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A Modern Media Manifesto for the Digital-First Era December 6, 2010

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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There’s talk of the future of media in the air. Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only pub, The Daily, is about to launch, mini-mogul Nick Denton wants to merge the best of TV, magazines and online into his Gawker Media blog network and Journal Register CEO John Patton recently told attendees at an International Newsmedia Marketing Association event that even newspapers need to be digital first. The source of all this is the harsh spotlight digital and NewNet technologies currently cast on traditional media businesses, which tools like social media and real-time feeds are helping to re-invent.

First, since NewNet technologies are the catalyst for building off proven Internet media models, here’s a manifesto modern media companies should follow to thrive:

All media must be multimedia: One brand, one audience, multiple channels. Optimize programming for each channel; fine-tune revenue models as well, but drive traffic across all. Make the audience active in creation, consumption and distribution.

What’s the Model?

Patton is right in saying midsize newspapers need to focus on digital — that’s where their audience is, after all. He said his online audience is bigger than that of print (similar to the UK’s Daily Mail), and though digital dollars lag, they’re nonetheless growing. Even TV advertisers are coming around: Fox is getting advertisers to accept Hulu ad inventory as “make-goods” to fulfill network audience reach promises.

“Digital first” is the right mindset for media companies for three reasons:

  1. Digital audiences and ad revenues are growing.
  2. Online and mobile are the platforms for the social media interactivity that consumers are demanding.
  3. Online is the driver of modern content aggregation and syndication.

Big media brands like News Corp. and Time Warner should consider ESPN the very model of a modern media company. Originating in cable TV, ESPN’s brand is usurping that of sister company ABC Sports, and ESPN has leading online, magazine and radio properties. ESPN is not what you’d call a leader in social media vs. competitors; its efforts center instead on providing a successful fantasy sports business with lots of on-air and online programming support.

Rating the New Initiatives

Two new initiatives — one from a traditional player and one from an online startup — bear examining in this modern digital media context. Neither model looks perfect, but each has tactics other media companies should monitor:

  • News Corp.’s forthcoming The Daily is bold in its effort to establish value in the consumer’s mind by charging for its digital content, and the walled garden that is Apple’s iPad enables that. But that could limit the publication’s social and syndication opportunities. To-date, most iPad mags aren’t very connected to the rest of the world, but that’s a matter of choice rather than platform. Publishing once a day, though, is an outmoded convention.
  • Gawker Media’s redesigns feel a lot like online magazine sites circa 2008. But the new approach accommodates multiple media formats, and its UI gracefully blends promotion and a feed. Gawker properties have always had lively user commentary, active linking and curated aggregation. But like The Daily, Gawker Media limits its advertising opportunities by being online-only.

Some might ask, what type of media company should do which? It’s the wrong question. NewNet digital media is defined by topic (national news, sports, local, tech, entertainment) and audience (mass, niche, professional, youth), and the individual company must deliver to advertisers and subscribers across channels. But each company has its roots:

  • Newspapers should be most comfortable with real-time, but need to re-allocate resources away from content that can be outsourced.
  • Magazines face tough business model changes, but can promote audience/topic alignment to brand advertisers. They need to build out sponsorship opportunities that leverage social media.
  • TV Networks have the most difficult challenge in replacing content. So their focus must be using NewNet media to promote and re-engage their audience. They too should evolve social sponsorships that exploit the reach of their hit shows.
  • Online pure-plays should accommodate social more easily, and have relatively smaller staffs that utilize commodity content. They need networks and partners for reach and off-line promotion and advertising.

Question of the week

How do you define a modern media company?

How to Make MySpace Relevant (Again) November 1, 2010

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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In the realm of might-have-beens, MySpace had even more promise than Friendster. But unlike Friendster, MySpace remains salvageable. Though it shouldn’t try to challenge Facebook for social network leadership, it can still be a valuable consumer media business, if not a technology driver. Here’s how — and why.

When MySpace supplanted Friendster as the leading social network, it did so by delivering an entertainment and communication combination, along with an early embrace of social media plug-ins and mash-ups. It became the de facto home of music artists and had an early lead on Facebook in ad targeting. But while MySpace stagnated under News Corp. and a Google ad deal that guaranteed revenues without encouraging advertising innovation, Facebook built a real platform of NewNet technologies. MySpace must return to its roots, and its recent relaunch hints that it might just do that.

What’s Good About the Relaunch

MySpace’s relaunch is smart in its focus. It’s trying to rebrand itself as an entertainment hub with a lot of social elements, rather than as general-purpose social network; it aims to complement rather than compete with Facebook.

MySpace has accommodated Facebook and Twitter updates, but it’s questionable whether much of its audience will use such features to aggregate social communications. That said, MySpace has adapted feed-based user interfaces in what appears to be a unique fashion: Users can toggle between magazine- and TV-like modes as well as a conventional stream. This mix of active and passive entertainment discovery — users already get update streams from friended bands, studios, entertainment personalities, etc. — could prove a useful launch pad for MySpace fans to spread comments and recommendations outside of as well as within the network.

What’s Still Needed

MySpace still has a large — if declining — U.S. audience that is younger and more geographically diverse than the web average. Various traffic data companies show it reaching 40 to 60 million people monthly (though that’s almost half the size of Facebook or Yahoo). To keep that audience entertained, MySpace must innovate on the following:

  • New ad vehicles. Two years ago, MySpace attracted attention with a campaign for luxury brand Cartier that integrated musicians like Lou Reed and Marion Cotillard. Today, MySpace gets rich homepage campaigns (with trailer, showtimes, behind-the-scenes info) for movie openings — Lionsgate’s “Saw 3D” for Halloween, of course — and big banners on its channel homepages from the likes of Samsung, Sprint and Fox Television. But it needs to create unique social sponsorship opportunities involving games, contests, interaction with stars and re-distribution outside the network.
  • Social commerce. MySpace delivers full-track music streaming that enables affiliate purchases on Amazon. But it needs to build out a marketplace for artist merchandise, and should consider adopting gimmicks such as Groupon-like daily deals and group purchasing. Easy-to-build storefronts from Payvment make sense. It should also be a leader in cross-category virtual currency for games and downloads.
  • Outbound syndication. MySpace wisely acquired viral music service iLike. But it needs more ways to spread content outside of its own site. It should copy, partner with or acquire GetGlue, a startup that offers Foursquare-like check-ins and badges for web entertainment content.

Who Should Care

With its young audience of entertainment consumers, the potential rebirth of MySpace is important to the following types of companies:

  • Entertainment marketers. This includes artists and managers, movie studios and theater chains, and TV networks. This is a base MySpace can hold onto.
  • Youth marketers. With proper sponsorship innovation and entertainment tie-ins, marketers like Coke, Pepsi, Aeropostale, Nike, etc. could open their advertising pocketbooks.
  • Ad networks. It’s not clear whether News Corp. will include MySpace ad inventory with the Fox online ad network it’s selling to optimizer The Rubicon Project.
  • Competitors. Facebook should have no worries; in fact, MySpace should adopt much of Facebook’s platform, and tie in tighter to its social graph. MySpace will compete with Yahoo, MSN and AOL for youth audiences.

Question of the week

What steps should MySpace take to make a comeback?