quality audio, put up for free by amateurs?

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