Last week, Cablevision-owned Newsday made its full content accessible only to subscribers. Bloomberg News is considering charging up to $1,000 a year for some of its online content. And Rupert Murdoch wants all of his newspapers to charge for content beginning next year, although he’s now admitting it may not happen as quickly as he hoped.
None of this paywall stuff makes any sense to Jeff Gralnick, special consultant to NBC News for Internet and New Technology. He spoke at the same conference in Beijing where Murdoch, in his keynote address, put “aggregators and plagiarists” on notice about co-opting media content.
In his talk, Gralnick said the questions facing the media now are obvious: How to get the news out on multiple platforms in order to survive, without going broke in the process.
Some still are convinced that a way will be found to get new media news users to pay for access. Micropayments are talked about now. Pay-to-post for bloggers is another model being talked up.
But while some will disagree—and here I find myself dangerously at odds with the estimable Mr. Murdoch–I am convinced the web has become so democratized that its user expect that content and access to it will be free. And when faced with charges, those users will another source that is free. And if you engineer a work-around, some smart 12-year-old will find a way to work around that.
Gralnick told the World Media Summit that the reason the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times make money online is because they offer “have- to-have niche content.” Many other attempts to charge for content have failed, including New York Times Select, and pay-to-see models for video on abcnews.com and cnn.com.
So free is the answer, I am convinced. And that takes acceptance of that as reality and then a marriage of strong brands; smart technology; creation of new and repurposing of smart user-useful content; and a multi-platform push to achieve scale that turns pennies into dollars.
Gralnick said he’s not just predicting that this approach can work; he says it’s working now at MSNBC.com, where all content is free and supported by advertising. According to Nielsen, it’s the leading news Web site in the United States and it makes money.
More than a billion pages a month now and all produce revenue. More than 150-million video streams each month and most are preceded by pre-rolls. Some with CPMs approaching those available for TV spots.
It is famously successful and nicely profitable –and NBC has added to that access to content on a variety of mobile platforms that grow scale and produce additional revenues.
Yes, these additional efforts don’t generate much income on their own, but in the aggregate, Gralnick said, “you are talking about greater scale and added dollars being made—in the main—with repurposed content.”
To survive, he said, news organizations have to be flexible and aggressive, while sticking with an ad-supported free strategy and pushing content onto every platform available. Gralnick’s advice: “Think small, but in a very big way.”