Destination media is being winnowed away, its audience blown to fragmenting corners of a growing digital universe. Yes, there'll continue to be a few mass-market appointment-TV shows -- their prices are rising as their numbers dwindle. But for the majority of content creators, the picture will be the same one that's been developing for at least the past half century: more platforms, each reaching, on average, a smaller audience than the late, great broadcasters of pre-cable yore.
For smart producers and advertisers, the digital future is bright, because consumers are demonstrating an ever-increasing demand for content and because this fragmenting audience can now be re-aggregated. (Scale is still crucial for most mass marketers.)
Think about it this way: In the "I Love Lucy" past, an advertiser's audience was based on people being tuned to a certain network or their predilection for a certain actor or show. The upside was that an advertiser got a huge audience. The downside was that the audience's size and composition was predetermined. Maybe it mapped to a content creator's imagined target or an advertiser's needs, maybe it didn't; either way, it was what they got. Wasted ads and ad dollars were a fact of life.
Increasingly, with today's technology, both content creators and the advertisers on which they depend have the ability to reassemble the fragments of audience into the groups they wanted all along. Jeremy Allaire, founder and CEO of Brightcove, put it this way: "Today, with search and share on the web, you discover the things you really want. What the producers and advertisers have to do is craft a syndication strategy that targets their verticals."
Allaire's Brightcove is one way to do that. An open internet video platform, adopted by the likes of Fox, MTV and Comcast as well as thousands of smaller indie players, it potentially allows a video running across all host sites to garner 135 million unique impressions. His software allows producers to syndicate and monetize across hundreds of sites with relevant audiences for their content.
Broadband Enterprises has taken a different approach, operating more as a syndication and sales network that's rolled up 1,700 sites into a network in which it can sell ads or stream content.
Meanwhile, Google can reach around 70% of all internet users through its content network. What Google is pushing is the idea of advertisers working with and supporting relevant content that can be distributed through the partners in its network. Says Kim Malone, AdSense director of sales and operations: "If you've got content that appeals to teenage girls, for example, and an advertiser that wants to reach them, together you can get your content ... to all the sites that reach teenage girls, from the online offerings of mainstream media to user-generated sites."
But to really take advantage of the distribution potential of any of these reaggregators, there will have to be a mind-set shift among producers. Even at NATPE, a show historically about the idea of syndication, there is still a destination mentality, a feeling that "I'm going to get the audience to come to me." That'll have to change, because if you want real digital scale in the future, you'll have to go get it.