The State of the Media, in Two Acts

Do old media and new media have anything in common? Two nights ago I went to a dinner titled “The Future of Content.” Last night I participated in a workshop called “The Next Generation of Advanced Media.” The differences between the two were striking.

The first night was a small gathering of reporters and partners of Demand Media, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based content factory, over dinner at one of San Francisco’s best restaurants, The Slanted Door. The topic of the evening was Demand Studios an online video freelancing house that has spawned some 150,000 short clips. Here’s how it works: By looking at domain name purchases (one of its other business divisions) and search trends, Demand figures out which topics will get traction. It then puts out a call for videomakers to submit content based on those topics — a specific how-to, for example, or an aspect of a vertical like golf or green cards. Demand buys all the rights to the video upfront for $20, and brings the video in house to properly tag it for search. The approach seems to be working, traffic-wise; they’re averaging 1.5 million views per day on YouTube.

With Demand comparing its system to a content factory, however, it’s tough not to play devil’s advocate. What about creators, what about art, what about revenue share? And with the drumbeat of layoffs across the media industry in the background — what about our livelihoods? According to Steven Kydd, EVP of Demand Studios, plenty of the company’s video makers are making a couple thousand dollars a month, and that’s a nice tidy side job. Meanwhile, his video supply will only grow with the recession.

I’ve seen for myself how web stats — where an appearance on the Digg home page will make your day-to-day traffic seem like peanuts, and seizing on the right keyword will pay off dividends for months — bring the temptation of setting our editorial agenda around cheap tricks.

Then last night I was one of eight speakers at the workshop held by the Northern California chapter of the National Television Academy. Sarah Lane of Revision3 was supposed to speak too, but she got laid off, and had to fly out of town for a job interview. There I learned, while snacking on Halloween cookies from Safeway, about how local CBS affiliate KPIX has doubled its video traffic since SFGate (the San Francisco Chronicle’s web site) started embedding it in stories two weeks ago — but how the station also actively polices YouTube and sends takedown notices for any content that it deems to have been ripped off. KPIX Director of Internet Operations Jim Parker also said the traffic to a recently instated live updating weather radar map easily beats KPIX’s homepage traffic on non-sunny days.

I also got to hear about Rich Bartlebaugh‘s side project for the local government’s TV channel, where he puts candidates’ statements on YouTube. He told the audience how thrilled he was when they were embedded elsewhere, subsequently receiving a few hundred views each and some meaningful comments.

So. The people who know distribution don’t value content but the people who have content chops don’t actually have that many people who want to view their stuff — or are counterproductively hung up on intellectual property. There’s got to be a better way.

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