Merritt Group Blog

Peering into the Future of Media and Content: A Dream or a Nightmare?

Stocksy_txpf9e74d410EU000_Small_570943As I woke up this morning, toast and juice satisfied my hunger, and a quick browse through my Flipboard app and Facebook feed quenched my appetite for content and news. A couple of quick outbound tweets from my phone and I was out the door. 

Very rarely do I point my web browser to CNN.com, or the New York Times website. For the most part, I consume the news and content I need to get me through the day on mobile apps and via social feeds. And, I’m not alone.

According to a Pew Research Center study, 30% of the US population gets their news on Facebook. And, the story isn’t very different on mobile. There are dozens of data points about the increased use of tablets and smartphones for news consumption – like this one from Statista, which shows that 44% of US smartphone users consume news on their mobile device. More still, the top 10 most visited websites in the world aren’t destination content sites – they’re platforms like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Baidu. Destination news and content sites with massive editorial teams and budgets – like CNN.com, MSNBC.com, New York Times, BBC and USA Today – aren’t found on the list of most visited sites (and let's not get awkward about the reach, or lack thereof, of their mobile apps).

So, what does this all mean for the future of media, content distribution and monetization?

Rebirth of a Model & the Tiered Web

At its core, it could mean a shift in power (read eyeballs and ad dollars) from content destinations to content platforms. The audiences are on social and mobile platforms, and growing fast. Most of the great content itself sits on big publisher sites, new media sites like BuzzFeed, long-tail blogs, company websites and a whole host of other content destinations. But, more and more, it is viewed as utterly inefficient via “links and clicks” (traditional content sharing and distribution) to move the mobile and social audience back to the content source. It is seen as more efficient to bring the content to the audience. Thus, you’re seeing deals like the ones BuzzFeed and New York Times struck with Facebook, where instant articles from those publications will appear fully formed on the social platform.

If all of this is starting to sound familiar, it is because it has happened before. On the TV format, where a lot of local, grassroots public access shows in the early days of television devolved into mega networks pushing content out through the cable provider distribution platforms. In this scenario, the flat web, connected via deep linking and a sense of open exploration, may be replaced by a hierarchical one where “independent” content producers are the bottom tier, mega publishers are the middle tier and a multitude of platforms both on social and mobile are the content consumer-facing tier.

Monetization Through Distributed Content

If this model does evolve into ubiquitous existence, what about the all-important monetization problem? BuzzFeed, given its digital era roots, seems to have the most fitting idea. It is building a distributed content model, where its content lives on platforms all over the web and on mobile, starting with Facebook. The distributed content model has no intention of driving readers back to BuzzFeed.com via clicks, but monetizes through that broader, distributed audience with ad revenue sharing with the content platforms themselves and revenue via native/sponsored content, maximizing on the value of its brand to marketers. 

This is, of course, a tougher model to swallow for more traditional media companies like the New York Times, who have ingrained, in their DNA, to own the content, monetizing via direct ad revenue or subscription/paywalls. But, even the New York Times, of course, is opening up to the idea of distributed content with its Facebook partnership. It will be interesting to see how far it, and other traditional publishers, are willing to chase this new model, and with how much vigor. They could choose to continue to explore paywalls and monetize more open platforms like email. Or, they could explore formats like video – where platforms like YouTube have relatively flat distribution, still – turning newsrooms into production studios. But, if they do, more than likely, the content will only reach relatively smaller audiences, while publishers like BuzzFeed rides the distributed content model to ubiquitous brand awareness and massive reach in the billions (check out this gif from BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti to get a visual feel for what that means).

So, who loses if content consumption trends continue on the path they’re on now? Well, there are likely three: 

  1. Publishers, traditional or otherwise, who aren’t thinking about a way to embrace the distributed content model on some level. 
  2. Marketers who don’t wholeheartedly embrace the distributed content model themselves and are, as a result, even more at the mercy of the platforms to reach a broader set of audiences. Just a side note, but the story for B2B marketers may be a bit rosier. There could remain a secondary, more niche, longer form and educationally-focused web of content, alongside the mega news-driven platforms, like so many “indie” movies and TV channels that connect the content producers directly to content consumers.
  3. And, finally, in a weird way, the content consumers themselves, as the platform’s built-in algorithms evolve to, likely inadvertently, push homogenous content to their users. 

There is a lot to think about in an evolving media and content landscape for content marketers. In future posts, I will attempt to break apart some of the ideas. For now, please share your thoughts with us, and your fellow readers. When it comes to the future of media and content, every marketer has an opinion. What’s yours?

Topics: content marketing