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Interview: ABC News’ Slavin: Paywall Strategy Coming Down By June

*ABC* News Digital execs are currently putting together a formal paywall strategy with expectations of having some concrete ideas for ways to charge consumers by the summer, said Paul Slavin, the unit’s SVP, in an interview with paidContent. This isn’t the first time *ABC* News has traveled the paid content route. Back in 2003, it created a premium program tied to the 2004 presidential election. Also at that time, ABCNews, along with CNN, put video behind a subscription wall, both as a standalone and as part of short-lived services RealNetworks (NSDQ: RNWK) SuperPass and Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Platinum. But a lack of traction among viewers forestalled those efforts and they were quickly abandoned. In the interim, rising online ad dollars in the second half of the decade made talk of paywalls and subscriptions at the network seem more academic than anything else.

But that changed with the collapse in online ad growth. CNN has had some initial success with its paid iPhone app, which costs $2 per download and also features ads. At the same time, ABC (NYSE: DIS) News is going through a massive reorg right now, with buyouts offered to all non-union employees not under personal services contracts. By various estimates, ABC needs between 300 and 400 employees to take buyouts in order to avoid layoffs. The cuts will accelerate the network’s emphasis on digital newsgathering.

Slavin offered general outlines of his team’s approach to paywalls and premium, but no specifics yet. An ABC staffer since graduating college in 1980, Slavin has headed ABC News Digital for nearly three years.

While he insisted that advertising revenues are getting stronger and have met the division’s expectations, the realities affecting all online media outlets are the same, he said. “Things are changing and we need to seriously think about alternatives to ad support,” Slavin said. “And that will involve creating some mix of free and paid content for our digital content.”

paidContent: What kind of debates have you been having about paywalls at ABC News?

Paul Slavin: We

5 Responses to “Interview: ABC News’ Slavin: Paywall Strategy Coming Down By June”

  1. George Bright

    Not to be too snarky here, but ABC News has a website? If it went dark how many people would notice or complain?

    Before you can start charging for your product you need to make it popular and irreplaceable. I’d argue that is neither and any attempt to charge for content will be pretty much ignored as the visitors move on to another news website.

  2. I you create a paywall; Adios and goodbye ABC News. I always liked you, but I shouldn’t have to and absolutely will not pay for news. There are many, many other sources out there.

  3. The number of people that will pay for ABC’s online content will be numbered in the dozens, and they will consist of the craziest commenters on their news stories who feel that they have created a reputation on the site, and their addiction to that perceived attention will cause them to subscribe. Why pay for ABC when a great many alternate news outlets are better/more targeted on issues and perspectives that appeal to minority opinions and groups?

    The best way for them to monitize their online presence is through acquisition and monopoly. The megacorporations that own all mainstream media outlets (and almost everything else), namely General Electric, Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, NewsCorp, AT&T, Sony, Universal, Bertelsmann, Vivendi, and Liberty Media, should create either a single cooperative entity, or somewhat smaller entities that are virtually unitary through the use of strategic partnerships in order to skirt antitrust laws long enough to be institutionalized and to maximize the flexibility for strategic pricing to maximize revenue. This entity or entities should buy out any online content that attracts a significant readership, not with the goal of attracting more people to fork over the cash to get behind their federated paywall, but with the goal of eliminating the free access to interesting content that is outside _any_ paywall, which will achieve the same end, and will make very large offers to independent writers and groups of writers rational, even when the odds are against directly recouping the investment.

    This will create a new career path for aspiring writers (and artists and technical staff), and their success will generally become measured by the amount of payoff that they get from the consortium for coming in from the cold. If internet forums are included as internet media ripe for acquisition, itwill reduce the internet to the sites containing the products of the consortium, and sites trying to sell traditional goods and services. A benefit of this to the consortium and to the governments that by this time will have become some of its members will be that illegal acts on the internet (such as copyright violation) or minority political groups who are communicating with each other for suspicious purposes will be easy to single out, because they will be the only activity on the internet that will be outside of the paywall that isn’t clearly an act of traditional commerce.

    This consortium will also own all means of internet delivery, so after it eliminates all discussion of net neutrality through lobbying and appointing its own people to the appropriate agencies and touting the variety of content now being provided by the consortium (much of it obviously speaking against the interests of the consortium itself, because the consortium will be interested in everything – war, healthcare, agriculture, unions etc.) it will be able to eliminate all other content from accessibility. After this is when it will start exercising hard and absolute editorial control over the content that it puts out. And after that is when the white vans will start their runs early in the morning, delivering the proper psychoactive drugs in the proper amount to every proper citizen every morning, and watching them swallow. All of the improper citizens that try in some way to deceive them or avoid their therapy will be dealt with in the proper way that all deluded enemies of the activities of the Ministry of Freedom _should_ be dealt with. You don’t actually need a van to carry pills. Or a pistol.

    Wait, I think I went too far…

  4. rdonofrio

    These companies still haven’t learned how to monitize their business. Readers won’t pay and will go to free sites. And, advertisers will go to the free sites – where the reader are!

  5. I for one, will not pay for content that is watered down, pedantic, and self-serving. All of these sobriquets apply to the content supplied by ABC, aka, MediaWhores. Give me some real meat to digest and I’ll reconsider. Why should I pay for pablum when I want a full meal?