The Death Of The News Brand

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, September 24, 2015
If trend lines are to be drawn into the future from recent events, the death of the news brand is coming. The clock started not with the rise of the Internet, or the writing of ad-blocking code, but with the philosophy and construction of Web 2.0.

If we go back to 2004, we first see people talking about the Web in new ways. What was once fixed content, placed in fixed locations, became content and context that were separated. What this mean was that websites became a series of frames that could pull content from other places. Pages were dynamic, not fixed, and content could come from anywhere.

Weather sites became portals pulling weather data from other providers, while stock price sites dynamically changed based on data suppliers.The most obvious culmination of this trend was  the app.

What this form of construction has done is reward the topmost layer, the “customer interface.” Kayak sells an incredible volume of hotel, car rental and flight inventory merely by owning the interface between service providers and customers, Zilllow does the same with real estate, Seamless with food. Open table, Fandango, Instacart, Uber, Alibaba — the list goes on. The provision of services becomes commoditized, a dumb pipe, while the interface and aggregation layer is the thin surface,  scaling fast, and where much of the profit lies.



With Facebook Instant, Apple News and Twitter, we’re starting to see the same process with news content.

A while back our relationship was with news brands. We trusted companies to supply us with a variety of content within the bundle of the news provider.

Now the homepage is dead, and our readership is at the article level. Often our relationship is with the subject matter, occasionally with the writer — never with the news company itself.

So now we browse content differently. Our relationship has moved to Facebook, Twitter and now Apple as the distributors of the content, since they now own the interface to monetize. Movements like ad blocking stick the knife in further, as the distribution of content is now in-app, where ads can’t be blocked — unlike out-of-app content.

The entire architecture of content is changing.

In past times, our newspapers bundled quality and snackable content, rather like how parents bundled healthy diets to kids. We’d get doses of expensive-to-create investigative journalism, long-form content, and headlines to suck in readers. Metrics were at the paper sales level so we’d no idea what worked. Articles were not shareable with ease, so satisfaction became more important than virility.

The rise of thin “journalism”

This week we saw world-renowned news providers Time and New York magazines cover Milk Shake Squirrel, but do so by writing a half paragraph about the event surrounding a funny video.

We of course saw Mashable and Refinery 29 and Buzzfeed cover Pizza Rat. But since when has Washington Post  or NPR merely placed funny videos online, adding nothing, and hoped to benefit from cheap clicks and ad impressions? The New York Times of course went high brow and added more value, by a paragraph extra of investigative journalism about dirt on the subway.

This is the result of news company owners hoping for survival: the cheap, endless repurposing of someone else's content, hosted on someone else’s server, and monetizing that content with the addition  of the very smallest veneer of commentary or value.

We’ve now no idea what the editorial brand is, because anything that will get a click is now considered good enough, while the addition of commentary is an unnecessary effort.

The rise of audience buying.

The rise of programmatic buying has been key in extracting the difference between buying media and buying audiences. For years people bought premium eyeballs on premium content, and the content became the proxy for people. This allowed higher rates for more exclusive and more accurately spliced audiences.

Yet the placement of cookies and tracking software, combined with audience buying, now allows us to buy these people’s attention spans anywhere they go, unbundled from premium content. We can now reach people searching for luxury cruises, away from places where such content was placed.

The power lies in aggregation.

Aggregation layers like Facebook, Apple, Twitter and probably soon Google now have the killer advantage of knowing the most about the audience consuming content. They don’t have to make any content, but can now monetize the interface of others’ content.

It’s not just news, it’s TV, too.

In the age of the smart TV, all content becomes digital and increasingly on-demand. The content makers move into the background. Rather than consuming NBC or Fox or FX, our relationship moves to being with the show. We watch “Breaking Bad” or “Empire.”

 We’ve moving toward the next stage of TV content, where apps become the new bundle. We’ll watch Netflix or Hulu, but Apple TV and better searchable content will provide the new discovery layer. Our relationship will move again toward the unit of the show’s content and the aggregation layer — and away from the pipes that bring it to us.

7 comments about "The Death Of The News Brand".
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  1. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, September 26, 2015 at 1:55 p.m.

    "The Death Of The News Brand"   Really, Tom ???

    The only thing dying in this commentary by Tom Goodwin

    is the thought process and its helpful companion, common sense.

    I shall parse this Online...Off-The-Rails...Spine in a stepwise fashion later.  Standby.

    In the meantime, Macbeth's words in Act 5, Scene 5 come to mind:

    "She should have died hereafter.

    There would have been a time for such a word.

    Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

    To the last syllable of recorded time,

    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

    And then is heard no more. It is a tale

    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

    Signifying nothing."

    Enjoy the weekend!  Personally, I can't wait
    to regurgitate my first reading of this digital dreck.

    I think the MediaPost editor should have headlined this "Fresh (or Fetid?) Controversy," 
    "If Donald Trump commented on media, marketing
    and advertising, we'd all be dead by then and now."

    Onwards and Upwards.

    Hopefully, the weekend will restore your sense of life and all its possibilities, Tom.
    In the meantime, I sincerely wish you well.

    So good to be back from sabbatical ... Nicholas P. Schiavone

  2. Doc Searls from Customer Commons, September 26, 2015 at 7:37 p.m.

    I thought this piece would at least deal with the layoffs of marquee journalists at the New York Daily News. Sports alone was hard-hit:

    Instead it's just about what's happening online, where no site or service is more durable or solid than a sand dune.

    FWIW, people read, watch and listen to news. If you think all they do is "consume content," they'll have news for you.

  3. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC replied, September 27, 2015 at 12:56 a.m.

    Bravo, Doc!

  4. Tom Goodwin from Havas Media replied, September 27, 2015 at 6:17 p.m.

    One of the greatest pleasures of being published is provoking debate and hearing feedback, I relish being challenged. 

    But it's hard to do much with Ad Hominem attacks and Shakespeare, it makes it look less like you disgree with me and more like you just enjoy writing.

    Would love to get more progressive feedback next time Nicholas, since this article has been commented on by Journalism professors, editors, publishers and more in other places, the debate would welcome your viewpoint.

  5. Tom Goodwin from Havas Media replied, September 27, 2015 at 6:19 p.m.

    Yes, very strange I wrote about this niche Online thing, but I think one day it may be a big thing.

    I should have covered the death of Newspapers where I could have been only about the 134,452th person since 2008 to pen such a piece.

    My whole point is that people read, watch and listen to news more than ever before and the people that make it are not able to monetize it any more.

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 28, 2015 at 6:31 p.m.

    Tom, as I read this I'm a bit confused. In your reply you say that "people read, watch and listen to news more than ever before and the people that make it are not able to monetize it any more".

    I agree that total news consumption is up, somewhat---especially if you count locat TV station news as well as network and cable,, radio, newspapers, magazines, online. What I don't get----unless I misunderstand you---is the part about the news sources not being able to monetize their efforts any more. Billions of dollars are spent in advertising on TV news and it is a very profitable enterprise---mainly for cable ( which rakes in huge amounts via transmission fees as well as ads ) but, to a lesser extent for the stations. Indeed, even the broadcast networks make a decent if not spectacular profit on their news coverage. As for print media, yes the papers and magazines are haveing a lot of trouble competing with TV and the Internet on this front. But print media are small players compared to TV when it comes to total audience tonnage and profits. Can you clarify? Thanks.

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 13, 2015 at 10:24 a.m.

    App aggregators and another layer is coming... Cut investment - people and such - until the lights go out and the viewpoint of one giant media conglomerate rules and finding other voices beomes benign. The aggregator can decide which app is worthy or not.

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