Even Old Media's Disruptors Now Suffering From Innovator's Dilemma

The first time I wrote about the book “The Innovator's Dilemma,” it was mainly about print in the new-media landscape.  According to Wikipedia, author Clay Christensen’s theory was that " successful companies can put too much emphasis on customers' current needs, and fail to adopt new technology or business models that will meet customers' unstated or future needs; he argues that such companies will eventually fall behind."

So why is online media twice as complicated, and thus more vulnerable?

We, like most media companies, have two types of clients:  businesses -- be it advertisers or licensees -- that actually pay for our product; and individual users (our readers, viewers, listeners) who generally don't.  This dynamic means that a media company's products are in fact both the content it creates but also the audience it serves. Hence the saying "if you don't pay for a service, you're the product." 

This past week I was met some fellow executives who, like me, run a new-media enterprise.  But unlike my focus on video, they focus on text content, produced by a mix of full-timers and freelancers, published on their own-and-operated site (they've all moved to add a network of sites to extend reach).  That content was then link-exchanged with other publishers and indexed by search engines. 

That model has essentially permeated the Web since the late 1990s, with the only evolutionary change Google's introduction of a paid search model and paid text links. 

Being hailed as a killer app early on, video meanwhile has been nothing short of revolutionary.  We've covered all of the reasons in this very column for four years (yes, it's been that long, but I digress).  Still, as an example of how new medias disruptors are now suffering from the innovator's dilemma, just think of how sites like BusinessInsider or TechCrunch may have first disrupted Business Week or Fortune -- but now find themselves adjusting to a video-centric media landscape as they tackle the following disruptions.

Moving from text to videodisrupts media in two ways: production and discoverability.  With text, you can have a core of regular full-time salaried employees balanced with a larger army of freelancers.  That actually helped boost the quality of posts, by adding remote experts or local contributors to provide an authentic global coverage. 

With video, it's enormously challenging to maintain a consistent editorial the instant you experiment with freelancers.  It's not impossible, it's just a more complex equation. 

Also, discoverability moves from search engines to video platforms like YouTube.  Add to this the rise of social media (do you link out to your video on your site, or your YouTube channel?) and you have some never-ending issues.

From own-and-operated to distributed

The other disruption is that video is about distribution, not destination.  Today's crop of video producers have all but given up on their own sites in favor of YouTube, while the previous generation that built and scaled on YouTube is looking for alternative distribution platforms (though not necessarily their own). 

This is the opposite of text publisher, which had the luxury of building massive audiences on their own properties, being masters of their destiny and then extending that reach onto smaller, third-party websites that they could even eventually acquire, if they desired.

While distributed reach gives you more reach, it comes at far lower margins.  Exacerbating this fact is that with over 100 hours of new content uploaded to YouTube each minute, there isn't even a guarantee that embracing YouTube will necessarily add to your reach. It just means that you will be spreading yourself across more places.

When it's said and done, the traditional online media companies that published text articles and monetized these on their own sites have to bite the bullet and embrace distributing videos around the Web. But they must realize that doing so might mean a case of six of one, half a dozen of the other.

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7 comments about "Even Old Media's Disruptors Now Suffering From Innovator's Dilemma".
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  1. Brian Silvernail from SEO MultiMedia Creations, September 30, 2013 at 2:50 p.m.

    This article explains the chasm that exists in converting text and picture sites that started in the 1990's to modern video content Multiple Listing Systems in Real Estate. The dilemma tracks with what I've experienced in marketing our app to Realtors/Producers, Sellers and Buyers. The paradigm shift is definitely beginning. Our app takes advantage of that shift by automating the video capture and production process, customizable player, YouTube SEO on Steriods, Lead Capture, Analytical Reports and a mini-CRM all in one!

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 30, 2013 at 5:37 p.m.

    Here is another take. No matter how nicely videos are to watch, for certain topics like business it is faster to read an article than to see the video/someone reading it to you. The issue is time, not delivery. Real Estate as Brian has pointed out is a category where video is a huge aid in showing and paramount in selling/buying, not reading, a house.

  3. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, September 30, 2013 at 5:47 p.m.

    Let me offer an additional observation... Online media simply isn't delivering economic power to advertisers at the levels delivered by the media it replaced. So while media consumers may love online, there's little economic strength as an advertising medium. That's WHY there's low margins. That's WHY it can't become strong leaving it vulnerable to be replaced.

  4. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, October 1, 2013 at 5:08 a.m.

    The traditional online media companies *do not* have to bite the bullet and embrace distributing videos around the Web. They have to maximise shareholder value and being profitable for a short lifetime is often better then giving up those profits in return for a small chance of a long lifetime. Or they can take a middle route by continuing as before but investing a proportion of their profit in startups.

  5. R.J. Lewis from e-Healthcare Solutions, LLC, October 1, 2013 at 5 p.m.

    Really liked how this article started out, but you lost me with distributed video being the new disruption. While video is certainly important, I think the disruptors of social, programmatic buying, mobile, etc... are all equally if not more important. Either way, I think your core message holds true. The business cycle is changing (rapidly) once again and the "new" incumbents are at risk of being disrupted. The circle of life. Get used to it. The business cycle is changing at an ever increasing pace. Good article.

  6. Ashkan Karbasfrooshan from, October 2, 2013 at 1:20 p.m.

    RJ, basically a publisher of an article will host that on his/her site and drive traffic to it and keep 100% of the revenues he/she generates. However, a video producer will need to put that on YouTube, Hulu, etc. and split the revenues and possibly not even be the one who is selling the ads.

    That's disruption. Where it gets confusing is: do you leverage social to drive audience to your video on your site or on the syndicated spots.

  7. Brian Stemmler from Stemmler Productions, October 14, 2013 at 4:38 p.m.

    I think YouTube is great for SEO and the opportunity to build an audience and generate brand recognition. It is a good marketplace for Brand or Ad Agency created content to promote a brand. For publishers, content creators and Studio Networks to make money they have to control the advertising, which YouTube is not going to give up control of. I think many video creators will want to control their own programmatic advertising.

    I agree with you Ashkan that it will be different types of video products aiming at different goals. For the near future as a producer it is important to produce once, distribute everywhere. But I don't think anyone can predict the Endgame to how video will best be consumed, though I know that it will be mostly monetized by brand sponsorships and pre-roll. For publishers who are starting to integrate video production into their workflows, my advice is: Don't worry about ROI currently...get used to the new production workflow and find your voice with video...then tackle the distribution and monetization issue.

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