There is a trend evolving at media companies both big and small that promises to have a remarkably positive impact on what you read, watch, and share on the web: Curation.
It’s not a popular thing to say that things are OK in media. In fact, the changes taking place are useful, necessary, and will in short order result in better editorial experiences, because as shown in the press daily, the sky is falling in old media. But, happily, the future is right around the corner.
First, media companies need to shed their historic connection to their delivery systems. Newspapers and magazines are both deeply connected to their size, shape, and the feel of their paper. Shiny magazine stock vs. gritty inky newsprint. Those distinctions are gone in the digital world. Says Eric Schrier, former editor and chief of Time Inc. Ventures, and CEO and President of Readers Digest: “I’ve said for a long time that the magazine businesses that survive and thrive in this new environment will think of themselves as content companies.”
In the world where distribution is ubiquitous and digital, magazines, TV networks, book publishers, and average folks on their living-room PC will all have equal access to the web as a publishing platform. And don’t forget brands and ad agencies too. The funders of old media are now equally well positioned to make media as they are to pay to ‘sponsor’ media. “Digital touches everything we’re doing, from advertising to PR, to direct marketing to promotion,” says Ogilvy Digital CEO Jean-Philippe Maheu.
So, what are both Maheu and Schrier in agreement about? Curation.
It’s a word that gained a lot of traction in the past 12 months as the overarching trends of ubiquitous distribution and mass content creation have emerged as the two headed dragon that may slay media as we know it.
The old model was “one to many” (NBC -> viewers). The new model is “one to a few” (YOU -> your friends and followers). That means there is an overwhelming explosion of content being created (Twitter feeds, blog posts, Flickr photos, Facebook updates) and most of it is interesting to a very small number of people. But, mixed in with this cacophony of consumer content, there is contextually relevant material that needs to be discovered, sorted, and made “brand safe” for advertisers.
Curation is the new role of media professionals.
Separating the wheat from the chaff, assigning editorial weight, and — most importantly – giving folks who don’t want to spend their lives looking for an editorial needle in a haystack a high-quality collection of content that is contextual and coherent. It’s what we always expected from our media, and now they’ve got the tools to do it better.
Yes, that’s right, the future of media is better, not worse. It’s more detailed, multi-faceted and nuanced. And, just more.
For example, take a look at what The Readers Digest Association is doing around the food category. Schrier’s former shop, RDA, owns the title TasteofHome.com, a cooking magazine and website targeted at middle market cooks who are making holiday meals and daily family dinners. They know their readers, their tastes, and their budget. Taste Of Home was making a few videos a week and had produced 200 videos. But that wasn’t enough to make their video offering comprehensive. Today, they have more than 2,800 videos, all good quality, ad safe, and yummy. But they didn’t produce most of them – they curated them. Take a look www.videos.tasteofhome.com.
Curation is the sibling of aggregation, a word that the web has know for a while. Aggregation means gathering; finding all videos with the key words “Easter Supper” in them. But as more devices like cell phones are used to create content (video of a hotel room, a tweet from a rock concert, an audio post from a political protest) gathering no longer adds value. In fact, aggregation can equal aggravation.
In walks the early Curators. Arianna Huffington is a curator. Her ‘Huffington Post’ editorial team picks and chooses what to feature on their home page. Mixing their journalistic editorial work with their hand-picked bloggers and with the best content from around the web. Michael Wolff’s ‘Newser’ is as well. Perhaps the earliest Curator was Matt Drudge with ‘The Drudge Report’.
But today curation is quickly becoming central to what many editorial teams are looking to embrace. The New York Times is curating blog posts from outside sources. And what the Times knows is that content that they validate with their brand and redistribution becomes more valuable, both to readers and to the content creators.
Strangely enough, curation shifts the balance of power back to brands and publications. While anyone can make content, the decision to gather it, and present it by trusted content curators has more risk, and therefore more value.
The trend in video is away from UGV (user-generated video) and toward CVC (curated video content).
Consider the Smith family looking to explore a skiing vacation in Park City, Utah. They could look at videos on YouTube, but the chances are they’d be flooded with videos that included some dangerous behaviour (hot dogging!) and some adult situations (drinking, etc). Certainly that’s not going to be content that either Skiing Magazine or the Park City Resort would want to share with the Smith family. Here comes curation.
The results offer content that is purposefully gathered and presented. While Skiing magazine’s curated content around Park City might have different tenor and content. Says Ogilvy’s Maheu, “This is the most exciting time to be in this business as new opportunities to build brands across new marketing channels appear on the horizon on a daily basis. I’m enthusiastic about the emerging need for Curated Video Content as advertisers begin to embrace content to make their messages more effective.”
The emergence of the Curation Economy creates a greater need for trusted sources, and media companies that heed Schrier’s advice to embrace all media can quickly evolve from single media to multi-media platforms. But it’s likely that the impact will be more far-reaching. Already Magnify.net, the company that I run, has 52,000 channels of curated video. While media companies are building their curation solutions on Magnify.net, they’re being joined by eCommerce companies, established brands, and a new class of content entrepreneurs.
Taste of Home, New York Magazine, Jones Soda, Zappos.tv and Bicycling Magazine are all among the diverse users who see content curation as key to their editorial future. As content creation goes from a professional endeavour to something that average folks can and will engage in, sorting and organising into trusted collections becomes critical.
Take a look at what curated micro-media is likely to look like here; www.Droideo.com. This is a site for and about Google Android phone users. It has 3,500 registered users, and the best collection of Android videos anywhere on the web. Why? Because the site owner curates with care, and visitors return to find polished, focused, relevant content every day. Sounds like media to me.
Steven Rosenbaum has been building and growing consumer-content businesses since 1992. He was the creator and Executive Producer of MTV UNfiltered, a series that was the first commercial application of user-generated video in commercial TV. Eric Schrier is a Former Partner in Ripplewood Holdings, the private equity firm that purchased RDA in 2007. Jean-Philippe Maheu is the CEO of Ogilvy Digital and the former CEO of Razorfish. Both Schrier and Maheu recently joined the Magnify.net Advisory Board.
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