Digital content brings out our creative best – why can’t digital content business models?

I’ve been frustrated lately.  Over the last month I’ve sat on 3 panels filled with incredibly creative professionals.  I’ve traveled back and forth across the country meeting with some of the biggest players in digital in Canada and some of the coolest niche brands you may never have heard of.  I’ve worked as an industry analyst for two different industry funds, reviewing project concepts from some of the top digital concept producers in Canada.  Still, in the midst of all this incredible inspiration, at times, it’s been a frustrating month.

My frustration began after moderating a panel on digital distribution for Interactive Ontario.  A producer in the audience, new to the digital space, had asked a question a that I didn’t feel we had answered thoroughly enough during the session.  When the panel was complete, I went to speak to her personally as she felt we hadn’t identified any opportunities to generate revenue with digital content.  I pointed out to her five or six methods that had been discussed and she acknowledged my recap with a disappointed look.  Her (paraphrased) response followed:

“I guess I just like it better in television when you sell
the show to the broadcaster and they worry about all that”


Flash forward to the “Crossover Keynote” at the nextMEDIA / Banff World Television Conference.  Ron Berryman, SVP and GM of Fox Interactive Media’s Digital Publishing division was speaking about this brave new digital world while oddly promoting FOX television properties with nonsensical clips, vaguely related to his points.  As I checked and re-checked the program to ensure this man actually worked in digital, I was finally shocked into submission when he unloaded this gem on us (again paraphrased):

“Statistics are showing that click-throughs on banner ads continue to drop year over year.  What this tells us is, we need to build a better banner ad.”

I walked out of the room.

Returning home and hoping that reviewing some innovative interactive properties for the OMDC might shine some light on exciting new models.  I was again somewhat disappointed to find most producers were relying on broadcast sales to generate supplemental interactive sales as a model… and little more.  Could it be that those applying for public grants makes people lazy?  Is it that sites like Facebook and Twitter that garner millions in funding  in spite of an inability to monetize their vast audiences makes smaller producers feel that audience acquisition is the only key to success?
The reality is, I don’t know.

Wouldnt this be nice?

I don’t know why business models don’t seem to be fashionable these days, and I certainly don’t know why all the incredibly creative people who create content, don’t seem to be trying harder to find new ways to monetize it.  When all we hear is that the 30 second spot is dying, why are we so desperate to replicate a system that consumers clearly do not embrace within the digital medium?  Once again, I don’t know.

But that’s ok because the truth is – nobody knows!  Isn’t that exciting to anyone else?  So when we’re working to create compelling, innovative, exciting content, what’s the harm in taking a stab at a new way to monetize it?  They say there are only five stories in the history of storytelling and yet each and every day thousands of us across the country get up and try and find new ways to tell them.  Well if I look back at my last month, it seems as though people are resigned to the idea that there’s only one way to monetize those stories – and that just doesn’t make any sense to me.  And that’s why I’ve been a little frustrated…

But my frustration leads me to optimism.  The advertising model that has supported “old media” like magazines, newspapers and television are crumbling around us, but the thing that made them into the empires they once were remains the same – people love great content.  And we’re the ones creating it!  Those old models have simply been disrupted by this thing we call “digital” and we need to figure out how to make content viable within this new paradigm.  But we never will unless we divorce ourselves from the idea that old methods are the only methods, and begin to innovate with our business plans the same way we do with our content plans.

So with all the incredible creativity that’s clearly out there, let’s all just save a little of that innovation for the business side of the equation.  There has to be more than one way to sell those five stories.  Trust me.

So what do you think about all this?  Let me know:

  • SashaB

    A big problem we have in Canada is that much of our IDM space has been built out by TV personnel.

    Good because film & TV professionals have access to great story tellers and creative people. Bad because of just what you brought up – TV producers are only one part of the supply chain of broadcasting, they make a product and deliver to the broadcaster who delivers to the end client.

    What this means is that a lot of good digital content gets tied up into archaic rights arrangements because they get entwined in exclusivity just like a broadcast deal. Its a grab bag of rights and royalties signed away with one $10,000 web license from a broacaster.

    Meanwhile, as you have brought up, there are other opportunties out there, both discovered and being implemented, and those yet to be discovered and created.

    Its going to take some brave producers to say “screw this, let’s go it ourselves” and make that plunge into generating their own revenue on an actual stand-alone product.

  • Andrew Lane

    Hey Sasha – great point about the old media system having built the new funding model. Sadly, there’s a lot of content producers out there that were never a part of “old media” and still are following the path to those old models…. sigh…

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