Why content discovery can’t be solved by blockchain alone
Do you ever think about how much data is online? It’s actually quite staggering. According to IDC, in 2017 there was over 20 zettabytes of data on the internet (~22 trillion GB). That equates to more than 60 billion GB of data being created every single day. And if that’s not astounding enough, here’s another staggering fact, 90% of all online data was created in just the last two years.
Driven by rapid technology advancements like the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain, IDC predicts that by 2025 data will be created at a rate of 463 billion GB/day. Mindboggling!
Today there are ~4 billion people drowning in a deluge of digital data, but still starving for quality content.
But, what if every bit of news content in the world was stored in an ethereal blockchain? How would that help publishers?
+ Content would be immutable. That’s good.
+ Content would be attributable to its creator. Very good.
+ Content would be secure. Even better.
+ Content consumption would be transparent. Great.
+ Content could connect creators with readers. Excellent!
Blockchain has a lot going for it. It’s like the internet was supposed to be 30 years ago. But just like with the web, reaching readers with content they don’t already know about, but would most likely enjoy, will continue to be an ever-growing challenge. Not so good.
Consumption and discovery in 2018
Taking at a look at the state of media consumption in 2018, we can see that it is a good news/bad news story. The good news is that media consumption is on the rise and is expected to continue for years to come.
But the bad news is that ad-supported media consumption is on the decline. And advertising is an important part of most publishers’ business model.
Bottom line — there is a growing desire for quality content, but advertising (which is often intrusive, low quality, and irrelevant) is a deterrent for those looking for media online. But that’s not the only reason why content discovery continues to move away from publishers’ digital properties to alternative sources.
According to Reuter Institutes’ Digital News Report 2017, 65% of people across all markets (73% if you only look at GenY & GenZ) do not go directly to publishers’ websites and apps to discover news.
It’s not that some people won’t end up at publishers’ properties eventually, but the majority of consumers still prefer to discover content through the side door. Why?
• Users of search engines, social media, and other aggregators, on average, experience more content diversity than those who go direct. People want choice.
• These side-door alternatives also help people discover content they might not otherwise see through machine learning that is becoming more and more sophisticated.
• Aggregators, in particular, are becoming more of a destination for news because of their extensive quality content choices and one-stop-shop convenience — especially on mobile where it can be challenging for users to jump between multiple apps and websites.
But whether people are looking for content specifically (via search or aggregators) or through serendipity (social), people prefer side-door discovery because it’s where they are, it’s priced right (often free), it’s recommended by friends/family/influencers they trust, it’s timely, and it’s easy to engage with (e.g. commenting, sharing, referencing).
Most publishers typically don’t offer readers that breadth or depth of discovery or any real sense of community, especially those who slap a paywall in front of the limited content they do offer and those who shun user engagement by banning comments.
Add the growth in social media use, decline in trust of media, and preferences for algorithmic curation of news and it becomes pretty evident that people’s content discovery behavior is not likely going to change any time soon.
I often wonder why more publishers don’t provide a “designed to delight” form of content discovery on all their digital properties. And before you say it, advertising posing as content from the likes of Taboola, Outbrain, and RevContent doesn’t count.
In the early days these “content recommenders” (ad agencies by another name) offered substantial financial guarantees to publishers (some as much as US$1M) to entice them to jump on board — and jump they did.
And despite their claims to deliver a “bestin-class user experience”, these ad agencies really only focus on publishers’ need for revenue and not consumers’ need for quality content experiences — unless, of course, you enjoy seeing creepy display ads follow you around the web. It’s no wonder trust and ad-supported
media consumption is on the decline, and ad blocking continues to rise.
For the past two decades, media executives have blamed the internet for destroying their business. But truth be told, the paid circulation downward spiral had already started many decades earlier when radio hit the airwaves. Since then the relationship between publishers and the people they serve has never been, what one might call, close.
Walter Pincus, a reporter for The Washington Post for 40 years, went so far as to say that newspapers’ narcissism and pursuit of glory was what led to the abandonment of readers.
“My profession is in distress because for more than a decade it has been chasing the false idols of fame and fortune. While engaged in those pursuits, it forgot its readers and the need to produce a commercial product that appealed to its mass audience, which in turn drew advertisers and thus paid for it all. While most corporate owners were seeking increased earnings, higher stock prices, and bigger salaries, editors and reporters focused more on winning prizes or making television appearances.”
Blockchain can only go so far
There are already a number of blockchain startups looking to cure what ails mainstream media, but until our industry starts to fix itself, technology can only go so far.
Some are focusing on solving fair attribution for content creators, others on the US$15+M/ day ad fraud crisis, and a few nonconformists trying to connect people directly with journalists by removing publishers from the equation completely.
And then there are those looking to step back in time and disaggregate content, which I find counter-intuitive. Remember, the common denominators that make social media and aggregators work are that these organizations focus on the user and invest heavily in smart data and machine learning to algorithmically-curate content that creates a more personalized experience for them.
Trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube by disaggregating content is the kind of backward thinking that got publishers in trouble 30 years ago.
Content discovery in the future
One would be hardpressed to argue that most media execs detest aggregators, but the data shows that people love all that it offers them — choice, algorithmic curation, personalization, and convenience.
Which is why I believe that content aggregation will be the foundation of a new, more profitable future for newspapers and magazines. But it needs one more thing — massive, intelligent industry consolidation.
We all know consolidation is inevitable and, done right, it will help purge commodity news, low-value journalism, and bad advertising — leaving behind high-quality content (both editorial and advertorial) that’s easy and convenient to discover, consume, share, and reference.
Intelligent consolidation + aggregation can:
• Create new opportunities for content discovery by high-value audiences who desire highvalue journalism
• Retain the interest of people longer because they’ll get the right content, at the right time, through the right channels, at the right price
• Grow loyalty and engagement between consumers, content creators, and quality brands that sponsor access for people
• Generate more revenue than what publishers recognize today
We must live by the golden rule
Blockchain is a great place to aggregate the world’s best media for a hungry global audience. But, and this is a huge but, for this to work, consolidated media executives must recognize that, despite their best-laid plans, new technologies like blockchain will continue to create more value for people than it will for businesses.
The internet overturned the power pyramid three decades ago, putting consumers at the top. Our industry either refused to accept that, or just chose to ignore it. Either way, it’s paid a very dear price for that arrogance.
To pave a new way forward the behaviors and attitudes of our industry, shared by Mr. Pincus, must radically change.
Because all those abandoned readers now own the gold and, like it or not, they rule.
Preferred Gateway to News Content (all markets)