First, the winners:
Portal of the Year: Yahoo
The whole category is on its back nine. All three (I don’t consider Google a portal) will continue to lose ground, since the 13-year-old-plus crowd looks at email the way we view letters. However, there is plenty of money to grab on the descent.
Also, the portal that gets kicked more than a bad habit pulled off the best move of the year. Yahoo’s integration of ABC News legitimized the portal’s news content, making it a destination even more worthy of sticking around. When you travel around on Yahoo, you feel like you are on Yahoo. MSN can’t push you off their grounds fast enough and even when you stay, you feel lost. AOL is well, still AOL -- a brand that can’t shed its perception of being your grandmother’s gateway to the Internet. The company is now fighting like a family that can’t get along with their crazy aunt who moved in upstairs.
Social Media Site of the Year: #Twitter
When basketball star Kevin Durant wanted to play flag football with some local college kids during the NBA strike, he didn’t make it happen on Facebook he used Twitter. Sure FB has all the dough re me, but it has jumped the shark. Advertisers are always the last to the party, and their growing presence is making Zuckerberg’s club a commercial nightmare for that influential cool crowd.
Facebook is the Christmas party everyone has to attend to save face with colleagues and bosses. Twitter is the after-party at a club in Chinatown with a velvet rope and no address on the front door. In other words, your Mom is on Facebook, but she will not step foot into Twitter’s room -- #partyon.
Web Site of the Year: Grantland.com
This throwback site is exactly what premium branded content sites should look, feel and act like: timely, thought-provoking writing on page views that are not artificially cut short to drive inventory, and a brilliantly simple ad sales strategy of selling a limited number of long-term advertisers exclusive 100% share of voice per page view ad executions.
Now the loser:
Most every other premium branded content website. It’s not the lack of innovation, nor the continued clutter they try to sell as branding-worthy, nor is it the annoying pushdown units or the constant pop-ups pumping circulation offers on sites that have a magazine heritage. No, premium content sites are my biggest losers in 2011 for one reason: they continue to feed their own demise by giving “unsold inventory” to ad networks and ad exchanges.
Networks and exchanges talk with two hands and out of both sides of their mouth. On one hand, they have the scale of 2 million web sites -- so says Google employee Aitan Weinberg. On the other hand, and said with a smile that looked like it was winking, Weinberg tells the same room he can deliver inventory on “premium publishers” sites.
If premium content sites took away the hand they lend to Weinberg and others, it would become clearer what the network/exchange offering really is, and how premium branded content sites are clearly an essential and unique complement. But because premium sites rent out their logos for others to sell with, advertisers have no clear and pressing need to buy premium sites directly -- because Weinberg and others promise exposure on premium sites in some undefined capacity.
But even this ill-conceived notion of helping the competition kick your own ass isn’t why premium content sites are the biggest loser in 2011. The reason is more human in nature. Premium publishers can count their $20,000 a month they earn from outside channel sales, and they can claim to be 100% sold out after dumping off impressions at the outlet stores. But what premium publishers cannot calculate is the monetary harm caused by demoralizing their own sales team, which occurs every time sales reps see advertisers they call on running on their site sold by someone else.
Selling media is hard enough. Making it harder on your own employees is a losing proposition. If it weren’t, premium content sites would be celebrating their success in 2011. I don’t see that happening, do you?