Serve the ads, not the content

A fascinating article by Philadelphia Inquirer TV critic Jonathan Storm on the problems of broadcasters is getting a lot of attention today. And rightly so. The piece fairly examines the realities of what’s taking place in the broadcast world, and I recommend it for readers.

I find little things in these articles that say a lot about the bigger picture of what’s happening with media. There’s a gem in here:

“The consumer is way more shut down this time than anything in our memory,” said Chris Rohrs, president of the Television Bureau of Advertising, the local broadcasters’ trade association.

Though the sour economy is the primary force behind local TV woes, stations also are losing money to the interactive digital media of the Internet. The Internet, and all the devices that process it, are exerting the same sort of pressure on television that they do on newspapers.

“The broadcasting and cable business has been strong since the ’50s,” said Rick Feldman, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Television Program Executives. “Now, because of the technology, which makes it possible to distribute video content in all kinds of ways, the business is losing eyeballs.”

“We’re no longer broadcasters,” said Chris Blackman, NBC10 news vice president. “We’re in the business of content. Traditional TV is only one of our platforms.”

Among those, I find Chris Blackman’s statement that “we’re in the business of content” to be most intriguing. I preach the value of a dual path strategy for local media, one of the paths being the extension of the company’s brand. In that sense, Blackman is dead on the money. However, if that’s all we do, we’re completely hosed, because other factors make such a position problematic.

For one, it assumes that “content” will always be monetizable on a high level, and this is suspect in a world where advertising is content itself. This is why I so strongly recommend local media companies get into the business of enabling commerce in our communities, creating new value for ourselves while meeting the needs of the business market. The idea that advertisers will pay big bucks to be associated with “content” is very much a Media 1.0, mass marketing reality, and that is not sustainable in our increasingly fragmented and unbundled media world.

Two, our “business” is really advertising, so to stake our future on content is risky business. In my presentation to Southern newspaper publishers last weekend, I showed the audience that the items that make up a web document come from multiple databases, including text, images, data, ads, marketing and social elements.

databases build web documents

“If you could own just one of these in your market,” I asked the group, “which would it be?”

The answer, of course, is the ads, for that’s where the money really lies. You can serve content until the cows come home, but it’s the ads that make the money. And if you owned the ads in your market, would you care where they were displayed? Not as long as you ran the network of the ads.

This is the business of local media in the future, and that’s why Chris’s comment — while absolutely correct from the Media 1.0 path — isn’t necessarily so on the Media 2.0 side.

Just thought you’d like to know.

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