Online Video Can’t Survive Without Old Media

Jun 21, 2016

As a freelancer obsessed with online video, I always have my eyes peeled for contract-based opportunities with my favorite new media brands. Unfortunately, I find most large video-related companies only hire writers who live near their main offices (which, 90% of the time, are in either New York or Los Angeles). I'm an advocate for the "gig" economy, so these localized requirements annoy me to no end.  

The more I think about it, the more I realize some online video companies--especially larger ones such as multichannel networks--are so entrenched in old media business models and structures that they can't get out of them. While that may be frustrating to me (I'd love to work for these online video companies from the comfort of my Phoenix home), I understand that despite the labeling of online video as "new media," the industry more often than not relies on old media for long-term success.

For example, look at how old media brands have acquired new media brands over the last 2 years alone. Back in December, Theresa Cramer wrote a column for EContent about publishing giants Time, Inc. and Condé Nast snatching up digital brands such as HelloGiggles and Pitchfork in 2015. Of course, before these prominent purchases took place, the world of online video was dealing with its own buyouts, with AT&T and The Chernin Group purchasing a controlling stake in the Fullscreen network and Disney picking up Maker Studios.

The common thread through these acquisitions is the same: Old media and new media have-and might always have-a symbiotic relationship. It may just seem as if the old media brands are taking advantage of the opportunity to stay up-to-date on the latest digital trends through these acquisitions. But in reality, online video brands such as Maker Studios and Fullscreen wouldn't get very far without established, wealthy media companies injecting more funding into the younger companies, which can help them grow exponentially. Without a digital experience to lure in tech-savvy audiences, old media would eventually die out anyway (think of how many newspapers and magazines have shut down over the last 10 years).

This symbiotic relationship is seen more clearly when you examine some of the specific opportunities old media and new media offer each other as part of their long-term growth strategies. For example, the publishing industry attributed a portion of its rise in book sales in 2015 to the success of works written by YouTube stars. Both sides leveraged each others' experience, knowledge, and fame to benefit and grow their respective industries and brands. In a similar vein, the online video world has found that using some of the oldest forms of entertainment (live events, tours, meetups, and even televised awards shows) is another way to partner with established media brands and temporarily move the digital scene offline.

Granted, the world of online video can't completely translate over into all old media formats. While digital stars have managed to successfully sell books and appear in person, they haven't had such luck (yet) finding traction in the television industry. Additionally, the movies created by new media brands and stars haven't gone over well with critics, regardless of how much those brands' and stars' fans love the films and snatch them up when they go on sale. But I believe the longer online video and new media are around, the more likely those industries will continue to discover how they can and can't work alongside old media.

As much as I dislike when online video brands adopt some of the business practices of old media (such as offering freelance gigs for local applicants only), the truth is, old media and new media can't function without each other. Old media brands won't die off like many think, as long as they keep making smart new media acquisitions and staying up-to-date with its changing landscape. And for many new media brands, relying on corporate structures, business practices, and development opportunities is the only way to press forward and truly grow beyond their digital roots. It's a symbiotic relationship I'll have to get used to.