Follow the Money

Another day, another vertical. Earlier this year the press release mill worked overtime announcing that every imaginable media brand and ad entrepreneur was launching some sort of vertical network—either of content, ads, or (usually) both.
- Sept 2008 Issue, Posted Aug 27, 2008
Is anyone making money on web video?" The publisher of one of the most popular and long-running video shows online recently posed that question to one of his peers and me. The other publisher, who is responsible for hundreds of hours of video content on her suite of branded media sites, just shook her head. "And anyone who tells you he is making money on video is lying," she contended.
- July/August 2008 Issue, Posted Jul 02, 2008
Cool gadgets alone do not change engrained media consumption habits. It took nearly 2 decades for PCs, broadband, and ease of use finally to converge to the point that Googling for the answer to anything became a reflex. Media change is a long, complex, and very unpredictable interplay of cultural, technological, and economic forces slowly transforming conventions over time. No single device is responsible for such shifts. They represent the accumulated energy of many confluent forces.
- June 2008 Issue, Posted Jun 03, 2008
For the 15 years I have been writing about digital media, two media business models have been "about to break through any day now"
- May 2008 Issue, Posted Apr 22, 2008
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) gave the digital content industry a dubious present last Christmas. At the same time the FTC approved a merger of Google with ad network and services provider DoubleClick, it also lobbed the issue of privacy back over the net for the companies to solve. At issue for the first time in a very public way is a topic I have been writing about in these columns since 2002: behavioral targeting (aka BT).
- April 2008 Issue, Posted Apr 01, 2008
I admit that I have been a longtime skeptical observer of the digital magazine format, although 6 or 7 years after its introduction the platform is getting some traction with readers and publishers. Generally designed as facsimiles of printed periodicals, the digi-mag always seemed to fill an unnecessary niche between old and new media, between physical magazines and websites. It has the interactivity and rich media potential of a digital product (hot links, embedded multimedia), but it retained the lush design sense of print. But was this a solution in search of a problem?
- March 2008 Issue, Posted Feb 19, 2008
As most traditional publishers are painfully aware, digitization has a tendency to commodify everything in its reach. Just think how much of the content we paid for a decade ago—from newspapers to premium video and audio content—is available now at no cost online. From news to business information, phone calls to software applications, the new model is giving away the store in the hopes of making a profit in some other way. Most text and video content relies on advertising to pay its way now, while service-based products, like web applications and digital calling, put some limitations on the free offering in order to upsell a richer version.
Keeping with years of tradition, I always like to mark the EContent 100 issue with brash predictions about where publishers will start seeing some money or investment in the coming days. For 2007 my prognostications focused on the rising importance of content merchandising, the ad-supported mobile media model, increased emphasis on ad-targeting, and the possible (possible, mind you) revival of micro-payments. Boy, am I glad I hedged my bets.
- December 2007 Issue, Posted Nov 15, 2007
Community is an organic phenomenon. You don't make it. You don't build it. At best, you cultivate it, and many publishers are finding it hard to break ground.
- November 2007 Issue, Posted Nov 09, 2007
Vendors are coming out of the woodwork with all of these hosted and plug-in solutions that promise to build community on a site. Bosh. Community is not a commodity that can be manufactured, and it is not a technical issue in need of a solution.
- October 2007 Issue, Posted Sep 28, 2007
The problem of video search has been waiting in the wings for a number of years now. True believers like Blinkx and Truveo (now part of AOL) were patiently experimenting with ways of indexing and tagging video assets long before the broadband penetration rates and usage curves supported it. During the last year, at YouTube, the dam has broken. People are starting to look for video in the same way they hunt for text.
- September 2007 Issue, Posted Aug 24, 2007
Years ago, the CEO of a then-young video search firm insisted that some day soon everyone would need a query box to navigate the video records of their own lives. Video camera technology was becoming so cheap and light that many people would take to recording every moment and then dump it onto those equally cheap multi-terabyte hard drives at home. Facial recognition algorithms and speech-to-text operations would help you index everyday video so that you could query footage of grandma at your kid’s fourth birthday just as effectively as Googling a keyword to find articles.
- July/August 2007 Issue, Posted Jul 17, 2007
You and I may conceive of the digi-verse as something we access but for my teenage daughter Sam, it is more of a presence. With her WiFi network and laptop, the IM window always open, her social network of scores of contacts are like constant companions. The creaking door sound effect on AIM tells her when people are coming and going. For her peers, being online or offline seems like a distinction that sounds too technical for what they experience. For them, you are either here or away.
- June 2007 Issue, Posted Jun 05, 2007
Business in the virtual world got very serious, very quickly in 2006. There have been a lot of false starts over the years. The massively multi-player gaming worlds like EverQuest and the eight-million strong World of Warcraft were always fascinating phenomena for their niche audiences, but they only made money for Sony and Blizzard/Vivendi, respectively, not for anyone else. Several things changed last year, however.
- May 2007 Issue, Posted Apr 26, 2007
Buying traffic is the easy part. Keeping those eyeballs is where things get dicey. However, in the past year, I watched several consumer and B2B content brands ratchet up their traffic by double digits on a monthly basis.
- March 2007 Issue, Posted Mar 01, 2007
Behavioral targeting is the hot topic this year among publishers and advertisers, and for good reason. I have been covering this approach to online advertising since core providers like Revenue Science and Tacoda emerged several years ago. The dark art of behavioral ad targeting (“BT” in the trade) started out as a hard sell because it was the kind of web technology that was difficult for clients to see in action and it relied on following users with ads in a way that feels a little creepy. BT may actually represent the natural evolution of interactive marketing, because it takes information from a user (her recent browsing patterns) and feeds back to her ads that are more relevant to her immediate needs and interests.
Perilous as it may seem, I will once again mark the EC100 issue with a look ahead to next year’s emerging revenue models, which we may well be calling old hat this time next year.
- December 2006 Issue, Posted Nov 15, 2006
Want to give yourself a rude wake-up call about the harsh reality of brand value on the modern web? Try this: Make a personalized web page at Google or MyYahoo! composed of all the major RSS feeds from your site along with the feeds from content brands you consider competition.
- November 2006 Issue, Posted Nov 14, 2006
When Burger King was looking for an edgy way to promote itself among the coveted (nay, fetishized) young male demographic, it did the only thing a sensible old fart of a corporate entity can do when it struggles to be hip: it handed the camera to someone who really is, well, hip.
- October 2006 Issue, Posted Sep 26, 2006
By the time you read this, Sprint Nextel customers will be getting their first taste of free mobile TV, and thus also tuning in to the real future of wireless content. The young male-oriented “Fast Lane” channel will have on-demand clips of tech reviews, poker tips, stand-up comedy, and all the other usual Spike TV/Maxim oafish male fare. It will also have ads, usually tucked as mid-roll breaks of 15 seconds or so. Yup, the free, ad-supported TV model is coming to mobile, and my guess is that it will proliferate quickly and accelerate the use of ad subsidies across all handset content.
- September 2006 Issue, Posted Sep 05, 2006
All due respect to Wired editor Chris Sherman, but the currently hot topic of the internet’s “long tail” has been with us at least since I started writing about digital in 1995. To be sure, Sherman deserves the credit for bringing into focus for the post-bubble world the notion that the web makes viable niche markets and remnant inventories that could never find buyers in “real world” distribution and marketing systems, but this model has been part of the web equation since day one.
- July/August 2006 Issue, Posted Jul 11, 2006
As our content divides, sub-divides, and disperses like so many amoeba into the new digital mediaverse, anxiety must be running high among media companies. Ad dollars visibly drained from network television and print this past year, and most media budgets are fully in play now. Advertising allegiances are fluid, as big-brand accounts flip daily from agency to agency, and chief marketing officers warn the whole ad business that they better start coming up with answers to this growing problem of how to focus the scattering eyeballs of a fragmented landscape and deliver measurable results. Many in the media and ad industries are predicting doom, gloom, or at least a long passage through chaos.
- June 2006 Issue, Posted Jun 19, 2006
Until I heard that preacher fart, I was never much of a believer in user-generated media. I don’t mean garden variety user-generated content (UGC), which embraces blogs, a few digital photo postings, and the endless scrolls of reader comments. I’ve always believed that community interaction is a more important part of the online mix than most traditional publishers admit. I’m talking about the more ambitious amateur media making, that vox populi revolution the Internet was supposed to spark. I was here in 1998 to see the crash and burn of so many attempts to organize garage bands and personal Webcam shows into populist big media rivals. The eternal democratic fantasy was that accessible digital media and free distribution would at long last unleash the people’s (always, the people’s) creativity in personal media-making.
- May 2006 Issue, Posted May 02, 2006
After so many lean years and post-bubble disgrace, it is hard to believe the gusher of ad dollars and profitability flowing to some segments online. A year ago I wrote about the industry’s need to wake up to the reality that the Web bounce back was for real. Now even I am a bit amazed at the sustained double-digit ad sales growth we are seeing. In fact, some sites are butting up against the limits of their own success with a problem most publishers would love to suffer—sold-out inventory
- April 2006 Issue, Posted Apr 03, 2006
Sometime before the big Web bubble burst, a men’s media brand splashed itself online with an enormously ambitious content-rich portal. Prescient of the au courant mantra of “content, commerce, and community,” it innocently invited its beer-sodden, breast-gazing readership to participate in online forums. Well, within days all hell broke loose. The message base became a mosh pit as the readers extended the smirking, bawdy spirit of the host brand to misogynist extremes, making way-inappropriate comments about ex-girlfriends, models on the site, and women, generally. The site editors retreated quickly and simply shut the message boards down entirely within a few weeks.
- March 2006 Issue, Posted Mar 03, 2006
Two words: video podcasting. Go ahead and snicker, because a couple of months ago I would have smirked right along with you. Then I got me a video iPod. From a revenue perspective, what is most interesting about portable video is that, unlike other trendy forms of recent years (audio podcasting, blogs, RSS feeds), it arrives with a built-in revenue model. The advertising is already here.
It is now a tradition in the annual EContent 100 issue that we climb way out on a limb and anticipate promising new sources of revenue for the coming year. Even as 2005 closes, it is already clear that boatloads of money are about to start racing online, especially from big media TV and radio brands desperately chasing audiences that are fragmenting into smaller niches of personalized, on-demand media consumption. In past years, advertising drove many of the trends online, but this coming year much of the energy will be coming from the media industry itself as it tries to retool for an on-demand future.
- December 2005 Issue, Posted Nov 16, 2005
Back in the day (in Internet years, that’s 1998) the term “coopetition” became one of the keywords of the dotcom revolution. The uniqueness of the Web link, the sheer interdependence of one site with another to push and pull eyeballs around this vast new terrain, made it imperative that rival publishers of content partner share traffic and often ad revenues. All boats will rise, they said. Fallen out of favor in the post-bubble years, “coopetition” is exactly what I see evolving in the complex search/content economy.
- November 2005 Issue, Posted Nov 01, 2005
Admit it, you’re jealous. The massive bounce-back in online ad revenues in the past two years has been driven—nay, commandeered—by search. For all of the talk about the branding value of the Web, the fact is that highly targeted, performance-oriented, direct marketing at Google and Overture/Yahoo! has been at the heart of the boom. To be sure, contextual ad partnerships with the major engines offer content providers a sip from this revenue gusher, but it’s not the same thing as drinking directly from the new fountain of high-priced cost-per-click advertising. Pay-per-click search ad pricing is so high because the major engines are so close to the consumer’s purchase decision. From what I am seeing in the online ad market lately, fear and envy breed creativity.
- October 2005 Issue, Posted Oct 10, 2005
The people who underwrite content (a.k.a. media buyers) speak about audience and media “fragmentation” as if it were nuclear proliferation, an insidious third world plot that needs to be contained or outsmarted. As eyeballs scatter to on-demand sources (DVRs, VOD, RSS, podcasts) and user-generated niches (blogs, social networking) the big question becomes how to “re-aggregate” these audiences with things like blog\pod\RSS ad networks that blast the same old message into these dispersed archipelagos of interest. The answer is...
- September 2005 Issue, Posted Sep 12, 2005
If you are old enough to recall the crashes and burns of TheDen and, then you must join me in smirking at the current mania for Web video. A perfect storm has formed around the platform; media companies point to a “critical mass” in broadband penetration and anecdotes of massive video stream numbers, while advertisers desperately chase eyeballs as they flee primetime TV. But have we learned anything meaningful about Web video as a media platform or thought through the revenue models enough since that first disastrous run at Internet TV?
- July/August 2005 Issue, Posted Aug 10, 2005
I have urged major publishers to consider distributing content to the emerging mobile phone platforms. For all of the hype surrounding wireless (my own included), however, 2004 was not exactly the breakthrough year some had expected for mobile content. The fact is that U.S. customers are just getting their feet wet in premium mobile content compared to the faster buy-in from Europe and Asia. Part of this is a technology problem; but carriers and publishers also need to cultivate users more effectively than they have. Mobile content needs a jump-start.
- June 2005 Issue, Posted May 10, 2005
Let’s take the most lucrative sector of Web content during the last five years—search engines—and flip things around. Instead of using a search engine to sift through years of old data to find the piece you want, what if the data you need was searching for you? The concept of pushing timely, relevant information to a user is not new, of course. CBS MarketWatch and others have developed some excellent systems for notifying subscribers of breaking news, mainly through email and increasingly via RSS feeds for a kind of personalized wire service. Nevertheless, until now, most of these alert mechanisms have been brand-specific, limited to one delivery mechanism, or delivered only unwieldy gushers of headlines.
- April 2005 Issue, Posted Apr 18, 2005
I have always admired online dieting company, in part because its success underscored important principles about how content makes money online. With 200,000 paid members at any one time (1.8 million total over its history), demonstrates that consumers will pay for sites that make content a service. By crafting genuine “plans” for dieting and backing them up with encouragement, 24/7 support, advisors, peer forums, and a ton of editorial, is more of a community than simply a site. The company hits all of the right e-revenue-generating notes. So I was taken aback when eDiets launched a series of online magazines.
- May 2005 Issue, Posted Apr 06, 2005
I have been putting off writing this column for months, but I think it is time to come out and say it. Now is the time to ready your content for cell phone delivery. What seemed like a pipe dream of mobile telcos a year ago—getting people to draw down data and entertainment through their cell phones—is now close to the proverbial tipping point, and it is time for any recognizable content brand to stake a claim on the mobile phone frontier.
- March 2005 Issue, Posted Mar 23, 2005
Content providers had better keep their eyes on this rapidly evolving sector. Search is becoming a lynchpin both of the Web economy and the way users navigate to your content.
I take pleasure in looking forward to the more promising new revenue streams (and trickles) of the coming year.
- December 2004 Issue, Posted Nov 29, 2004
You may have heard me drone on that people will pay for content that facilitates connecting to others. Well that same principle is now being played out in another content area: online gaming.
- November 2004 Issue, Posted Nov 10, 2004
There is no safe place left: Marketers chase our famously fragmented attention spans with whatever vehicle our eyes and ears might settle on, if only for a few moments; even the desktop is fair game.
- October 2004 Issue, Posted Oct 06, 2004
New communication technologies interact with cultures in subtle ways. Publishing used to be a fairly top-down affair. But the Internet and email have permanently transformed that familiar relationship between readers and editors.
- September 2004 Issue, Posted Sep 06, 2004
Just about every two years or so in the short, happy life of the Web we get word that the local online ad market is about to take, really this time.
- July/August 2004 Issue, Posted Aug 11, 2004
For some reason, everyone in the industry is loathe to admit what the numbers clearly demonstrate: Web content—or at least some important sectors of the digital content economy—has waged a quiet but remarkable comeback.
- June 2004 Issue, Posted Jun 08, 2004
Yes, companies have begun to see that premium must-have content will sell. But increasingly, consumers are starting to pay up for compelling, well-packaged “wanna-have” content.
- May 2004 Issue, Posted May 11, 2004
Early adopters of these behavioral tracking systems are discovering several ways in which the next evolution of ad technology gooses the bottom lin
- April 2004 Issue, Posted Apr 16, 2004
Some lessons need to be repeated no matter how obvious they may appear. When it comes to online advertising effectiveness, the perennial lesson is that context is everything.
- March 2004 Issue, Posted Mar 22, 2004
Psst! Wanna make some quick cash? Here, take these search engine text ads and run them next to some of your own relevant content.
The EContent 100 issue with the most important, influential, and successful companies in the content industry seems like a good spot from which to project forward a bit and “Follow the Money” into the content industry’s likeliest revenue streams in 2004.
December 2003 Issue, Posted Dec 12, 2003
It all sounds so familiar. If online users won’t buy content in the usual offline model of subscribing to individual titles, let’s try aggregating a number of top offline brands and sell ’em all for one low monthly price.
- November 2003 Issue, Posted Nov 11, 2003
Online micropayment is an idea that just won’t die…nor will it quite come to life. While growing seven-fold in 2002, they still represent a mere 1% of online content revenues.
- October 2003 Issue, Posted Oct 02, 2003
Gaming companies may have a thing or two to teach content companies about diversifying revenue streams and keeping paying customers satisfied.