On Wednesday, April 24, 2013, OLC attended Content Conversations featuring Eddy Moretti, CCO of Vice; Chris Warren of Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance of Australia; Jeff Bercovici of Forbes; moderated by Yaron Galai, Outbrain’s CEO. The topic was about the fate of journalism and where it stands today.
The first question asked by Yaron Galai was about the tragic events that occurred in Boston. “Where were you getting your news?” Galai asked the panel.
“I was watching it on CNN, but at one point, I switched over to Fox News, then I switched back. I mean, I was following the events on Twitter the whole time, but I was mostly focused on CNN,” Jeff Bercovici said. Galai emphasized Bercovici’s presence on a social media platform while watching traditional news media. Eddy Moretti mentioned that he got his information from The Guardian.
“What was the source you trusted most?” Galai asked.
“I trusted the people around me, actually. People were actually asking if they could wait boarding the plane to get as much information as they possibly could,” Moretti said.
Galai asked why we consume Twitter all the time. “We don’t trust it as much as we do news media,” Galai said.
“A story like this creates a lot of anxiety. Cable news creates the illusion of us learning something new, but really, we’re not,” Bercovici said.
“It’s less packaged than media. All the Tweets are given a dark and mysterious feeling,” Moretti joked. “It was remarkable. On Twitter, you get a ton of content that’s unedited. You give a lot of leeway with what is the truth.”
“This story has absorbed all forms of media. Within a matter of an hour, people knew the basic details. It took over media, both new and old,” Chris Warren said. Moretti agreed with Warren, stating that the amount of information snowballed, which he declared as good for digital media, but bad for traditional media outlets as they had to preface every bit of information with previous events, bogging down the speed at which breaking news was presented.
“Twitter is great for diversifying sources,” Bercovici said. “The problem is feeding new formation and differentiating between them.”
Galai asked the panel about what the most legitimate way of providing transparency is. Moretti answered trust. “Trust is directly related to your business decisions. If not, it makes trust meaningless. I think for news brands, it’s about trust. It’s different for scripted or sports media brands. The idea behind news media is, ‘I’m showing you the world,’ so trust is integral.”
The next question was about monetizing their platforms.
“I mean, we try to do it in any way we can,” Moretti said. “We realized video is expensive to product. Display media is not going to power a video channel. The volume has to be astronomical. It’s syndicating video to other channels and curated content. On VICE, we have the luxury of saying we can keep stories relatively brand-free. What we did is develop a bunch of verticals—subchannels—and these places are safer for the brand and safer for us to publish brand involvement. Oddly, we have strict ‘church and state’ on our parent site, but not so much with our subchannels.”
“Would you write a branded story?” Galai asked Bercovici.
“No, not with Forbes,” he answered. “Our revenue comes from advertising. Everyone controls their contribution page. About 12 brands have their own pages and they have the same privileges as contributors, but they’re labeled sponsored content.”
“Everything changes. What we’re finding out is that people are becoming brands themselves,” Moretti said.
“Hardly anyone has an obligation to characterize what’s important. Journalism is always going to be a subsidized business. It takes us longer to sort out our limitations,” Warren said. Moretti added that the word he was looking for was clarity. “Blurring is wrong,” he said. “For a news brand, blurring is bad. I think it should be avoided.” Warren reminded Moretti that it happens in radio all the time. Radio DJs, while sources of information, also spew advertisements.
“I think the reason people are bothered by sponsored content is because people are reading very differently on the web. Their attention is much more fragmented,” Bercovici said.
“The phenomenology of reading—that real estate has been labeled the most valuable—and it’s because of this fragmented mindset, it’s different in a news brand. That feed is supposed to be brand-free,” Moretti said.
“Does sponsored content steal the brand voice?” Galai asked.
“No, not really,” Bercovici said. “As a Forbes writer, it doesn’t matter to me. I think the conversation has shifted a lot after The Atlantic’s scientology-sponsored piece.”
“We have successfully navigated brand-sponsored content to verticals, which it belongs. We’ve managed to protect the core VICE brand. These brands actually didn’t want to be part of the VICE brand. They wanted the audience, but didn’t want to be part of us,” Moretti said.
Galai asked Moretti what VICE’s biggest story was.
“I think the original story on North Korea, stuff on Liberia and the documentary on Iraq were all big hits. A lot of the verticals exist to kickback funds for the mother brand so we can create more documentaries. The A1 content stories are the ones that create the audience for us,” he said.
Galai brought up the question of using a paywall—using Netflix and traditional newspapers on the digital space as examples.
Bercovici thought that for the Forbes brand, a paywall would not be work as it would be “antithetical to our brand.” However, Moretti had a different view. “I’m definitely looking at it as an option for the future. For us to be creating this kind of quality product, it’s a herculean feat. If we had the option of offsetting the price, we could downsize some of the verticals and focus on our documentaries. I’m happily behind paywalls,” he said.
Galai directed a question at Warren. “You’re not in the news business, but what do you think about paywalls—how do they work for monetized news?” he asked. Warren answered that paywalls work to hold up the newspaper. “It’s doing it very effectively,” he said.
“The internet is wrong,” Moretti declared. “There was a paid service model—AOL was a subscription model—and content was free. It’s got to change. There has to be a new model,” he said.
Galai asked if anyone monitored metrics for their websites, much to the audience’s delight.
Bercovici conceded that they knew it better than most of the news organizations. Warren said that the trick for media organizations is to understand its responsibilities to perform its duties and maintain their brand.
“It’s important for entertainment brands to not fall into metrics because they’ll create the same content all the time. At the end of the day, the only way to create brand-generated content is with CPM. You need to give your advertisers scorecards. I’d hate to see a day when we have to do that,” Moretti said.
“Regarding affiliate links, I believe that we could absolutely do that,” Bercovici said. “I don’t know if we do that already and I think that we have a bit of content that can fit in with affiliate links. The best thing about commerce content is that it gives value to vendors, readers and the brand.”
“As brands become more and more like publishers, are brands becoming agencies?” Galai asked.
“David Darr said VICE is the best post-agency model. We had to hybridize our company, but we’re a media organization with specialties that’s bumping up audience and content. Some see us as doing something great, some see us as a threat. We just want to make content,” Moretti said.
“I think publishers, to compete with agencies is basically Wikipedia with our hands tied behind our backs. It works—it scales for agencies because they have clients. Besides, the editorial side is not supposed to talk to advertisers,” Bercovici said.