Spotlight: How To Form a Distributed Content Strategy

Article by Ron Stitt, Executive-in-Residence at Progress Partners

Ron Stitt argues that broadcasters should without question embrace distributed content opportunities, both with major players like Facebook and via collaborative networks of other first-party publishers. Developing the right organizational support and workflows to manage the strategy is the key first step.  

May 11, 2016 ? ?When one sleeps next to an elephant one is liable to be nervous, no matter how even-tempered the beast,? said Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the former Prime Minister of Canada, when asked what it was like for Canada having the U.S. superpower share a 3,000 mile border.

Local media executives who follow digital trade outlets have seen a lot written in the past year about the subject of ?platforms? and distributed content strategies, and may have noted much philosophical musing, cataloguing of pros and cons and hand wringing in the process.  But what?s the bottom line? Should broadcasters be taking their valuable content ? mainly video ? and distributing it aggressively?


Let?s dispense with the ?on the one hand/on the other hand? approach, and cut to the chase.  This arena is nothing new ? we used to call it ?syndication,? and if you have ever made your digital content available to another publisher, you are a digital syndicator already. If they?ve run your content, you?re already dealing with third-party platforms.  And unless you see your own direct traffic and digital revenue scaling to a point where it will fill the looming revenue slide, you need to do more of it. A lot more.

What has surfaced this issue in a big way is the scale of the distribution markets that are emerging and the platforms running third-party content natively. Or to put it in a word: Facebook. That word encompasses native video, Instant Articles and live video, and the scale and demographics of the platform could justify a sole focus on it.  We?ve reached a juncture now where it is quite possible your content may rack up significantly more views on Facebook than on your own platforms. It?s not a new dynamic: many publishers have long had more video views on YouTube than on their own platforms.

Unless you are producing significant quantities of unique, premium niche content ? and you?re probably not ? the upside of this distributed content opportunity significantly outweighs the downside risk.  The real question is how to do it, and the answer is pretty simple: play with the types of content you distribute, how much and how often. Diligently monitor traffic flows and monetization on platforms versus your owned outlets. Optimize. Beware though: this is not something you can ?set and forget.? You must develop organizational support and workflows to ensure your distributed content strategy is carefully managed.

Next, ignore the either/or framework some seem to fall into. Aggressively do everything you can to drive even more of your own direct traffic and that means distributing your content to fellow original content publishers. Before focusing on big social platforms first, don?t skip an important interim step, which is building a collaborative network of first-party publishers that can expand your brand and content footprint in more controlled environments. Such a strategy has added benefits such as developed monetization schemes and SEO impact. Building such a distribution scheme is something you can do with a business development expert in-house or by working with outside consultants.

In a similar vein, there is another kind of platform emerging now designed to serve publishers by facilitating these connections (creating markets for digital video content), and simplifying the management and logistics of operating a distributed content business. Several vendors are stepping up as supply-side solutions to fill this gap. AOL?s Vidible is one, while Vemba and VOS VX are emerging independent third-party platforms. These types of video syndication platforms can serve as part of your hedge against Facebook and other ?elephant platforms? rolling over and perhaps crushing you, accidentally or otherwise. They make implementing your direct syndication deals super-easy, and can also create markets to enable much broader reach than you?d likely be able to achieve with a 100% direct approach.

No one has the optimal formulas figured out for balancing traffic and revenue with platforms yet, but while undeniably there are risks, it?s a fundamentally significant opportunity.  Get in the game. Figure out how to win. Don?t forget that the internet is by its very nature a distributed network, and your own platforms are small nodes lost in its vastness.

Getting a handle on how to leverage distribution around the whole network is just not optional for news publishers looking to avoid being disrupted right out of existence.

Ron Stitt is a strategic advisor to companies large and small in the media, digital media and ad tech sectors. He was recently the head of digital media for the Fox Television Stations division of 21st Century Fox, and previously was VP of Digital Media for Disney?s ABC Owned TV Stations. 

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