This past month, a couple of articles chronicled the diverging strategies and fates of the two traditional portals, AOL and Yahoo. If I were to summarize the main point of the articles, it would be that Yahoo is betting on original shows to bolster its programming, while AOL is re-evaluating matters, balancing between content boss Arianna Huffington’s ambivalence towards video and video head Ran Harnevo’s dislike of original content. I’m going easy; the article quoted an unnamed former AOL video executive saying “Ran hates original content, he thinks it’s a waste of money.” I’ve met Ran and while I can’t speak on his behalf, I would say that he gets video and aggregation, and it’s up to him to say whether he’s bullish or bearish on creating original content, not me or an unnamed former executive.
Now both Yahoo! and AOL are our distribution partners, so let’s steer clear of commenting on each one’s strategy and execution, but rather comment on how history repeats itself even though the actors change over time.
If portals were defined by their ability to aggregate audiences and serve as a gateway to content, then without a doubt the new two leading “portals” are Facebook and Google.
When Yahoo and AOL ruled the distribution landscape, we looked at the World Wide Web under the three Cs, or
– Commerce and
As Yahoo and AOL have been replaced by Google and Facebook as the main traffic drivers, the term community has been replaced by the “social” moniker. Until Google’s very successful launch of its new social network Google+, Google was the punch line in a social joke. Today, it is a legitimate player with the momentum, resources and runway to surpass Facebook challengers Twitter and LinkedIn in no time.
While a decade ago eBay led community through commerce, I think that this decade we will see the battle for social (or community, as it was called last decade) play out through content.
Now, despite what the anonymous unnamed former AOL executive states, AOL is producing original content, as is Yahoo But these companies have always — from early on — balanced content aggregation with creation. What you see now is them simply sliding across the spectrum ranging from creation to aggregation based on momentum in the advertising market.
Meanwhile, Google and Facebook have been dipping their toes in original content — Google though the acquisition of our friends over at Next New Networks; Facebook very cautiously through things like Facebook Live. Of course, with PR head and Facebook Live producer Randi Zuckerberg announcing her departure from Facebook, I do wonder: Is this a sign that Facebook will do less original programming in the future, or is that totally unrelated to Randi’s decision (she got the entrepreneurial bug and is planning on launching her own social media consulting shop)?
This is largely unchartered territory for Google and Facebook. Of course, I have absolutely no insight whatsoever in what Google will do with video, or how it plans on using Next New Networks. But with the successful launch of Google+ giving Facebook some trepidation, my gut says that Facebook will need to fight fire with fire and get more aggressive with original content because Google is sitting on more video content and more video inventory than anyone else via YouTube.
Previously, analysts and gurus always looked at social with regard to discovery and recovery of content, but I think the bigger moneymaker will be from content unlocking value in social networks.
LinkedIn’s very successful IPO was only dwarfed by its very successful LinkedIn Today’s content aggregation tool. How long before we see a LinkedIn daily show highlighting the leading stories that were shared? That would be an easy way to monetize LinkedIn Today (and to diversify from the eventuality of paid links). That will then push existing content owners to create more content specifically for the Web, ushering in more programming made for the Web to compete with the offerings of the upstarts in content.
In that context, don’t be too surprised if LinkedIn turns to acquisitions of content owners, including WSJ or the New York Times. What’s ironic is that just two years ago, News Corp. was looking at leveraging MySpace to build a LinkedIn-killer inside of FOX Interactive Media’s Slingshot unit. Today, with the cloud overhanging Rupert Murdoch’s empire, LinkedIn’s newfound resources and social companies relying on content to differentiate and monetize, crazier things could happen.