Thursday, October 7, 2010

Digital Content Monetization Conference Wrapup: Models for Revenues in a Multi-Platform World

Our thanks to Clarion Events and to Leo Tignini for pointing us towards what proved to be a great Digital Content Monetization 2010 conference at the state-of-the-art Eventi Hotel in New York. DCM2010 featured leading practitioners in digital content from entertainment, news, games, sports, enterprise and education markets sharing their best practices on how to make money on content in today's rapidly diversifying digital markets. Often these types of events wind up being endless pitches for vendors or panelists with a lot of fluffy "content is king" type of talk, but DCM2010 was heavily ladened with people who had real meaty case studies of what's really working today in digital content monetization and a remarkable amount of openness in discussing their successes and challenges. Below is our latest 10 Minute Strategy video summarizing the key points in the conference followed by my summary of key conference themes and  links to my coverage on Google Buzz of the main speakers and panels for the event; here is a link to Twitter coverage from Shore's Peter Propp also.

A few key themes were running through many of the presentations at the conference that are worth noting in brief:
  • "Content is King" is dead. I heard this phrase uttered only once during the entire conference, which was quite remarkable given that the core of U.S. media was represented strongly in these presentations. It's not that media companies have given up on old models of monetization but more that they recognize that it's absolutely impossible to ignore the explosion of content in online, mobile and events-driven venues that competes with it on a moment by moment basis. You could say that "context is king," in the sense that being able to get the right content to the right audience at the right time at the right place as rapidly and usefully as possible is defining today's best monetization opportunities. But really it comes down to engagement being king: whatever gets our attention the most in a media-soaked landscape rules. When people spend more time looking at their laptops, iPads or mobile phones and signage for information and personal interactions relating to an event on television or in a live venue than experiencing the event itself, the best opportunities for monetization focus on engaging an audience through experiences that can be delivered via all platforms and means in a coordinated way. If your technology and your editorial and marketing staff aren't ready for a multi-platform world, watch out.
  • Ecommerce experiences cannot be neglected. Yes, people will pay for premium content - if it's the payment experience is highly convenient and it's clearly the best way to spend one's time. But putting up a crude gate is simply no longer an option. The option to pay for content cannot be a barrier to entry into a brand relationship but must instead be a painless and affirming experience that seals the bond between audience and producer. Similarly, barrier ads need to be rethought as a "forcing" mechanism. If your brand is seen as an impediment to a person's experience, that's not good. The gaming world has much to teach us in this regard, knitting brands into interactive experiences often as integral components of story-telling. Sponsorships that point people directly to product purchases that can facilitate a content experience were also compelling models explored at the conference. For example, the ability to unlock virtual goods was tied to a Dr. Pepper sponsorship in which the gamers could get a key to unlock the goods in a bottle cap from the beverage.
  • There is nothing left on the cutting room floor. A good portion of the conference focused on the benefits being realized from digital asset management (DAM), in which every scrap of the production effort for a content product is being carefully cataloged in powerful relational databases that make it much easier to identify materials that can be repurposed and repackaged in any number of ways. Increasingly these materials are becoming a key source of premium revenues, allowing the packaging of experiences for extremely involved fans of artists, topics, sports teams and other enthusiast obsessions across any number of platforms. Inevitably this opens new doors for content monetization not only from the ancillary materials themselves but from rethinking how a production is designed from its beginning phases. If you think of a production from the start as a series of repurposable assets that can attract both broad audiences and highly involved and specialized audiences you're going to be able to design a far broader spectrum of revenue opportunities. You might say that if context is king, DAM is becoming the king-maker.
  • Thinking about "lean back" "lean forward" experiences is changing the monetization landscape for Web-delivered content. The advent of Apple's iPad and the eminent launch of Google TV are forcing a rethinking about what it means to deliver Web-based content to audiences with very different attitudes and objectives in different settings. In "lean forward" mode, people do their work, produce in-depth content, engage in intense gaming experiences, research products, services and people. In "lean-back" mode, we're more likely to be ready for longer, more immersive experiences, tolerating less extraneous input but still wanting to engage others who want to experience the same things we're experiencing. Be it twittering during a live event, pushing an interesting video from our mobile phone to our HDTV to share with people in the room or just reading an ebook on a tablet, the form factors, formats and ways of interacting with content in this more leisurely and contemplative state create new opportunities for content producers and marketers. They certainly seem to have gotten the attention of book publishers finally, many of whom were fairly dismissive of ebooks until the advent of the iPad and far more agile handheld e-readers. You can't expect "old world" skills to succeed in this immersive content environment by default, though, because the formats and experiences are far different than traditional books, magazines and other fixed media. Frankly, many efforts by publishers so far on these devices are crude at best or a failure at worst. These technologies may have made immersive content more appealing in electronic form, but the range of choices and competitors is getting only thicker, forcing more publishers to focus on more ways to add value to focused, high-value audiences. Publishers need to be experts in exploiting both lean-back and lean-forward opportunities to maximize revenues.
  • Social is monetizable. Although social media did not get a lot of direct focus at the conference, it was clear that social media has become an integral part of many media companys' monetization strategy. The key trend, though, is not towards trying to capture it yourself in many instances but to make sure that existing services can be integrated effectively to enhance a content experience. Be it streaming embedded Twitter updates, integrating Facebook comments or enabling a football stadium seat with 60,000 seats as a Foursquare destination, there are a wide range of highly valuable monetization experiences through partnering social media platforms that major media companies are exploiting rapidly. The missed opportunity, though, appears to be building these potentially fleeting assets into the fabric of DAM-enabled content assets that can be analyzed and repackaged for future use. This is on the radars of some media producers, but the long-term value of social media may be one of the more neglected opportunities so far in content monetization.
  • Google isn't going away. I had an interesting chat with a Google manager involved in YouTube and Google TV during one of the breaks. As with most conversations with Google employees in public, it was pretty limited in scope. But what appeared clear from some of the non-answers that I received is that Google has a mighty opportunity in its new Google TV platform to play a kingmaker's role on the big screen in some of the same ways that it's played that role on the Web. With Google TV, you'll be able to search for video, games and Web content from one easy and attractive interface. So, guess what - the old Google search game has been reborn, now encompassing every cable, satellite and streaming media service available. Although you won't see ads on the Google TV search display for a year or so, expect that when they come they'll be a hot battleground for media companies and other marketers trying to get attention.
There was a wealth of detailed insights from the two core days of the conference, which you'll find summarized below in my live-blogging of almost all of the panel presentations. In sum, although the channels and platforms for many content producers are shifting rapidly and introducing new competitors, the opportunities for creative and energetic people to make money from great content are better than ever.

Detailed Panel Notes from Live-Blogging
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