Two years ago, the inventor of the Web browser Marc Andreessen commented that software is eating the world. I guess when you’re the inventor of the Web browser, it’s normal to look at the world through software. As a content entrepreneur and media executive, I see the world differently. To me, everywhere you look, content is consuming us, as we consume it. In fact, I used to hate the term “content consumption,” but I no longer fight it. It’s a fact.
Even with the rise and growth of social networking, people spend more time reading, listening or watching content — be it articles, galleries, music or videos. We all know that time spent on an activity does not necessarily correlate positively with economic activity. Search, after all, captures a very small time share, but continues to account for the lion’s share of online advertising.
But therein lies the problem and opportunity: while marketers embrace new targeting via audience or data, they continue to hold out for premium — let alone quality — content. As a result, Netflix, Hulu, Google/YouTube, Amazon, Microsoft — all of these tech giants have clear content strategies. Even the hardcore tech players like Facebook that wanted to remain agnostic have begun to dabble in content and take it more seriously.
I remember interviewing Say Media’s Matt Sanchez back in 2007 (known then as VideoEgg). It was clear at the time that his management team and investors wanted to avoid being in the content business at any cost, preferring to let others do that heavy handling as they held out hope that marketers would embrace UGC. Naturally, neither strategy proved sound enough, and today Say Media is shifting to become more and more of a content company. After announcing layoffs, Sanchez stated: “The company isn’t getting out of the ad network business completely” — but he said that part of Say is relatively mature and that the company should focus on the content side.
Pigs, apparently, have grown wings.
Without a doubt, to be fair, launching as a platform/aggregator/distribution/insert-any-term-other-than-content company will make it easier to a) raise financing and b) scale — but eventually, real advertising-based businesses tend to produce content. I used to point to Google as the only ad-supported tech company in the world, but even Google is now a content company via YouTube, Zagat, and a myriad of other ways.
Today Say is listed as one of the handful of companies that produce content and show meaningful revenues, along with Buzzfeed, BusinessInsider, Huffington Post, Vox Media and others.
Obviously, with a massive audience online, existing platforms developed, and it’s easier than ever to plan, launch and build content businesses. However, the irony is that what makes it possible to beat the traditional incumbents is that they have legacy business models with massive overhead. While it’s certainly true that you can’t cut your costs toward building a billion-dollar business, one thing the Web has proven is that you also can’t spend your way into one. Generally speaking, those who outlast others in the war of attrition with low/reasonable cost structures and quality content prevail.
Against this backdrop, I frequently get content creators asking me what they can do to stand out, especially as big media and tech companies pour millions into new media. I tell them the truth, which is that it’s really hard to compete with deep-pocketed players. But those tech companies tend to be a bit out of their comfort zone when diving into content. So yes — while Amazon and Netflix may be comfortable working with traditional media producers, writers and actors to dive into new media, there will always be plenty of opportunities for new media trailblazers to handhold old media into this brave new world.