Prepare for More Content, Not Less

At the recent OMMA West conference in San Francisco, leading ad critic Bob Garfield gave a riveting talk about the issues covered by a piece he has written that has been reverberating throughout the media landscape over the past several weeks. Speaking of chaos to come as major marketers derive less value from broadcast spends, Garfield delivered a wakeup call to the planners, buyers, publishers, and advertisers in attendance at the conference. And the message was clear - the online media infrastructure is not yet ready for the potential influx of dollars that major marketers may consider spending as they look elsewhere for marketing effectiveness in the wake of plunging efficiencies in broadcast.

Among the reasons Garfield cited for online's unworthiness? A lack of content that advertisers can sponsor.

I agreed with most of what Garfield said during his talk. And it certainly was entertaining to hear about the impending collapse of existing business models in traditional media, especially since Garfield made it entertaining by peppering the speech with jokes and compelling examples. But I didn't buy this particular aspect of what he was saying.



If anything, we're in the middle of a content explosion, particularly online. This is driven by a number of things, but most significantly by a change in the news media model that to which U.S. consumers are still adjusting.

The most significant change to the news media model is being brought about by a realization on the part of the news consumer that hard news reporting in the mainstream media is more opinion-driven than ever before. This morning, as I rode the train to New York from Long Island, I was sitting next to a friend who noted after reading her New York Post that NYC's bid for the 2012 Olympics was all but dead. Coincidentally, I happened to be reading the article in my copy of Newsday that stated the bid was being kept alive by an alternative plan to offer the Mets a new stadium next to Shea that could be used for Olympic events.

What is significant here is that the two articles seemed to be directly contradictory, which is symptomatic of what has happened to the mainstream news media over the past several years. Consumers are coming to realize, mainly through alternative news sources but also through the constant battle over interpretation of the facts in the mainstream, that news is tainted by opinion more than it's ever been. To continue to be informed, news consumers need to consult multiple sources.

Hand in hand with this revolution in news media comes the consumer-generated content revolution. More content offerings are filling the void left by consumer need for content, and increasingly, these offerings are coming from other consumers rather than established publishers.

I think Garfield may have underestimated the influx of content currently underway when he projected a dearth of available inventory for advertisers. I personally believe that when budgets shift from traditional media to interactive in an even more pronounced way, the inventory will indeed be picked up first on larger sites and sites belonging to established online publishers, but increased demand will help accelerate the consumer-generated content revolution.

While several of the OMMA conference speakers said the recent mania over blogs was overhyped, blogs are only a portion of the consumer-generated content being placed online. What of other personal Web sites, photo pages, message boards, discussion lists, chat, e-mail, and other venues driven by consumers?

Content links, blog networks, sponsorships, and subscriptions have already been established as ways that your average citizen-publisher can be compensated for the content they post online. These models will grow to maturity just in time to support smaller publishers and individuals as advertisers look to invest advertising dollars outside of the usual channels.

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