I am here at Internet Week NY for a panel on “Lean Content.” How appropriate that I’m writing this promo on a WordPress blog! It’s the world’s best CMS and it’s extremely affordable. Moral of the content wars: tech is a commodity. Lease it cheaply.
Google Analytics is a robust, dependable, and intuitive web analytics solution. It’s the right analytics product for publishers of any size and with any web analytics budget. Its e-commerce and AdWords integrations are seamless and thorough. We’ve used Google Analytics at NESN as we’ve grown NESN.com’s monthly user count from 30,000 in 2008 to over 2.5 million in 2013. Google Analytics has been the right product at every stage of our growth. I’ve run multivariate testing through it, used it to determine correlations between referral growth and unique user growth, and turn to it more and more for its real-time site analytics.
If your company uses Google Analytics, I encourage you to visit Google’s Conversion University for classes in Google Analytics. It’s a great way to reinforce your working knowledge of Google Analytics and to learn advanced techniques, including virtual pageviews and event tracking. If you’re ready for a challenge, head to the Google Testing Center and take the Google Analytics IQ certification exam. It’s a insightful way to spend an afternoon.
I believe that media is more of a product than a mission. Each new piece of content produced by a media outlet is a product extension, offering a new concept while expanding the outlet’s brand. If the new piece of content makes the media outlet’s brand better, whether through its own quality or through its promotion of the outlet’s other products, it is successful. If the new content detracts from the media outlet’s other product, it is not successful.
For anyone looking to build a career in digital media, I’d recommend focusing on building your outlet’s brand through your content. The successful content creators at all career stages combing quality content creation with support for their companies’ bigger goals. It’s necessary to have an awareness of where your company stands on important issues, to make sure that your content adds to the bigger battle.
That’s why CNET’s decision to celebrate Dish Network seemed so clearly unproductive. CNET’s parent company, CBS, had filed a lawsuit against Dish Network in May 2012 over the Dish Hopper, a new DVR service that automatically skips commercial breaks on playback. The lawsuit was big news, especially since CBS’ lawsuit was accompanied by suits from other broadcast networks against Dish Network. Nevertheless, CNET’s editorial team chose the Hopper for CNET’s “Best of CES” award at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. CBS rightly asked CNET to pull its support for a product at the center of a lawsuit, leading media pundits to criticize CBS’ decision as “a journalistic disaster.” The fault here rests with CNET’s editorial staff, however, for not considering their company’s greater interest. If they had considered the their parent company’s interests, they would have been able to publish without undue oversight.
If you’re entering digital media, learn as much as you can about their outlets’ points of view. It’s OK to operate from a point of view, and even better to build your outlet’s overall brand through your content. The CNET editorial team would have preserved CNET’s reputation if it had operated with understanding of and respect for its parent company’s interests.
One hidden storyline in the Journal Register Company’s bankruptcy filing is the role paywalls will play in the company’s next turnaround attempt. John Paton, the CEO of Digital First Media (JRC’s parent company), stated in 2011 his belief that the market value of journalism is “about zero.” Paradoxically, Paton is in the paywall business, controlling “more newspaper paywalls than just about any other executive,” according to the Columbia Journalism Review.
Paywalls guarding valuable content can work, provided that the content is (a) exclusive and time-sensitive, dampening the value of aggregation; (b) expensive to deliver, as in the case of live video content; or (c) easy to track in the event of theft. Most local media content falls into categories (a) and (c), as it’s easy enough to track infringers of reporting from a single local source.
Is there enough demand for local content, however, to justify a media company’s expense in creating a paywall? Digital advertising can sustain companies with national content coverage, but almost certainly cannot sustain a siloed local media outlet as it transitions from publishing in a tradition format (print, TV, radio) to digital publication. So, local can’t make money on display ads alone. The only way local media can make a profit is either by: (a) going national in coverage and making money on nationally-based digital ad sales; or (b) using a shared technology solution for paywalls. The JRC’s effort at approach (b) hasn’t worked because the demand didn’t exist for exclusive, timely local content. Despite its bankruptcy, the JRC (and its parent, Digital First Media) is in the lead in technological innovation for local media companies, so their effort is likely the best of what a paywall will bring.
The inevitable conclusion? Paywalls only work with either: (a) truly exclusive, coveted, time-sensitive content of a national demand (WSJ, Financial Times); or (b) live content that’s difficult to deliver (video streams of like sports games). Otherwise, the winning approach is display ads, free content, and when the chips are down, a national content approach.
Jeff Jarvis is spot-on in his criticism of media travel to the 2012 political conventions. The last contentious convention was the DNC in 1972. Since then, they’ve been glorified television shows. Media outlets distinguish themselves through analysis (which can be done at home) rather than reporting what 100 other outlets have already reported.
I wrote a Tweet proclaiming that “everyone criticizing Bleacher Report’s rumored acquisition price follows some element of Bleacher Report’s strategy.” What’s lost in the number and the criticism is the new way of thinking Bleacher Report has brought to sports writing (or all reporting, period). Here’s a brief background that I wrote for two reasons: (1) I had an MBA assignment, and most of the below is from that assignment; (2) I believe the rumored purchase price is justified.
For background, Bleacher Report is a sports news website established in 2006. Bleacher Report’s content is crowdsourced from over 5,000 sports fans distributed across the world, allowing it a greater depth and breadth of coverage than any of its rivals in traditional sports journalism. Bleacher Report manages its crowdsourced content through a best-of-breed content management system and a team of around 30 editors experienced in sports journalism. Because of its unique mix, Bleacher Report has become one of the most popular sports news sites (even just plain news sites, period) in the United States, with an audience of over nine million U.S. visitors per month as estimated by comScore, the leading Internet measurement provider.
Bleacher Report’s success has led other sports media companies to co-opt parts of its strategy. Media companies, from national television networks local newspaper publishers, have broadened their coverage through the work of independent contractors and volunteer contributors. Turner Sports, a Time Warner subsidiary, has gone one step further by reportedly offering $200 million to acquire Bleacher Report. Given that Bleacher Report’s traffic is about equal to that of Sports Illustrated, Time Warner’s legendary sports magazine, it’s a sign that content strategy is shifting permanently toward crowdsourcing.
One big takeaway from Bleacher Report’s success is its emphasis on gamification. Bleacher Report’s Writer Rankings incentivize entry-level writers to keep writing by awarding “points” and “medals” to frequent contributors. The writer’s medals are displayed to the public in his account information. The writer’s title increases as he accumulates points, escalating from “Contributor” to “Correspondent” to the top level of “Chief Writer.”
Media companies should include rewards for their content contributors. The technical platform for a media site can calculate statistics such as page views and the number of comments per story, then display badges on an author’s byline indicating his level of accomplishment. If badges aren’t doable, then display something – web traffic, number of comments, number of social comments. Just give something to the world to indicate a contributor’s magnitude of accomplishment.
Today, I'm on a panel at Blogs with Balls 4, the leading sports new media event series in the country. My panel is titled "Beyond the Big 3," but really, the concept of the Big "3" is really a Big 2, with a ton of competition for that third slot in the mind of sports fans, especially affluent and tech-savvy fans.
The NBA's lockout furthers the ascendency in digital media of hockey, soccer, NASCAR, college sports, the UFC, extreme sports, and on and on. Sports fans' appetite for sports content is insatiable, NBA lockout or no NBA lockout.
The contender to the #3 position behind football and baseball, with stats from Google Ad Planner, are strong and growing:
*Hockey: The NHL's website leads the NBA in page views and has 63% more users proportionately among users with HHI of $75K+.
*Soccer: The aggregate uniques and page views of the EPL team and league sites range from 1.5-2x of NBA.com's traffic, adjusted for seasonality.
*NASCAR: NASCAR.com has 35% more page views, 19% more monthly visitors, and 60% higher engagement on-site than NBA.com visitors, along with demos that actually beat NBA.com in users proportionately with HHI of $75K+.
Here's a sample of the topics we're discussing tomorrow on the panel, with my take on each. If you read this beforehand, let me know and I'll defer the remaider of my time to Twittter. The topics are courtesy of the panel disussion, led by Jay Busbee of Yahoo! Sports.
*How do sites catering outside the Big 3 balance appealing to the niche audience (the hardcores) with appealing to casual readers?
*We appeal to the broad audience interested in all our sports in the same way we appeal to fans of the Big 2 — frequent news and opinion, covering our teams and the big trends in our sports. Casual fans of sports outside the Big 2 want the same variety of breadth and depth in coverage, so we instruct our writers to write in both styles based on the importance of the news event.
*What techniques you use to "outflank" writers who cover the Big 3?
*I think the folks at Paul Brown Stadium and the New Sombrero would encourage more reporters and more access, but anyway. Writers for niche sports write like writers for sports with broad appeal. Baseball writers cover the gamut from stories about the day's National Anthem singer to wonky coverage of some OPS/VORP/ETC hybrid. It's the same for writers outside the Big 2 — they want to reach a broad audience, yet still satisfy the dedicated core.
*How have (or have not) sports outside the Big 3 harnessed digital media to broaden their reach?
*The NHL (and MLB) lead the way in progressive approaches to social media and to content syndication. In particular, the folks at Neulion (the NHL's video player) have built the best streaming video player in the business. Throughout the preseason, the NHL and its teams have worked to give fans as much access as possible through online game streams, fan forums, and dedicated social media teams.
A few elite EPL teams have taken the charge online as well, with Manchester United, Man City, and (my bias showing) Liverpool leading the way in getting fans involved. The EPL lacks a centralized site with team "site" templates and standardized technology, however, so the evolution of digital media league-wide is behind the Big 2 and the NHL.
*Specific examples: The Vancouver Canucks' appeal over social media to fans to unite after the Stanley Cup riots; the NJ Devils' blogger headquarters during games; Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis' interaction over his blog TedsTake with fans about the Caps' direction following the season.
*What kinds of stories do you see as having mass appeal beyond your core constituency?
*Good stories will win regardless. Interesting stories will win regardless. In Boston, the Bruins reclaimed Boston as a hockey town because the players worked hard, were genuine, and made the city believe. They brought the Stanley Cup to children's hospitals and nightclubs, and both venues were equally genuine and well-received by fans. Hockey and NASCAR in particular maintain their competitive edge year-round. The Bruins sent away a round of drinks that Ryan Reynolds (a Canucks fan and movie…star?) ordered for them in the offseason. There's no end to their season.
*Do your individual sports (or covering a smaller-scale sport) allow for a faster rise to the top of the journalistic pile than the Big 3?
*The answer to this question is market-based, not sport-based. A new reporter can get to a prominent role quickly by covering minor league baseball, the Nationwide Series, and pro basketball for any team with light blue in its color scheme. I'd advise new reporters to just get started, work hard, build a portfolio, and keep moving up markets. More importantly, focus on becoming a good reporter instead of a wonk — anyone can be a wonk and opine unendingly, but the rigor of reporting is coveted and will make the new reporter stand out.
The CBS Local sites have been among my favorite local web sites since their launch in 2010. In markets where CBS owns and operates multiple TV/radio stations, CBS wisely combined these separate on-air properties into one unified online site (
). The sites contains the local TV station for video content, a news radio station for live audio streaming, and a sports radio station for sports news and opinions. CBS Local is everything the local media consumer would need in a website — weather, traffic, sports.
CBS Local’s site technology and design choices are the most sensible that I’ve seen in local media. CBS Local’s choice of a blog engine (WordPress VIP) as its CMS proves that a simple, manageable CMS (combined with a wealth of unique content, produced at a reasonable cost) is all that’s needed to run even the largest news web sites. The sites’ backgrounds evoke the cityscapes of their regions. The blue-on-white color schemes are clean and bright. Simple and beautiful.
The one obstacle with the new CBS Local sites is the branding. I was listening to WBZ 1030, CBS’ O&O news radio station, and I heard a promo for the network read as follows (paraphrasing): “Listen to WBZ, News Radio 1030, and on the web at CBSBoston.com.” In markets with long-lived CBS O&Os, the branding of the on-air property has value even without the CBS affiliation. WBZ is a Boston institution, and growing up in Pittsburgh, KDKA set the standard on radio and on TV. But does the typical radio listener make the connection between the local station’s call letters and the national CBS brand? It’s weird to hear two seemingly separate brands (WBZ and CBSBoston.com) promoted together. A company like FOX (with less established local brands) can promote all of its properties (local, national, radio, cable) with the FOX label without sacrificing the local connection, which makes its on-air promotion to online benefit all of those properties at once — wherever there’s a promo, the word “FOX” is present. CBS could benefit by doing the same.
CBS should rebrand its local stations with the main CBS name. WBZ should become “CBSBoston” and 98.5 should become “CBS Boston Sports.” It can simplify the brand presence in each market from three or more separate brands (in Boston, “WBZ,” “98.5,” “CBSBoston.com”) into one brand. The separate brands have value (especially established brands like WBZ and KDKA), but I’d wager that value is more for folks in media (like me) than for the average consumer. For new CBS O&O stations, the CBS brand would provide more value. When CBS re-launched WBZ-FM in Boston as a sports station, branding with “CBS Sports” or “CBS Boston Sports” would have garnered more immediate cachet than a separate brand of “98.5 The Sports Hub.” Ultimately, 98.5 would succeed anyway (like 93.7 in Pittsburgh), but CBS could have built up the brand’s immediate presence with a prominent “CBS” in the title.
Paul Yanover's departure from Disney Online offers another digital media revenue data point. Disney Online is a universally popular collection of sites with 36 million unique users per month and $60 million in revenue per year, according to PaidContent.org. The revenue per month per visitor to Disney.com and its related sites is about $0.14. For perspective, these sites are also intended for marketing the Disney brand, and they skew much younger than the average digital media site.
Digital media is a viable business when content is produced efficiently and accountably. The technology used to support content production is important, yet always secondary to the content itself. The marketing value of a site must be considered if marketing's the goal, and Disney has likely assigned that value to Disney.com to make the revenue model work.
Paul Carr’s Techcrunch article on New York Internet Week extends the already-resolved content war into another battle, this time framed as the East Coast’s version of quality content against the West Coast’s “generic filler to pack inside an empty box to make it attractive to advertisers.” This is a war that’s been resolved in favor of content producers, and those who produce lots of content generally end up with lots of “success” (money, uniques, etc), and it’s a fairly straightforward correlation.
I love the Internet’s objective sense of success, by whatever metric one chooses (uniques, page views, money). I believe it’s right to write what people want to read, and the readers will determine if it’s successful or not.
Carr’s concludes his story encapsulates the nature of tech industry blogs (and magazines like Inc. and Entrepreneur) – look for the new superstars, not the underlying trends: Snippet:
Before Harry Potter, no-one knew they were looking for books about wizards; before the Washington Post broke their most famous story, no-one knew they were searching for information about a robbery at the Watergate building, or the subsequent money trail to the White House. Put simply: if Ben Bradlee were an editor at one of today’s Internet companies, instead of the Washington Post in the 1970s, he’d almost certainly have spiked the first Watergate exclusive in favour of a slideshow of cats who look like Nixon.
Actually, if the WaPo was a newsblog in the 1970s, Ben Bradlee would have had enough space and time to publish both the Watergate exclusives and the slideshow of kittens, and would have willingly publish both to reach two sets of audiences.
Furthermore, the focus on the “superstar” — the hot tech startup, leading to the ultimate IPO — is the standard fantasy of Tech blogs, almost to the point of ignoring the trends. Associated Content, regardless of its low final valuation, did make a ton of money by simply following trends. Business Insider does that today. Demand Media does the same, in large quantities. Yardbarker and Bleacher Report follow the quantity approach in the sports industry. As long as the quality is sufficient enough to fill my need for information (and it usually is), then let them go on grabbing that low-hanging fruit, in large numbers. Sometimes, I want a substantive article. Sometimes, I want a slideshow. One site should be able to provide me with both.