Publishers Can Reshape Market If They Get Their Content, Their Ads to Travel Together

Inside a Happy Medium That Might Work

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One of the most fascinating stories of the last 10 years has been the digital decoupling of advertising and content-business models.

No longer do the companies that create content have complete control over where and how it's monetized. Today, big platforms like Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are the power brokers. They create disruptive paradigm shifts not only in consumption, but also in advertising.

Amazingly, however, none of these players creates much, if any, original content themselves. They depend greatly on professionals for this lifeblood.

The result is a delicate symbiotic relationship between the platforms and the publishers. The publishers provide the platforms high-quality content. The platforms offer the publishers traffic -- and a lot of it.
For years this balance has held firm. More recently, however, it is putting them at odds.

As they face increasing revenue pressures, some publishers now see themselves as too reliant on the platforms. They know that what platforms give in the way of traffic can be quickly rescinded. Both Google and Facebook famously made changes to their algorithms that overnight benefited some companies and decimated others.

Online video
That said, the press also knows it can't turn back the clock to the days of yore.

The happy medium for the media, it seems, is a strategy that makes sure content travels far and wide but is monetized at the endpoint where it's consumed. Several different strategies are emerging here, all of which are indicative of where media may be heading.

Some companies are making big bets on online video, where the ads and the content are inherently bundled and generate revenue as it's distributed around the internet.

Most online video maintains pre-rolls, post-rolls and overlays even as it's embedded on other sites. This, along with higher CPMs, is encouraging some publishers to double down.

Case in point: The Wall Street Journal is now creating 1,600 videos, or 120 hours of content a month, according to according to PBS MediaShift.

The same business model could spur more investment in photography and audio. Many publishers already run display ads in the middle of slideshows. Like videos, these can be embedded anywhere. And most podcasts, by design, feature embedded ads.

Text, however, remains the holy grail. And it's also the most vexing.

Most publishers don't earn a dime from the syndicated headlines and summaries they freely give to the platforms. But some are looking at text in new ways to ensure that the ads travel with the content as it's remixed.

Repost, for example, is a content-distribution and discovery platform that is trying to make article content embeddable as video. The sell for publishers is that they can earn 100% of the ad revenue generated, no matter where the articles are syndicated. Repost has partnered with 4,000 publishers.

Others meanwhile are going for broke by creating "headless" media companies that live inside big platforms like Facebook. This gives them a deeper understanding of the distribution systems and the algorithm.
Newsbeat Social, for example, syndicates 60-second video segments and ads exclusively inside Facebook. The upstart has attracted more than 700,000 fans so far.

Portfolio approach
Finally, a few are taking a portfolio approach. Video startup Now This News earlier this year launched a short-form, snackable news channel for Instagram. Yet it still maintains a website and an app.

Similarly, several major publishers including the AP, The Huffington Post and even Ad Age are syndicating advertiser messages in their Twitter feeds as sponsored content. This has created a way for them to earn ad revenue from what had previously been an un-monetized channel.

As more and more publishers recognize that content and advertising can travel together -- and across different formats -- it has the potential to reshape the marketplace.

There will always be disruptors like The Huffington Post in the search space, BuzzFeed in the social space and Flipboard in the mobile space that are aiming to build beachheads -- native destination platforms.

However, the future of media may be in fact more distributed as publishers hedge their bets to avoid getting burned.

Steve Rubel is chief content strategist at Edelman.