Can a Hulu-Like Play Save the Newspaper Industry?

I was re-thinking about my recent blog post about the importance of Hulu for the TV industry.  A strong “national” brand unifying various media players under the same umbrella while allowing individual players to have their own unique “brands”. For example, you can find The Colbert Report on Hulu but you can also find it on the Comedy Central site.  You can find it on CBS’ TV.com also (powered by Hulu) and on DailyMotion (via an agreement with Comedy Central). You can possibly find illegal versions on other video sites and illegal copies on torrent sites as well. In Canada, you’ll find Colbert on the CTV site.

So, having a “national” hub that aggregates content from, what common sense would call, “competing” players doesn’t prevent other “national” and “regional” brands to co-exist with the same content and it allows TV networks to compete on an equal footing with “national” video portals like YouTube. That works as long as industry players have a stake and a say in the evolution of the “national” hub, and that’s the case with Hulu.

Seemingly unrelated, Google just announced that they were pulling the plug on their Print Ads initiative (where Google was reselling newspaper advertising to their network of advertisers). Many people were watching and hoping this might help support print newspaper ad revenues. It was clearly not going anywhere.  Google said in their announcement “We believe fair and accurate journalism and timely news are critical ingredients to a healthy democracy. We remain dedicated to working with publishers to develop new ways for them to earn money, distribute and aggregate content and attract new readers online.” Yahoo! also has agreements with newspapers to help them monetize their online traffic via a unified ad platform called APT. This seems to be going well but again, newspapers don’t necessarily control their destiny in that agreement.

Now, this got me thinking about the newspaper industry ecosystem in general. Players in this space usually compete with other “regional” players offline (New York Times, New York Post, etc.) but are also competing against “national” brands online, usually aggregators (for example, Google News). I just realized that…

TV industry challenges = Newspaper industry challenges!

I believe it might be time to build a new national brand and platform in the newspaper industry. A “Hulu for news” that integrates national and local news from all major newspaper outlets in the US, citizen journalism content and social media tools. A startup that’s staffed with the most web-savvy new media people, that understand where traditional media comes from and where it’s going but that are not locked in old paradigms. Other interesting technologies for that venture would be the Topix.com platform and content and the Oodle national classifieds platform. This initiative would allow syndicating of news and ad content through widgets and APIs. Content could be displayed on “local” newspaper sites and re-syndicated to smaller sites. I’ve read somewhere about similar past initiatives that failed (can’t find the source now) as offline competition was creating too much of a hurdle for anyone to align. But I think the industry might be at that critical juncture point where they absolutely need to agree to cooperate online while competing offline. Who will take the leadership of this initiative?

Update: Jemima Kiss from the Guardian says “if newspapers start thinking like startups, they might just have a chance.” I agree.

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Silobreaker: The Future of Online News?

Found Silobreaker this morning via Doc Searls blog. It’s a news aggregator with a semantic layer on top. It also has a very interesting user interface, makes me feel like it’s a newspaper from the year 2015.

Silobreaker home page

According to their web site, “Silobreaker is an online search service for news and current events that delivers meaning and relevance beyond traditional search and aggregation engines. Its relational analysis and explanatory graphics provide users with unparalleled contextual insight into the news stories of the day. More than a news aggregator, Silobreaker provides relevance by looking at the data it finds like a person does. It recognises people, companies, topics, places and keywords; understands how they relate to each other in the news flow, and puts them in context for the user.” This page explains the technology behind their engine.

I especially like the semantic tools that help the readers make sense of the showcased news. The “network” helps you explore the relations between entities, the “Hotspots” feature allows exploration at a geo-location level, and “Trends” graphs the evolution of certain keywords in time.

Network

For example, explore news about “facebook” through the various keywords attached. Pretty cool!

What it means: one of the big challenges of the future will be making sense of the deluge of news information found on the Web. I think Silobreaker is a step in the right direction. There’s definitely a need for some improvements to make it really useful to me as a news junkie. Right now, it feels too much like one of those hypernational news sources (CNN, New York Times, etc.). Those sites already do a good job of aggregating top of the news information. I’d love to be able to save a specific country or region as my default page and I would like to be able to quickly drill down from the home page to various topics/sub-regions. Wouldn’t this tool be amazing from a hyperlocal point of view, especially the network search? Being able to see the various relationships in your own neighborhood news! Can someone do a mashup between Topix and Silobreaker?

Why Topix Introduced User-Generated Content

I love that slide coming from Chris Tolles‘ Web 2.0 Summit presentation. Tolles is the CEO of Topix, a well-known hyperlocal news aggregator. It clearly shows why Topix decided to allow user-generated content in their site back in April.

Web2Summit Topix Chris Tolles

In it, he tries to extrapolate the number of daily local news stories coming out of traditional media outlets (newspapers, radio and local TV) and comes up with a grand total of 22,293. Given that there are about 43,000 zip codes in the US, this means every zip code gets 0.5 stories per day on average. Not much if you’re trying to build zip-code driven news aggregator. Smart move.

Topix Relaunches and Embraces Citizen Journalism; TF1 Does the Same in France

Via Mathew Ingram’s blog:

Topix, the local news aggregator that is owned by several big U.S. newspaper chains (Gannett, The Tribune and McClatchy), is doing what amounts to a relaunch of the site and adding “citizen journalism” or social media to the mix, as well as moving to a dot-com domain (it used to be dot-net). Founder and CEO Rich Skrenta — who describes on his personal blog how this came out of an attempt to “de-suckify” the site — has a blog post at Topix about the changes, and says: “We’re now inviting members from our hyperlocal communities to take over the controls and help us edit the news.” (…)

Skrenta says that Topix is getting about 37,000 posts a day, and the site was looking for a way of featuring the top 1 to 5 per cent of those contributions that actually add something to the story. Now, anyone can submit a story, or facts about a story, or an opinion, or cellphone photos, and they will be handled by what amounts to an editor. (…)

At the same time, my friend Philippe Martin sends me this news about TF1 (one of the top TV networks in France). On their 1pm newscast, they will ask viewers to send them local videos using the Wat.tv site (also owned by TF1), which might afterward appear on TV.

What it means: newspapers and TV news organizations are starting to clue in on the importance of hyperlocal news and citizen journalism. It is a key success factor for them in the future.

Why Newspapers Don’t Own the Local Search Space

Interesting discussion spanning many blogs in the last few days. Subject: why newspapers don’t own the local search space even though they have very rich content.

  1. Rich Skrenta (from Topix.net) discusses the fact that newspapers have very poor search engine optimization for their sites: “Newspapers have a lot of great content, really high quality stuff that cost them a lot of money to develop. Users would love to come across this content, when appropriate. Google would even like to help users find that content, since the users will be happier. But often technical best practices aren’t being followed with the CMS (content management software) and the valuable content fields lie fallow.”
  2. Greg Linden (founder of Findory.com) commenting on Rich’s post says: “Newspapers have remarkable content on businesses and events in their communities. They should be the authoritative source for local. They should be the experts on their communities and reap the traffic from searchers seeking that expertise.”
  3. Don Dodge (from Microsoft) commenting on Greg’s post: “Newspapers have the best local content for local restaurants, movie reviews, local business, school sports, and should be the first search result for any local search. They are not. I think they don’t (own local) because they don’t think globally. They don’t think about how to make their valuable content friendly to search engines.”
  4. Rob Hyndman says: “Newspapers shouldn’t own local search. The problem for newspapers, obviously, is that what used to be an information issue (”what’s going on / where is this thing for sale / what’s a good Italian restaurant / where is the nearest hardware store?”) is becoming a technology issue, and they’re not technologists..
  5. Matthew Ingram (from the Globe & Mail) thinks that: “(Newspapers) can certainly do a heck of a lot better than they are now.”

Update: Ben Saren from CitySquares.com discusses this post in the context of his venture.

What it means: Don added a great comment at the end of his post: “Local search is a huge opportunity. The local newspapers are in a great position to own it…but they don’t. The Yellow Pages could own it online, but they don’t. The big search engines could own it too…but they don’t. It is one of the last great online markets up for grabs.” I agree. I’m a firm believer that every stakeholder in this space owns an important piece of the puzzle but no one has been able to crack the code so far. Win-win partnerships and/or acquisitions are the way to go (full disclosure: I piloted the agreement between Google and Yellow Pages Group when Google Maps Canada was launched). In addition, I think the addition of SEO experts in large media companies is a must (one of my 2007 predictions). Finally, the market is still very much fragmented and a large portion of the local conversation has yet to be captured online. I think we’re still seeing the tip of the iceberg and the next 3 to 5 years will be very exciting!

User-Generated Content: Recap of 2006 and What to Expect in 2007

This article by Bambi Francisco in MarketWatch recaps 2006 and sets the stage for 2007 in terms of the impact of user-generated content:

“Given our obsession with users, and ourselves, I’ve highlighted what will be in demand or wanted in 2007 as the audience is increasingly relied upon as the voice, the experts, the supporting actors and/or virtual stars of tomorrow. These bottoms-up celebrities combined with traditional top-down stars will increasingly dominate the new media landscape of 2007.

Wanted: Your contribution

The concept of a wiki — a site that essentially enables egalitarian editing and collaboration of everyone from experts to novices — has been around for many years. The best-known example is Wikipedia, an encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Today, Wikipedia has 725 million page views per month, up more than 400% from last year, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. And, the beauty of Wikipedia is that it has about 6 employees. This year, the wiki model exploded to the point that now a book is being written in wiki style. Barry Libert is spearheading the first book project to be written in such a manner. (…)

Wanted: Your expertise

“Everyone is an expert [in something],” according to Richard Rosenblatt, who was the former chairman of MySpace and who sold the social network to News Corp last year for $580 million. Today, Rosenblatt is heading up Demand Media, which he calls a new media site. Demand Media is looking for professional, expert content on any topic since the core of its strategy is to start with trusted, professional content and then provide the tools to let people contribute related content or opinions. Some of Demand Media’s sites that use expert commentary include eHow, trails.com, gardenguides.com and golflink.com.

Yahoo Answers is probably the most popular of services that rely on volunteer experts to give people answers to their questions. (…) Yahoo Answers, which now has 60 million users and 160 million answers, marked its one-year anniversary in early December. Those answers helped drive Yahoo Answers traffic from practically zero in November 2005 to 14.5 million this November, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. In a survey conducted by Yahoo Answers and Harris Interactive, a third of online adults have used a Q&A site. (…)

Wanted: Your opinions and comments

About 30% of online news site Topix.net comes from user-generated or reader comments. That’s expected to jump to about 50% next year, Topix.net’s CEO Rich Skrenta tells me. Take a look across the blogosphere and you’ll note that comments make up a large part of the content.

Wanted: Your history

User-generated content can come in the form of a users’ history. As long as people can know your history, it can help form recommendations that drive sales of products, movie rentals, or news articles. In the past, roughly 5% of Amazon‘s book sales came from recommendations, as estimated by analysts. According to Netflix members select approximately 60 percent of their movies based on movie recommendations tailored to their individual tastes.

Wanted: Your reviews, ratings

It all started with ePinions back in the late ’90s. It was a site that thrived on users giving their opinions about sundry topics. Now, reviews and ratings are not only everywhere, they’re essential in influencing what we buy, where we eat, and what we read. They’ve become a great filtering process. They’re the reason sellers are trusted on eBay. They’re the reason local restaurants which are reviewed by users on Yelp.com get new clients. They’re the reason we read certain articles from across the Web, thanks to Digg.com, which relies on users to vote for articles they like by submitting it.

Wanted: Your profiles and journals

We live in an age where what we do, and who we are, is the news. That became clearer to me after Facebook decided to make any update on a users’ profile become a news feed. While the service wasn’t very popular when announced, I think the millennial generation will get used to it. Profiles of every day people make up the social network sites — the fastest-growing sites — on the Web. News Corp’s MySpace, with 115 million members creating the content with their own profiles, saw page views and unique visitors more than double in November. Microsoft’s Windows Live Spaces, which has 70 million members creating profiles, also saw its unique visitors and page views more than double last month.

Wanted: Your video creations

NBC is integrating user-submitted videos, such as favorite pets and wedding woes. They’ll be videos that are family-oriented, said Mark Moore, founder and CEO of One True Media, the technology company hosting the user-submitted videos. Mixing user-submitted video and traditional content will become a bigger deal in 2007.

What it means: this is a great summary of the major pillars of user-generated content. Still looking for a good New Year’s resolution? Make sure you open the conversation with your users. They want to tell you something!