The AP and its uphill battle

I got an email last night from Paul Colford, Director of Media Relations for the Associated Press. It was the canned response to anyone who has commented on the “misunderstanding” involving the coöperative and a Tennessee radio station over the embedding of YouTube videos from the AP’s YouTube channel.

There was a misunderstanding of YouTube usage when the Tennessee radio station was contacted by the Associated Press regarding the AP’s more extensive online video services. No cease and desist letter was drafted or sent by AP to the station at any time. The AP was trying to offer the station a superior service for their needs — the AP Online Video Network.

OVN is a paid service. YouTube videos are free. ‘Nuff said. (See Paul Colford’s comments below. I misstated OVN’s purpose, which is advertising, including a revshare with the publisher.)

Paul also included a link to “further describe the content initiative announced by the AP this week.” You can read the FAQs yourself, but here are a couple of thoughts.

The AP is well within its rights to defend its copyrights in any way it chooses. It has no reason to defend itself publicly, so these FAQs are an excellent gesture. They’re going to help their members with search engine optimization, which is a smart move. The coöperative says this is about consumers (“to access and engage with news content in more robust ways”), and I say that’s just spin. It’s about money, and the AP’s position here is that it costs a lot of money to produce “authoritative” news and that members should be compensated somehow.

But on a much deeper level, this battle is between the old and the new, traditional media companies who make their money through bundled content and the geeks of Silicon Valley and beyond, who not only built the Web but set in place new methods and rules for participation. The AP and traditional media will lose this fight for two reasons: One, they underestimate the realities of contemporary online advertising, such as advertisers creating their own content and advertisers no longer needing the reach provided by media content in the online world. Two, they’re placing their entire hope on copyright. The RIAA did this, and it didn’t make a dent in the loss of revenue to record companies. And not only will the AP lose, but they’ll expend energy and resources on a side issue instead of reinventing a dying business. As evidence of that, the FAQs refer to the link economy as the “so-called” link economy.

The AP shot itself in the foot years ago when it created XML content and images feeds that its members could have used in developing their brand-extension websites and creating niche verticals. I recall working with a station that badly wanted these feeds, but the prices the coöperative wanted were truly outrageous. It was pretty clear that the AP thought of the Web as a way to reuse and repackage existing content and make money from it, despite the fact that members were already receiving the content in other forms. If the AP truly had the interests of its members in mind back then, a whole series of profitable and automated local niche verticals could have been created. Instead, many just backed away and silently complained, because expressing discontent didn’t do any good.

My heart goes out to friends and colleagues in traditional media businesses, and where I can, I try to make a difference by telling the truth about that which is disrupting their business. There is a way out of this, but it does not involve clinging to the past. Content isn’t king anymore, and businesses sustained only by ad-supported content are in the worst position for tomorrow. The “business” of media is advertising, and that’s the problem.

More: read Peter Kafka’s AP Exec: “To the Untrained Eye It Looks Like We’re Stupid”

Comments

  1. I love the “to the untrained eye” bit.

    “I’m sorry, you’re just too stupid to understand what we’re doing.” After a week of insulting its customers AP tries to make amends by… insulting its customers. Way to go.

    The FAQ is even worse. It’s filled with Dilbertisms that would make Scott Adams proud. Lots of vague management-speak about “rights” and “search pages,” but zero specifics about what they’re actually doing to fix their very broken business model.

  2. RE: “OVN is a paid service. YouTube videos are free. ‘Nuff said.”

    Correction, please: OVN is a free service.

    It’s a service carried by some 2,000 Web sites operated by newspapers and radio and TV stations. Which is why it was suggested to the Tennessee outlet.

    Paul Colford
    AP Director of Media Relations

  3. If OVN is a free service, what’s the business model for the AP?

    If the idea is that OVN is a benefit of subscribing to the AP, that only works if the price of AP membership gets much.much lower. If the idea is to raise the value of AP content by limiting supply behind a wall of IP, that only works if there is not equal supply readily available at a much lower price. If the idea is to sell AP ads against those videos, that only works at Google or Yahoo scale.

    Given Terry’s well taken point that “The “business” of media is advertising, and that’s the problem.” Perhaps one way to go is to stop trying to make money from newspapers and make money directly from advertisers. It should be possible to harvest the extensive network information of your newspaper network. Sell globals on doing mass customized ad campaigns, sliced, diced and appropriate for local news outlets. You could probably harvest the data of who picks up what story. That gives you real time information what editors think is important for their audiences. Organize that info in real time and sell it to global advertisers, then pay the newspapers for running the ads.

    The business of trying to protect content with laws is a loser. Lots of money spent on lawyers that could be better spent on reorganizing your very experienced staff.

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