I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a media-junkie, so much so that I studied media and New Media at college and university respectively. I love consuming content and now am slowly turning my hand to producing content for the world. Yet with the technology available, and with such eye-watering budgets at their disposal, I’m at a loss as to why the enormous media conglomerates fail to harness and utilise user generated content, and generally fail to move effectively with the times.
The BBC and Sky News are two prime examples of broadcasting powerhouses that are still doing just that – broadcasting. Just now they broadcast their content through the web rather than solely through TV, Radio or Print. Previous methods of communications have been unable to harness user generated content by the restrictions of their medium, yet the very foundation of the web is sharing information, so why not utilise it to the full?
Enabling threaded commenting for each article immediately opens up the page for engaging discussion, as opposed to the dated concept of “flat” forums whereby a direct reply is next to impossible; the method is to write into your post “@parent-poster…” which is the web equivalent of shouting out someone’s name in a crowd, then before awaiting a response you launch into what you were going to say. It’s not particularly, effective and you are far from guaranteed that they get your point.
The growth of social news sites such as Reddit thrive on optimising commenting systems, and improving the platform for engagement so as to promote discourse. Now a common situation exists where a major news site will produce an article, users will consume the article on site and then immediately leave to engage in their discussion elsewhere; whereas they could be retained to produce user generated content alongside the original article.
It is interesting that the media-giants of years past still hang on to old practices and business models – namely that of broadcast – whilst the media-world is turned on its’ head around them; they plod along slowly watching their revenues shrink, whilst clinging to the hope that somehow their previous supremacy returns to them.
The Times website for example – when staring directly into the face of perpetually shrinking CPM revenues, turned to the only method of monetisation they know: charging directly for access. By setting up a paywall round their content in July 2010 their online readership is estimated to have dropped off as much as 90%, an enormous and crushing drop. When immersed in a world of free and effortlessly flowing information, the step taken to restrict access indeed seems archaic. Decades ago when Fleet Street was unchallenged ruler for distributing information, their vast networks gave them their power – the budding journalist working out of their bedroom could not even contemplate competing with papers on a local level, lest still a national level. The internet has changed that. Permanently.
Now when the budding journalist publishes their articles, they have the opportunity to reach quite literally billions of people, with traditional geographic boundaries not applying. Possibly excluding any interference form oppressive governments. The journalist now has all the tools to hand to research and produce articles on all manner of topics; providing access for free. Thousands upon thousands of articles available at literally no cost to the user. Whereas The Times will charge £1 a day for access. Admittedly I, and many others cannot envisage – nor would we like to imagine – the death of the professional journalist, but a happy and prosperous medium can surely be discovered.
I appreciate that I began this article as a focus on how I believe news sites should provide more sophisticated platforms for discourse, but I seem to have wandered off course slightly, perhaps because I see so much wrong with established publisher’s approach to providing web content.
There is absolutely no doubt that the media powerhouses drastically need to change their tack when it comes to performing on the web. Display advertising – whilst not a dead income source by any means, has severely reduced it’s pay-off’s in recent years as more profitable, refined sales techniques are introduced. For publisher’s this has produced a serious issue: how to remain profitable and competitive? You may have deduced by now that my answer is to promote greater user interaction, and reap the benefits from the generated content.
The greater that a site knows its audience, then the more responsive they are able to be to users’ requirements and their needs; whether they be technical requirements or feature-requests. In addition to increased reader-loyalty, the company is able to analyse the data real-time in order to produce details of trending topics. Such data can then be used to build and direct specific advertising materials – based upon prevalent keywords – to be displayed on pages where they will attract the highest click-through rate.
Now I am not an advocate of intrusive advertising – expanding banners, pop-ups and auto-playing audio can all take a back-seat as far as I’m concerned. Nor do I view web-users as cattle to direct and manipulate as you please, providing it’s profitable. But highly targeted adverts of relevance to the page, has the potential to be both beneficial to the user and to the advertiser, indeed also to the publisher. Particularly so with the emergence of behavioural retargeting.
The user will be provided with unique and breaking content, and with all the ills of the media industry, it’s hard to take away from the fact that they are still in the position they are in because they produce quality content in one sector or another. If in addition to the content, the users are presented with the foundations on which to build a community and interact over the article, then it has the potential to stop some of the user spill over to social news sites.