Boy, did we have it wrong.
For a little while, though, we had it right. For a little while, the progressive leaders of the digital economy were brands like Yahoo, AOL and MSN. For an even littler while, we rallied behind such companies as Excite, Pathfinder, Lycos, Infoseek and Alta Vista (remember those guys?).
Now that the dust has settled and the Web has gone mainstream, some of the most innovative work is being led by traditional brands like NBC, Fox and CBS. These were old-world brands that were not expected to be successful because they weren't investing in the infrastructure to build the new economy, but as the Web has evolved from static page content to a dynamic, video-based platform, those old TV brands are finding they do have a home online, albeit with some new paint. They're discovering that sometimes the best strategy is to let your competitors make the mistakes while you learn from them. I guess maybe, just maybe, slow and steady does win the race!
Hulu and TV.com are definitely becoming core destinations online because they feature mainstream video content in a simple and content-rich environment. NBC, Fox and CBS are the stories behind the story because they've found a way to be relevant online. They may be hiding behind a newfangled, Webified brand name, but the content is the same and the checks are still being written by the same people. Of course we can't overlook the fact that Google is the 800-pound gorilla in the online world, but even that gorilla can't monetize video properly. No, the old-school brands are winning in the world of video, and that may bode well for them as the Web continues to evolve.
As content gets syndicated to other platforms, such as mobile and through social media, video will still lead the charge. The original issues blocking video syndication have been addressed with tools such as Freewheel (a video monetization solution), so the content owners can properly monetize their content no matter where it gets displayed. It seems that video has learned what print media could never figure out: how to manage the distribution of its content.
The newspaper and magazine worlds have not fared so well. They continue to lose traction, and many are starting to close down, simply because the loss of a dollar in revenue from a print vehicle is not being made up by a dollar in digital. The TV networks are doing a much better job of this, translating their lost offline revenue into relatively comparable online revenue. The ratio may not be one-to-one, but it's closer to a valued relationship. What TV understands better than anyone is that the digital world is a true support vehicle for content, not a competitor. TV strategists have come to terms with the idea they can premiere content in one vehicle and extend or support it with another.
Now our idealism has morphed into practicality. The first places for brand advertising consideration are the extensions of offline brands with video, rather than the almighty Web portals. In fact, the old "portal strategy" no longer seems to be the first place to start when putting together online plans. That doesn't mean that the upstart brands cannot be successful, it just means they have to fight to be in the top tier of consideration. It also means that the upstart brands have more than a fighter's chance vs. AOL, Yahoo and MSN. Think about when you try to target kids online; you start with Disney and Nickelodeon first, right? These brands have continued to be successful online, and the next best places are up for grabs!
I guess the old-world brands are winning the race. Don't you agree? Tell me what you think on our message boards.