Web Devaluation: What to Do When 'More Isn't More Anymore'
I found myself annoyed last week by all the Web chatter about Super Bowl ads and the return of the TV show "Community." For a few days it seemed like the entire globe was either analyzing commercials or celebrating the fact that an offbeat show with a hip imprimatur was starting a new season.
Don't get me wrong; I watched the Super Bowl, and I like "Community." I don't blame Ad Age, Paste, Forbes, MediaPost, Huffington Post, Slate, and all the rest for running these stories, nor I am about to hold forth on the inanity of spending so much intellectual capital on Bar Refaeli's kissing a nerd, or Troy not kissing Abed.
No, I blame myself. Or rather, I know it's by my choice, because, for work and personal reasons, these are the feeds I follow. It used to be that we would only read about a show like "Community" once, probably in the entertainment section of our local paper. Now we allow ourselves to be inundated by prodigious coverage of every cultural event, major or minor. Because everything is always everywhere, all at once, the innocuous can easily seem overblown and overhyped.
This ubiquity has economic consequences, too. In his recent excellent piece for Reuters, Ryan McCarthy worries about media's "massive oversupply problem." Exploding online content has not yet baked a bigger economic pie, as we all hoped it would. While not exactly a zero-sum game, online revenues, as we are all aware, are still nowhere close to matching what used to be earned by print. Every bit of that new digital content potentially creates space for a display ad; it also, as McCarthy notes, drags down prices for those ads. Mobile, he says, is only making the problem worse.
McCarthy offers a few potential solutions to this conundrum, such as BuzzFeed's building custom ads to draw more eyeballs. I'm reminded of the recent discussion, in the wake of the Manti Teo revelation on Deadspin, of how websites can better capitalize on sudden spikes in viewership. The answer to the devaluation problem seems to lie in good data and tools that allow publishers to respond quickly to take advantage of revenue opportunities online, more home-grown creative to support custom ad buys for display or (carefully planned and executed) native ad strategies, as well as—for some—paywalls and other forms of tiered access.
And what about the hype fatigue? Deadspin reminds us that it's still possible for a well-researched, explosive news story to make the publisher who broke the story be a part of the news. The massive coverage in the aftermath of the fake girlfriend revelations only heightened Deadspin's profile, as it remained the much-cited, go-to source for the story. So maybe part of the answer lies in good old-fashioned journalism: tell a story right, tell it best, and the teeming masses will beat a path to your door. If they're not tired of hearing about it already.