The Loss of Content Distribution: What’s Happening and What Media Companies Can Do


Media companies are beginning to experience something that is akin to a hypothetical zombie apocalypse. As the Internet becomes more mainstream and global, with new populations and devices making their way online, web traffic is waning. There are many newcomers to the digital media market: brands are creating content to promote loyalty and engage their audiences. Independent writers are launching blogs and building their own followings. Audience fragmentation is the new norm, and media companies are struggling to hold on to their audiences.

Meanwhile, the loss of content distribution is inevitable. Technology ecosystems are becoming more mature, and digital audiences have more options than ever when determining where to invest their attention. Media companies shouldn’t fight these natural market forces: instead, they should prepare themselves for inevitable changes that are about to take place. Here’s how.

Come Up with a Long-Term Plan and Strategy

Whatever you do, don’t consider your company immune to the loss of content distribution. Keep in mind that a new, independent publisher may spring up at any time to sweep in and divert your audience’s attention.

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Instead of trying to fight these market forces, figure out how you can build upon your approach to make improvements. Come up with a long-term plan and strategy for your business that covers the following areas:

  • Alternative monetization streams that introduces your media company’s creative value proposition to new markets (i.e. maybe you’ll launch a creative consulting arm like T Brand Studio at The New York Times, which is the media leader’s internal agency).
  • Content products that provide additional layers of monetization (Like HBR’s online store with books, case studies, tools, collections, and magazine issues).
  • Events that bring together your most engaged audiences in an educational forum (like FastCompany’s Innovation Festival).
  • Formal programs that improve community-building and loyalty (like Slate’s vibrant commenting platform).

As enticing as short-term traffic generations may seem, don’t let temptation get in the way of your better instincts. Understand that the long-term needs prioritization now, as the media ecosystem is only going to become more competitive. User behavior data, personalization, and segmentation are becoming increasingly important to publishers’ monetization equations.

Focus on Subtle Optimizations that Make an Immediate Impact

In addition to prioritizing the big picture, it’s important to focus on initiatives that will move the needle and start generating value
now. Media companies are under extreme pressure to carve out new revenue streams with the resources that they already have on hand: they may not have the flexibility to invest in experimental initiatives.

But there are a few low-hanging opportunities to generate a win. And these wins can ultimately fund new research and discovery efforts, giving your media company a lot more flexibility to generate new sources of value. Here are some steps to take:

Make more out of your email lists: Take the time to segment your lists, understand engagement patterns, and pinpoint your most loyal readers. Use this data to create new advertising offerings for your company. Double down on creating great email campaigns in the form of newsletters, exclusive offers, and interesting content.

Use smart calls to action (CTAs): When crafting CTAs, particularly for advertising campaigns, make sure that you focus the subtleties. In other words, you’ll want to reach the right audiences with the right messaging at the right time in their content consumption journeys. As you’re well-aware, this process is easier said than done. That’s why you’ll want to take the preliminary work that you’ve done with your email list to start crafting a segmentation strategy.

Increase on-site engagement: Find ways to keep audiences on your website, longer. A simple way to get started? Create a strong content recommendation system with related articles. Chances are that if someone is researching a topic, he or she will want to read more. Take advantage of the fact that you’ve piqued your audience’s interesting by continuing to deliver more relevant content and creating the most engaging experience possible. Along the way, you’ll create more value for your advertisers by identifying your most popular website elements, themes, and community features.

Uncover Alternative Sources of Revenue

Media companies need to diversify their revenue.

No matter how advanced you are in your strategy, now is an invaluable time to get started in your process. Pay attention to ways that other publishers are introducing new revenue streams. Consider offering courses, premium content, or subscription-only features. Offer sponsored webinars, native ads, and email newsletter offerings. Continuously find new ways to uncover alternative resource of revenue. The engagement-drivers outlined earlier in this article are a good starting point. Pay attention to the following:

  • Organic activity
  • Feature requests from audiences
  • Popular themes and topics
  • Strategic opportunities for advertisers

These four touch points will help you uncover ideas for new products and mechanisms to better engage your audiences. The key is to develop monetization streams around your most engaged audiences and their preferences. This way, you’ll ensure that your revenue streams have an instant customer base.

The Bottom Line

Stop focus on mass-market audiences. Instead, focus on making more out out of your existing audiences. Build products that they’re seeking out, and provide recommendations for more content. Stop fighting an uphill audience-building battle around casting your net wide and reaching mass-market audiences.

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