Tech by VICE

The Digital Media Bloodbath Isn't Happening

We were told a digital media bloodbath was coming. Instead, two new powerhouses joined the content farm industry.

by Carles Buzz
Jun 3 2016, 4:00pm

Image: Shutterstock

If you read media coverage of the media, this year was supposed to be a bloodbath. A great consolidation was coming to purge the excess content created during the content rush. Only a select few new media companies would get to play alongside legacy media companies, or get acquired by them. Many companies would eventually fail, because it was impossible to monetize the infinite scale of content farms. Forget about launching a new site doing the same thing that all of these other sites are doing.

I was surprised when the Hive, presented by Vanity Fair, AND Bill Simmons' new site The Ringer launched this week. There's no way you could bring two new silos of content to market and expect them to succeed where others are allegedly failing. The idea that these two new #newmedia outlets can push their content into a world with too much content must tell us something. So much for the hundreds of reported jobs lost in the media industry this year.

It's obvious that these aren't exactly independent media projects despite having self-proclaimed bold, independent missions that differentiate them from all content across all platforms. What do these two new verticals have that can keep them afloat? Here are a few theories that could clarify their rise above the digital media river of blood.

Investors still believe in the value of media, or at least funding a vanity project.

After learning that Hulk Hogan's attorney's fees were bankrolled by billionaire Peter Thiel in the Bollea v. Gawker case, it reinvigorates the idea that media only exists because powerful people want it to exist. Forget about the era of infinitely scaling your media company to make money. Instead, if you brand yourself as 'independent' and seeking autonomy, you may find an angel investor who allows you to run as a non-profit. This solves all of the problems with new media.

Deadspin's was one of the only media outlets that attempted to put together a plausible theory for the funding of The Ringer. With almost 50 staffers, Deadspin rationalizes that the site has to have funds siphoned from Bill Simmons himself, diverted podcast revenue, an agreement with HBO, or a third party investor. We shouldn't be thinking about new media as some sort of formula that needs to be figured out and properly monetized. There are people who want it to exist for the betterment of society, according to their own beliefs.

Every publisher has poorly identified what content verticals should be tied together.

Vanity Fair's The Hive covers "business, technology, and politics, and the egos at play in each." They make the argument that power in all of these realms is now overlapping. Similarly, The Ringer has been compared to Grantland with more politics and tech coverage in their content verticality. In an election year, having political coverage is a 'must,' but when it comes to covering tech, it gives your publishing brand an 'in' to the connective tissue of humanity. Basically, you can cover anything and throw it under 'tech' anyways.

Maybe the newest realm of content must connect verticals in ways that we did not think were imaginable. Content farms should be thinking about hybridizing more content areas, adding a new pitch to investors and advertisers. Instead of thinking of a content company as a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, content gurus must find a way to make a stuffed crust pizza gordita wrap and feed it to their readership.

Only a platform like Medium knows how the future of text-based web content will look, and be monetized.

Medium has made its platform available to independent publishers, allowing content farms to focus on what they do best—creating content. Instead of worrying about SEO, Google Amp configuration, email list curation, and all of the other issues with running a media company, publishers that utilize Medium can focus on creating compelling content and building their audience. Besides The Ringer, more independent publishers like The Awl and Pacific Standard have joined Medium.

Medium touts a 'hassle-free CMS,' the mega-platform touts its vast network of readers that will be referred to relevant content on the platform. The pro will seek to connect publishers with native advertising opportunities, which will appear as 'Promoted Posts' beneath content.

Instead of thinking of a content company as a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, content gurus must find a way to make a stuffed crust pizza gordita wrap

Right now, it looks like Medium sites are creating a version of the premium text web without familiar columns and the ad zones that populate them. They let publishers own their own content. To me, it reminds me of a contemporary Blogger platform, which is owned by Google. You can let users and publishers make content, allowing them to scale without any worry.

The Ringer and Vanity Fair's The Hive have found a way to make money off the multiplatform distribution model.

It's no surprise that The Ringer has a launch prominently sponsored by Miller Lite. The Hive calls BMW and Simola its launch sponsors. The Hive doesn't exactly feel like old media, despite being a tentacle of Conde Nast. Similarly, The Ringer doesn't exactly feel like traditional new media despite Bill Simmons' independent brand that has been on the internet for over a decade.

This middle ground might be middle-aged media, a solution that mixes the influence of establishment with the required novelty of a project to be considered 'fresh.' The spirit of reinvention can catch the ears of advertisers who have actually grown tired of not knowing where to put their money. Something new by an old friend might be the solution.

These websites aren't doing anything particularly new, but they have taught us that the distributed content model can be monetized if you have the right friends to monetize it.

Life on the Content Farm is a weekly column about internet media written by Carles, the last relevant blogger.