Blog Post

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.

7 Responses to “The State of the Media, in Two Acts”

  1. As a freelancer myself, I find it interesting how Wadooah, on behalf of Demand Studios, keeps stressing the aggregate amount paid out this year ($10 million). More important would be (as Tim asks) what the highest paid creator makes. Or even better, what the average creator makes.

    In magazine publishing, for example, writers look at their pay as a per-word rate. The idea is that the total amount one receives for an article cannot objectively be considered large or small — it is subjective to the amount of work (words written) that is produced. Similarly, if the $10 million paid out went to 100 content creators, that’s not bad. If it went to 10,000, that’s much less promising.

  2. the old media model was

    a) identify content areas we think will be in demand
    b) bring in talent to create the media
    c) spend a lot of money distributing and marketing it

    Demand Studios represents an example of a more efficient new model

    a) automatically identify areas of real immediate demand
    b) efficiently allocate talent and production resources to create media to fill this demand
    c) automatically distribute to the sites where the demand exists

    On the internet you can’t spend enough money on distribution and marketing to drive demand for something you are guessing people will watch. There are too many options for people to choose from.

    It’s easy to see which model will survive. Spot the internet video company who’s not laying off (or still paying for) talent right now?

    Plus quality matters. Why? because a better, higher quality show is simply a click away and viewing is immediately measurable. The audience will decide the quality, not the producer/studio.

    The market will set the price directly against quality produced by the talent. Talent that performs well will be able to set higher fees. If Demand wants higher quality, they will have to pay more.

    It’s a shame Demand’s platform is still studio-like however, effectively providing financing, and choosing who produces what content. Acting as a middle-man means controlling information on the two sides of the market, which is not good.

    I feel they are missing a trick.

    Demand should disintermediate themselves. How about reversing the market?

    a) automatically identify areas of real immediate demand
    b) auction off these areas to the highest bidder with a minimum level of quality. YES, the talent pays for the rights
    c) talent creates the media, controls the story
    d) the platform automatically distributes the media to places where demand exists
    e) everyone shares in the revenue

    It’s more scalable as it’s driven directly by the people that can supply the media and talent is incentivised to produce something compelling and of high quality. And the talent is paid based on performance.

    In fact, the idea is so good, I’m going to start it up! :-)

  3. One could chalk it up to my Film school background. But, it’s interesting how closely online media is following the historical progression of the Film industry. At the start raw scenes from life were shot and exhibited by the likes of Lumiere and Edison. First person vlogging bears similarity to that period.

    Then studio factories developed where quantity of interesting films was the goal. It looks like with the success of businesses like Demand Media, that we’re in the media factory period.

    The next film period saw story quality, artistry, the star system and dominance of the Film industry over other media (1920’s).

  4. Saw you post today and thanks for the inclusion and for coming out to our dinner discussion. In reading the article I had a few thoughts that I wanted to swing your way for consideration…. Also, I don’t know if your post was also meant to stir up some discussion, so it is in the spirit of discussion that I impart these additional/counter points for your consideration. (Please forgive the length, but you’ve spawned several thoughts that I wanted to be sure to capture…)

    As you can see on the Demand Studios landing page (, this month, we surpassed $10 million dollars in payouts to our community of writers and filmmakers (At this time and in this economy that’s an impressive number for a 2 ½ year company paying for made-for-the-internet content that has value). We were able to do this – and will continue to do this – because as you mentioned in your article, we really do understand distribution. Also, we paid out more than $10 million dollars because without our quality creators – we’ve learned faster than many publishing outlets, the value this group and their talents bring and without them none of us would have success. And they’ve told us daily, “keep giving us steady work that pays and provides place to publish.” And, that is exactly what we plan to do!

    Just for perspective on the folks at Demand Media who are working with Steven Kydd to make Demand Studios a success, Jeremy Reed our VP of Content and Editorial spent his 20s doing freelance assignments. At that time, he had more than 500 published print articles with a handful of publications – many of them just simply to get experience and a byline so that he could make a name for himself – and not with any hope of being paid. He wanted distribution and exposure. He wanted to be a better writer. And for him to publish 500 articles in multiple publications and get coaching from editors meant that he had to hustle, hustle, hustle, even if that meant doing everything from bartending to a crappy holiday party sales job to writing a newsletter/answering phones for a major sausage company – all just to pay rent and make the ultimate sacrifice for his craft that was also his passion. This is a very typical of the average person who wants to break into writing that we’ve heard from the community. (The same could be said for filmmaking, copy editing, etc….)

    Demand Studios speaks to what motivates every freelancer creator: 1) steady, reliable work 2) massive audience to see my work and 3) coaching/community to become a better writer, filmmaker, etc.

    Here is what Demand Studios offers freelancers:
    • We’ve paid out more than 10 million dollars to the freelance community since the beginning of the year (and, we plan to pay out even more next year – regardless of the economy…) Which means that essentially, Demand Studios has created more than 10 million dollars worth of opportunities for writers and filmmakers
    • Quality freelancers don’t have to do the dance – most of which it is not fruitful and doesn’t pay – to get paid and published. Once they are accepted into our system, they get:
    o One-stop to get a byline on multiple sites. Freelancers have the ability to grab titles for multiple destinations and brands, from to LIVESTRONG.COM.

    o One of the most prompt and reliable payments for freelancers out there. We pay our creators every Friday – the overwhelming majority within 7 days of when they turn in work, regardless of when we publish it on site or start making money from it. Most publishers don’t pay until after the piece runs, which could take months for most publisher’s content creation cycles

    o Work is available to quality freelancers around clock. Freelancers spend so much time pitching back and forth with editors, and they never get paid for that time. Our freelancers are on the clock from the time the start until exactly the time they turn in a piece

    o We give ongoing feedback to our creators. We invest in our creators because it is crucial to our business. We want to keep and retain our quality creators – so we give ongoing feedback, criticism to the freelancers on the content they create. This is in addition to ongoing tips through calls, emails, forums, blogs, etc. with our editorial teams

    o Listen to our testimonials. We are giving steady work in the field they are passionate about

    Lastly, one final thing to point out, we are creating endless paid opportunities for quality creators, that easily fit in anyone’s life – from retired school teachers to hustling freelancers right out of college to stay-at-home parents who are field experts. To me, it’s tough for any journalist to argue with that – especially when so many publishing outlets, especially traditional ones, have thrived for years on the fact that writers and filmmakers would work for free – if they could just get eyeballs to their work.

    Just my two cents in the spirit of open dialogue and as this is an area that I know you are very interested in.

    Thanks again for coming out the other night as I’m glad that you were able to participate in the evening event with us!