The Revenue Streams of 2008

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 on that last one, because other than reruns of The Time Tunnel on iTunes, I myself haven’t bought much content by the piece in the last year. What was I thinking?

On the other hand, developments in 2007 have both accelerated and redirected two of the streams I singled out last year. Content merchandising through hyperdistribution is going to be one of the big stories of 2008 as everyone finally pays serious attention to content sharing, viral media, widgets, and downloadable media (podcasts and vodcasts). From the TV networks on down to trade magazines and B2B events, the task at hand is finding how to fragment your own content and make it as portable as possible.

I confess I have no idea where hyperdistribution leads, and for a good reason. We are witnessing an on-demand evolution across online and digital device platforms that both content providers and consumers are making up as they go along. Will blogs and user-generated hubs become as important to content distribution as portals and search engines? We just don’t know yet. But by this time next year, the hot topic is going to be how publishers preserve their brand equity in a fragmented, on-demand environment where people are loyal to columnists, specific authors, features, and shows—not the originating publishing brand or network.

The recent acquisitions of aQuantive by Microsoft, DoubleClick by Google, BlueLithium by Yahoo!, and Tacoda by AOL have put ad targeting onto the fast track. The masses are here, and after a decade of promises, the scale is here for interactive technology to do what it does well—personalize. For publishers, the great opportunity is in your data, what you know about your clientele and readers, and how this gets leveraged with advertisers and on networks. Advertisers will start buying audiences, not just eyeballs, so know every detail about yours.

We’re all TV now. The digital video craze will affect all content sectors, from consumer to trade publishing to enterprise to education. I believe broadband is helping enable a “mediaverse,” where people prefer watching and listening to reading in many cases and users bring an expectation for video content wherever they go. For now, thankfully, even marginal production values work in a YouTube world, but the increased production costs of video will put a lot of pressure on budgets and revenue models throughout the digital content value chain. The rise of video is going to be a major challenge to econtent because it forces everyone into a costlier game.

As much as my own knee jerks back from the hype, the Apple iPhone will prove to be a game-changer for mobile. It will gain only a sliver of market share, but the deeper effect is Apple’s powerful proselytizing of mobile content, especially the mobile web. As advertising support for off-portal media advances and as users discover the incredible usefulness of mobile data, this content ecosystem will grow. The bigger story may be that content will trump technology. As media go more directly to users, the carriers become less powerful because they have proven once and for all that they are terrible media companies.

But in all fairness, I should call out the also-rans that I don’t think will gain critical mass in 2008. Digital magazines are still struggling to find their raison d’être as more print comes online without this literal print-to-digital format and as Web 2.0 design makes sites feel and act better than print. Are digi-mags a solution without a problem?

Mobile video is another cool technology looking for an audience. While ultimately I think my observations about video suggest eventual success for this platform, the current mobile TV and clip-casting solutions will struggle with discoverability and user experience.

On the consumer side, innovations such as the “people search” site are interesting, and on the B2B side, sites such as CMP’s hope they can repeat the success of the engineering world’s GlobalSpec in other sectors. But in the end, and like digi-mags and mobile video, vertical search expects users to change something that by definition they don’t like to change … their habits.