Friday, February 03, 2006

Syndication

An interesting post the other day from A VC. I agree with almost all of it - in fact I think it's a key realization that more people need to make in considering how to market their content:

A VC: Syndicate Your Content Broadly Online: "Here%u2019s the bottom line. In the digital medium, the content should be syndicated as broadly as possible. If iTunes wants to charge $1.99 for the shows, let them. If WRAL wants to stream the shows with ads (and download them for a small fee), let them.

CBS should do the same on its website. I think they should offer RSS feeds of every show in their lineup. The service should be either subscription driven or ad supported or ideally offer both options."

I agree that syndication is the key here, at least in the distribution model I'm looking for.

And both he and I are clearly talking about using content as a commodity to be paid for by the syndicating site. They're using my content (CBS or NBC's content in this case) to increase their ad revenue. Here's what he says about it:

WRAL has the right idea. They are in the television content distribution business. It’s moving to the web. They want to continue to be the one to deliver it to their audience. CBS should let them do just that and get paid fairly for their content in the process.


But I don't necessarily agree that

NBC needs to make SNL available on the web wherever people want to get it. And they need to microchunk the shows down to the skit level. And monetize it with ads or subscriptions or both. Because if they don’t others will and are already doing it.


OK granted that stuff's going to be copied and stolen. That's a fact of life whether you're distributing on the web, on tv, in the theaters, or on dvd. So accepting that, but not letting it rule your distribution model, I think that where you syndicate your content is a critical element. Microchunking is fine, but it needs to be strategic Microchunking.

You've got a website that runs off of ad revenue. You're in the business of bringing traffic to advertisers, regardless of what you put on your site. What drives traffic to my site? Among many factors (community, functionality, interactivity, productivity), the most important is my content. This defines your niche and provides context for the contextual advertising that you're selling.

So you need good, compelling content, and in the broadband world, that means video content - people want it, it's expected, it's necessary. You can fill this need in one or all of these three ways:

1) user generated content - cheap to produce (free), once you invest in the infrastructure and personnel to serve it and keep it running, it's no longer free... but still, relatively inexpensive. The cons here are obvious - your video is user generated, and it's going to look and feel like it's user generated. It's going to be unpredictable and inconsistent. Your users are not going to come to the site regularly to "tune in" to this kind of video content - some may squat there, hunting around for the diamond in the rough, but this is generally not going to increase your daily, weekly or monthly return traffic. And for most of your users, it's not really going to change the amount of time they spend on your site.

2) Produce your own excellent content - this is how you handle all the other content on your site. You know your niche, you blog about it, your staff writes articles about it. You post pictures, even have an audio podcast. That's how you built this traffic generating machine, after all. And you can produce good, interesting and consistent content that will bring in that return traffic and brand loyalty to your site. OK, the cons here are simple: Video is expensive to produce. It just is... inherently. You are choosing this option to avoid the user generated look and inconsistency, and to do that takes money. Also, video is hard. I remember reading a bunch of posts as the audio podcasting community began to embrace video podcasts about how much more labor and skill it takes to produce the same kind of regular, quality material on video. Along the same lines, video is more of an experience, a specialty. Audio podcasts and blogs are flexible content. A user can read at his/her leisure, listen while they do other things. Video content demands one's full attention, and so it has to be crafted to cater to that user, to maximize his/her time without overusing it. Final con here: if you're going to get that brand loyalty, you have to be reliable with your video - regular, on time, frequently changing, and high quality viewing. So when you make the commitment to produce video content, surprise! You're in the video delivery business. Which is just as complicated and energy sapping as the video production business. Even if you serve your media elsewhere, you still have to manage that relationship because it's you who needs that video to be reliable and of high quality.

3) This is where syndication comes in: I've got excellent, entertaining content that will play with your niche or your community - maybe it's one show that plays daily, maybe it's a weekly show, maybe it's a series of shows. I am a distributor and a producer. I create shows to drive traffic to your website, which allows you to benefit with increased traffic, increased loyalty and increased ad revenue. Theoretically, you should be paying me a premium over the cost of production, serving and bandwidth to deliver that content to you. If you're a big site that can afford it, this makes a lot of sense, and I'll produce or distribute a show that can premiere on your site, everywhere I make it available for download will be branded with your site, and it will be your show.

But you're a site with less traffic and smaller revenue streams. You can't afford this. We already said that content production costs too much before you consider all the headaches, time costs and logistical issues, so paying me a premium is not a viable way to get rid of those headaches, etc. However, if you can share that cost with other sites over a range of different niches, then we have a viable strategy for you and for me. You get less expensive, non-exclusive content, and I get my premium - my profit.

And who's to say even a show that is premiered exclusively on one site can't have a life in reruns on smaller sites? This increases the profit potential of my distribution model. If a show is incredibly popular in its first run (whether on one site or ten sites) then there are going to be 50 sites clamoring to pay for the second run. Even if it's not a hit at all, if it simply does well, and there is evidence of increased traffic and ad exposure, then I will be able to sell a second run no problem.


This is the syndication model I see as having the greatest potential. But whether you agree with me or not, take this from it - we should be thinking not only about ad supported free-to-view content, but content supported advertising. I think the key to making the economies of video production and distribution work on the web is to embed the content in the brand.

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