Content Reclaiming the Throne
"Content is king!" went the battle cry from the early days of the Web. A decade later, with the dotcom bust a distant bad memory and Web 2.0 reinvigorating the online world, content is once again the focus of attention. The attention of some very big and surprising players, it should be noted.
User-generated video has, of course, the hottest buzz at the moment. This buzz has caught the eye of advertisers, eager to find new ways to attract viewers who ignore TV commercials and popup ads. An Atlanta-based ad agency called ViTrue is developing a model for selling customer-created ads, to "enable major brands to leverage customer creativity to produce more relevant and engaging ads, at lower production and distribution costs." To do this, ViTrue has acquired a controlling interest in the video sharing site Sharkle.
The way ViTrue sees it, everyone wins: the client gets a low-cost ad that raises its visibility in in a hard-to-reach demographic, consumers see something that's both informative and entertaining, and would-be video producers get their work showcased. The strategy has its risks -- the viral video craze could die down, or viewers could get jaded quickly -- but with the market for online video advertising expected to reach $640 million in the US alone by 2007, it's a risk advertisers have to take.
Companies like ViTrue aren't the only ones embracing content these days. No less a player than Microsoft has announced its entry into the content creation space. While hardly a stranger in this area -- Microsoft launched Slate and MSNBC back in the Web 1.0 days, and Bill Gates said in early 1996, "Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet" -- Microsoft appears to be once again making content development and advertising key priorities. Said CEO Steve Ballmer in a May 4 meeting with advertisers, "We think the desire for people to read online and the desire you have to communicate online actually exceeds the good inventory that's available out there today."
Microsoft's approach appears to center around beefing up its MSN network by, among other things, acquiring UK-based game developer Lionhead Studios and online advertising firm Massive Inc. Some speculate that Microsoft may also purchase a stake in some of the Internet TV startups, or even in an established media powerhouse like Time Warner.