TMZ.com goes full-feed RSS

TMZ logoSomething extraordinary happened in the world of online media this week, and nobody seems to have noticed. TMZ.com, that entertainment news and gossip juggernaut, became the biggest site on the planet to offer full-feed RSS. As of this writing, TMZ has not gotten back to me for comments, so the best I can do is speculate. As a person who has followed TMZ since its humble beginnings — and reported extensively (here) on their model, which we call “Continuous News” — I can assure you that full-feed RSS from them is significant.

What is full-feed RSS and why is it so important?

Traditional media companies all have RSS feeds, but the distributed XML portion of new items is capped at a headline and one or two sentences. This is driven by strategy: the media companies want people to read their content on their own websites, because that’s where the money is (they think). This type of feed requires people click on a link to be taken to the company’s own website. It makes sense if mass media is your model, but it makes no sense in the world of distributed (unbundled) media. Traditional media companies have, therefore, used RSS only as a marketing toy, a notification system, of sorts.

But it wasn’t created for that, and every blogger knows it. And apparently, TMZ.com now knows it, too. Here’s the way their feed looked in my RSS reader this week. Before this week, the only thing I’d see in the viewing panel was a headline and a sentence. Now, the entire story is available for viewing WITHOUT me bringing up their website in the browser associated with my reader.

TMZ's RSS feed

Let’s say your TV station carries the syndicated TMZ program. You can now create an RSS widget that brings all of their news into your window. If you’re creating an aggregator of entertainment news using RSS, TMZ’s content will stand out, because it will all “be there.” This is the beauty of place-based distribution, because it doesn’t care where it’s posted; it simply wants to be seen.

This flies in the face of traditional mass media thinking. Who would be so crazy, the thinking goes, as to “give” their exclusive content away like that? The proverbial “crazy like a fox,” that’s who.

Let me state clearly why this is so important.

  • Distributed or unbundled content IS the future of news content. It “fits” the handshake, the touchpoint, the missing puzzle piece of the Web. Downstream, every piece of exclusive content will be unbundled, because if it’s not, it won’t be a part of the coming aggregation plays, those business that SERVE users by filtering or curating the content of the many for the consumption of the one. This is inevitable, no matter how much traditional media kicks and screams against it.
  • Advertising “as items” in an RSS feed are where the real future money is, although it’s only there in a trickle today. These ads are visible. There’s no “banner blindness.” And they provide real SEO value (see below). Look at the image of my reader again. Above the viewing panel is, like any email software, the headlines of the feed. If I see a headline I like, I can read its content below. Now imagine if, say, every 10th headline began with: “ADVERTISEMENT” or “SPONSOR.” I could look at it or not. Ads done this way are of very high value. As I noted a few weeks ago, John Gruber of the geek blog “Daring Fireball” sells a weekly sponsorship for his blog for $5,500 (that’s $22k a month). He’s currently sold out through mid-July. Here’s the way that looks in my reader:Daring Fireball's RSS feed
  • An advertisement as a part of content on a media website is worth another $250 a month, simply due to search engine optimization (SEO) value. It’s a permanent piece of content with a link or multiple links back to the sponsor, and it has significant value back to the advertiser. I know one advertiser who buys the cheapest ad deals possible simply to get his ads (with links) “on” the pages of big websites. Why? He doesn’t care if people actually “see” the ads; for him, it’s all about SEO.
  • There are ad networks that will populate your RSS feed with banners, including all the standard IAB sizes. The problem with these in a viewing panel of a headline-and-sentence feed is that the banner dominates everything, and frankly, that’s an insult. For example, here’s what TMZ competitor Enews Daily’s feed looks like:Enews Daily RSS feedYou can see how ridiculous (and transparent) that looks compared to a whole story with an ad.

RSS advertising hasn’t taken off for the same reason RSS hasn’t fully taken off: the media industry doesn’t see the value (or like it), but I expect that to be changing sooner than later. When that happens, we’ll discover even more about how to monetize that distributed content. There’s been a lot of talk lately about RSS “dying” due to social media, but RSS is the mechanism by which unbundled media moves around the Web, and contrary to dying, I think it’s just moved from the bottle to solid food.

TMZ.com pioneered the Continuous News model by proving that they could produce compelling news content in blog format, item by item and bit by bit. They saw the demand and had the courage to go with the “latest item on top” concept of Web display, something traditional media companies have a hard time grasping. It has served them well

What about you and your company? Are you going to wait until somebody else writes the rules about unbundled advertising, or do you have the courage and conviction to do that yourself?

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