Breadth of use

The July/August issue of Columbia Journalism Review includes a feature article by Sang Ngo, "Networks schmetworks: The race is on to recast the newscast". In it, Ngo provides a round-up of a variety of efforts to put news and analysis video on the web.

I struggle with the concept, largely because it feels driven by supply, not demand. As Ngo notes:

"Travel guides, live sportscasts, Google+ Hangouts—the near-future of the professionally produced newscast looks like a potato-sack race to an uncertain destination, in which the hoped-for prize is higher ad rates and greater audience engagement."

As I've written before, traffic-driven strategies can quickly devolve into races to the bottom, particularly in terms of content. Last week, Adrienne Lafrance of the Nieman Journalism Lab reported on a Pew Center analysis of news content on YouTube, finding it weighted toward "stories with dramatic visuals".

That's the nature of the visual medium. While (moving) pictures might be worth 1,000 words, pictures without context can confuse, distract and even mislead the viewer. Research, reporting and analysis can fill in those gaps, but those things take time and resources.

I think the answer is embedded in what Bloomberg has been doing for the last decade: competing not on the cost of content, but its breadth of use. That breadth gives the company the ability to employ more journalists, report more stories and surround more readers with a range of content delivery options.

Bloomberg also operates in a segment – professional information – whose audiences see a value in and are willing to pay money for access to content. Driven by subscription revenues, they can focus on meeting audience needs. Advertising revenues are healthy, but they aren't primary.

It's easy to look at the company and say, "But that's Bloomberg. They're unique. A magazine, newspaper or book publisher can't give everyone a terminal (or software) and expect long-term subscriptions."

Maybe not. But all publishers could and should ask themselves about readers' unmet or even unexpressed requirements, their motivations as well as their frustrations. Answers to those questions frame opportunities that don't start and end with a decision about formats.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.