Why Professional Content Needs to AdaptApril 2, 2012
by Matthew Stern
Professional content is behind the innovation curve. Advances in hardware and online platforms have forever changed the distribution, discovery and sharing of content. But for the most part, content innovations are being made based on traditional business models rather than adjusting to the “disruptive” digital innovations (iPads, Apps, social media, smartphones) that are capturing consumers’ imaginations.
No, this blog posting is not going to conclude that there are huge opportunities in monetizing online content, and that Big Media needs to change how they operate. Rather, that by approaching content differently, Big Media can thrive in their existing structures.
As we’ve seen with the music and newspaper businesses, industries wither if they don’t adapt to the new content consumer. It’s no longer just about the video, words, music and pictures, but what we can do with them. However producers have not adapted: music labels still limit what consumers can do with a music file; the film industry continues to frustrate consumers with new formats — from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray — and ways to “manage” (read: control) content. UltraViolet digital rights management is the latest scheme, while geo-blocking prevents content from being distributed friction-free.
(UltraViolet now has about 750,000 subscribers, who can stream bought media to UltraViolet-enabled TVs, Blu-ray players, computers, and iOS and Android devices)
The underlying reason for these roadblocks (which add no value to the user experience) is that creators and publishers are frightened of losing control of their content in the digital realm. They lock it down instead of creating content formats that would benefit commercially from consumers behavior in the new media distribution ecosystem: discovering, engaging, and sharing. In its place we have a plethora of substandard user-generated-content and rampant illegal downloads of first-run movies and music.
Why has the quick adoption of innovative technology and resulting consumption habits not been matched by innovations in content? Tablet shipments are expected to reach 100 million units in 2012, yet even the much-lauded iBook Textbooks are closer to a 1990’s CD-ROM experience than a true leap forward as a content platform. And while the new iPad has doubled its screen resolution, most magazines have not kept up, with their layouts now overly-pixelated.
The innovation gap may have to do with the way producers view content. It needs to become more about seeing the work as “transactional content.” The web allows for “transactions”: immediate responses and sharing, robust data collection, and an easier way to build audiences.
(Lionsgate’s online marketing strategy relied on a passionate book fanbase)
Transactional content is able to quickly cultivate followers by tapping into passionate online communities. For example, Lionsgate created online content for The Hunger Games movie ten months before launch, and monitored data from different social channels. They connected with the book fanbase, turning them into early ambassadors who passed along content. That word-of-mouth is part of the marketing success of the blockbuster film.
Other successes: the online transmedia narrative of the TV show Lost (heck, there’s even a college thesis on the subject), and the awkward but well-intentioned Kony 2012 phenomenon (a well-planned exercise in creating transactions). Content can be fully optimized when it has built-in responses that give consumers the tools and incentives to engage and share. When consumers share content among their peers – more cost-effective than paid media – creators are inserted at the center of new conversation platforms and rewarded with a more engaged and loyal following.
Contrary to where you may have thought this discussion would end, these transactions are not about creating digital monetization opportunities; which are still in their infancy (along with, unfortunately, digital monetization fatigue). Let’s face it; the majority of revenues continue to revolve around the traditional sources of ratings and selling more units. Transactional content fuels these sources by building a larger audience for higher ratings and inserting commerce touch points to sell more units for healthier bottom lines. Creating transactional content does not need to be a radical pivot. It’s just another way of seeing content for what it could be.
— Matthew Stern