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As Jonah Peretti outlined in his SXSW presentation, Buzzfeed has eschewed the “walled garden” approach that has been at the heart of publishing since the early days of digital media in favor of an agnostic approach that aims to push as much Buzzfeed content as possible into (social) streams (good recap from Fast Company here). This approach hinges upon being able to understand what content performs best in these streams—both in a single stream and across all streams—and using that understanding to drive future content creation. This week, Buzzfeed introduced it’s secret weapon, Pound, which does just that.
Data from Pew’s annual State of the Media report, which was released earlier this week (full report is worth the read), provide some support for Buzzfeed’s approach. Two things jump out immediately upon reading the report:
Platform Agnostics Can Stay Nimble, Minimize Risk
Digital ad spend grew 18% to $51 billion in 2014, but the publishers’ share of that shrunk by 8% YoY. Relying upon on-site display advertising to scale with the overall growth of digital advertising is not a good bet. Hitching your wagon to your ability to reach your audience on platforms advertisers are clearly interested in (Facebook, Twitter) is, however. More interestingly, a platform agnostic strategy means that if another social network suddenly becomes attractive to advertisers like Twitter did in 2014, you’re able to place your content into that stream just like any other, assuming there are no unique barriers to developing your audience there. (FWIW, it remains to be seen if Twitter can combat advertising churn.)
Platform Agnostics Embrace What Advertisers Value Most: Simplicity & Scale
Overall, digital news entrants and experimentation, whether from longtime providers or new, are on the one hand now so numerous and varied that they are difficult to keep track of. On the other hand, the pace of technological evolution and the multiplicity of choices – from platforms to devices to pathways – show no sign of slowing down. With each new pathway or platform, the old ones continue to be used, posing a nearly unattainable challenge to an industry in financial difficulty. And if news in the social space is more incidental and driven to a large degree by friends and algorithms, then gaining a foothold there may be even more elusive – or at least less in the industry’s own hands – than a secure financial model. -Pew State of the Media 2015
Big advertisers and agencies don’t like complexity. Gone are the days when agencies hire junior account managers to spend hours daily in spreadsheets optimizing campaigns across dozens of websites and social platforms. The industry has shifted and most big buyers want scale and simplicity, both of which are most easily provided by working with the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and HUGE media brands. What’s even better and more simple? A huge media brand that successfully pushes its content out through Twitter and Facebook.
There’s more to the report than these two points (and more to my blog than posts about Buzzfeed). Stay tuned for more.
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- Discovery is hard: It might be that I’m not following enough users (or that there aren’t enough users yet to follow), but I’ve had a difficult time discovering content. Sure, Periscope sends me notifications when people I follow are broadcasting. But I still can’t browse easily by topic, interest, or keyword. Cart before the horse, I know.
- Privacy will be challenging: Saturday afternoon, I started to lose interest in watching golf on TV and the Elite Eight games weren’t going to start for another hour. What did I do? I tuned in to an Oklahoma State men’s baseball game and watched it live from some box seats on Periscope. When I realized baseball is infinitely less interesting when not watching in person, I switched to a live feed of a magic show at a birthday party (the guy also was a ventriloquist—very talented!). In both of these scenarios, people were likely being recorded without their permission and without their knowledge. In the case of the birthday party, some of these people were minors. Do I care if someone streams me watching a ballgame? No. And I would like to think my friends are savvy and trustworthy enough to let me know when they live stream me (if it’s not obvious to me they’re doing it). Nonetheless, there is no five-second delay for live streaming. You don’t have even the three seconds between taking a photo and hitting publish that you do on FB, Twitter, or Instagram. You’re working without a net.
- Copyright might be even more challenging: My wife and I attended a live taping of Night Vale Station podcast on Saturday night (we were in over our heads, but that’s for another post). My first instinct was to live stream at least a portion of the show. But before things began, the MC made a request, almost a plea, with the audience not to record the show in any way because she wanted other cities to get the same experience without a preview of what was in store. I honored this request but I could tell others did not. This same challenge existed before easy live streaming, but the realtime nature of Meerkat and Periscope only exacerbate it. Sunday night, I watched Wrestlemania both live from the stadium and on someone else’s TV from their living room via live streaming apps. And WWE thought getting online subscriptions was their biggest challenge.