The first time I wrote about the book “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” it was mainly about print in the new-media landscape. According to Wikipedia, author Clay Christensen’s theory was that ” successful companies can put too much emphasis on customers’ current needs, and fail to adopt new technology or business models that will meet customers’ unstated or future needs; he argues that such companies will eventually fall behind.”
So why is online media twice as complicated, and thus more vulnerable?
We, like most media companies, have two types of clients: businesses — be it advertisers or licensees — that actually pay for our product; and individual users (our readers, viewers, listeners) who generally don’t. This dynamic means that a media company’s products are in fact both the content it creates but also the audience it serves. Hence the saying “if you don’t pay for a service, you’re the product.”
This past week I was met some fellow executives who, like me, run a new-media enterprise. But unlike my focus on video, they focus on text content, produced by a mix of full-timers and freelancers, published on their own-and-operated site (they’ve all moved to add a network of sites to extend reach). That content was then link-exchanged with other publishers and indexed by search engines.
That model has essentially permeated the Web since the late 1990s, with the only evolutionary change Google’s introduction of a paid search model and paid text links.
Being hailed as a killer app early on, video meanwhile has been nothing short of revolutionary. We’ve covered all of the reasons in this very column for four years (yes, it’s been that long, but I digress). Still, as an example of how new medias disruptors are now suffering from the innovator’s dilemma, just think of how sites like BusinessInsider or TechCrunch may have first disrupted Business Week or Fortune –– but now find themselves adjusting to a video-centric media landscape as they tackle the following disruptions.
Moving from text to videodisrupts media in two ways: production and discoverability. With text, you can have a core of regular full-time salaried employees balanced with a larger army of freelancers. That actually helped boost the quality of posts, by adding remote experts or local contributors to provide an authentic global coverage.
With video, it’s enormously challenging to maintain a consistent editorial the instant you experiment with freelancers. It’s not impossible, it’s just a more complex equation.
Also, discoverability moves from search engines to video platforms like YouTube. Add to this the rise of social media (do you link out to your video on your site, or your YouTube channel?) and you have some never-ending issues.
From own-and-operated to distributed
The other disruption is that video is about distribution, not destination. Today’s crop of video producers have all but given up on their own sites in favor of YouTube, while the previous generation that built and scaled on YouTube is looking for alternative distribution platforms (though not necessarily their own).
This is the opposite of text publisher, which had the luxury of building massive audiences on their own properties, being masters of their destiny and then extending that reach onto smaller, third-party websites that they could even eventually acquire, if they desired.
While distributed reach gives you more reach, it comes at far lower margins. Exacerbating this fact is that with over 100 hours of new content uploaded to YouTube each minute, there isn’t even a guarantee that embracing YouTube will necessarily add to your reach. It just means that you will be spreading yourself across more places.
When it’s said and done, the traditional online media companies that published text articles and monetized these on their own sites have to bite the bullet and embrace distributing videos around the Web. But they must realize that doing so might mean a case of six of one, half a dozen of the other.