Digital Pennies From Analog Dollars Are Web Content ConundrumDigital Pennies From Analog Dollars Are Web Content Conundrum
NBC chief executive Jeff Zucker put his finger on the new-media conundrum, in a speech touting the network's online success in serving up half a billion video streams last year. Good news, right? Not completely, because while old-media broadcasts command mucho bucks for commercials -- $2.7 million for a 30-second Super Bowl spot -- you can get yourself a banner ad on a hot Web site for a few thousand.
March 13, 2008
NBC chief executive Jeff Zucker put his finger on the new-media conundrum, in a speech touting the network's online success in serving up half a billion video streams last year. Good news, right? Not completely, because while old-media broadcasts command mucho bucks for commercials -- $2.7 million for a 30-second Super Bowl spot -- you can get yourself a banner ad on a hot Web site for a few thousand."Our challenge with all these [new-media] ventures is to effectively monetize them so that we do not end up trading analog dollars for digital pennies," is how Zucker put it specifically, as quoted in The New York Times.
I'm interested in the challenge about which Zucker speaks, because it involves not just television, but all media, including the one you're surfing through right now. This isn't just theoretical: As old-line ad revenue has declined, and been replaced by a dribble of online dollars, there have been widespread layoffs at newspapers across the country. Sure, you could argue that this is all good riddance to bad liberal-media bias anyway. Let's get our news from the pajama-clad blogger hordes, who cut to the chase without the preconceptions (or training, unfortunately), of all those obsolete journalists. Old farts like me have bypassed the problem entirely by embracing the online world. Me, I love blogging (and, increasingly, video), and wouldn't ever go back to print, unless you gave me a big paycheck, nice title, and cushy office. But it's not about me. It's about you, dear reader, and what's available to feed your brain. Because if you like content -- and we all like content, because content is king, content is the network; insert any cliché you like here -- you've got to wonder how its creation is going to be funded, if no one ponies up enough advertising dollars to pay the writers, editors, artists, and producers. True, this is an old argument by now. However, no one has ever effectively addressed how to deal with the disintermediation of the entire journalism profession by the likes of Google and Craigslist. I'm certainly not blaming those sites. They've simply exploited a digital opening big enough to drive a Second Life truck through. It's also only fair to note that they've brought larger audiences to most news organizations and writers -- myself included -- than we could ever have imagined. So, while Google, Craigslist, Yahoo, and their ilk aren't at fault, no one -- myself included -- knows how to solve this problem. What are the bloggers going to blog about, and what is Google going to link to, when there's not enough money to send reporters out to cover stories and serve as primary sources? Maybe Eliot Spitzer's call girl is supposed to blog the news herself? Most forward-looking businesses -- and I have no doubt Zucker's NBC falls into this category -- are dealing with the problem by doing a strategic side-step. While they continue to surge ahead in new media, they're also looking to Web 3.0 products, seeking ways to extract ongoing revenue streams by selling subscriptions and embeddable elements (feeds, widgets, etc.). (Hey, if you think this explanation is dense, you should hear the current corporate jargon on this stuff, which is an indication that this is a nascent quest that hasn't yet gelled.) The tilt toward online will continue, because it's a metaphorical freight train that's unstoppable. I'm convinced, though, that at some point content will start to thin out as the old funding model collapses further. Which ain't bad, or good. That's just the way it is, as one old-line broadcaster used to put it. Like this blog? Subscribe to its RSS feed, here. For a mobile experience, follow my daily observations on Twitter. Check out my tech videos on this YouTube channel.
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