Hollywood Writers Want Streaming Viewership Data. It Will Change Everything Forever.
A decade after blowing up journalism, the data revolution is ready for its close-up.
On the first day, God created journalism.
On the second day, He created the internet.
On the third day, these two creations coexisted peacefully.
On the fourth day, however, they began to bump into each other.
The first way the internet significantly impacted the journalism industry was the Craigslist effect. Newspapers had enjoyed huge revenues from classifieds, and then Craigslist came along and completely destroyed that revenue stream. There was no upside for journalism publications. It just massively hurt the business model.
On the fifth day, the blogs rose up.
The blogosphere showed that there was a large group of people interested in discussions about the news online, and it hinted that that group was possibly larger than the group of people who actually read the news itself.
It also marked the beginning of the aggregation economy and the nationalization of news. Neither of these developments were good for journalism’s bottom line.
And, by empowering the reader media critic, it also, to a very minor extent, was when the internet began to have an editorial effect on news.
On the sixth day, social media made landfall.
The number of people consuming the news increased dramatically, but the value of that readership to the publications was sharply lower than ever before and would continue to decline. At this point, that trend wasn’t new, but it accelerated as Facebook and Google gobbled up the ad market.
But more readers was a bright spot! Since each one was worth less and less, though, you had to make it up with scale. This marked the really big way the internet began to influence the editorial side of the journalism industry.
This race for readers also came at a moment when the digital tools to measure audience behavior were improving dramatically. The data revolution of newsrooms began. The internet told you what people were reading with much greater specificity than had ever been possible in the print world. This massively affected the types of stories that people were assigned and the ways in which those stories were told. There evolved an endless supply of new ways to optimize content for readers.
Since reader behavior is similar across platforms and mediums, earlier assumptions about how people consumed print editions were cast in doubt. Or, to put it another way, the LA Times discovered that not only was no one reading their dance critic’s reviews, but no one had probably ever been reading them.
This led to massive layoffs and the elimination of zillions of editorial roles.
It is sort of a live question whether this was good. There are not a lot of good business reasons for spending resources on things that no one is consuming. But there are some. And there may be many good journalistic reasons for it. The problem with the Chartbeat-ification of everything is that it created a race to the bottom where everyone started to cover the exact same things in the exact same ways.
But it wasn’t all terrible. New readers, though worth pennies on the dollar, were at least something. The composition of the newsroom changed, but for the first time in a while, you could squint and see a way that many publications could survive.
The influx of readers from Facebook and Google was not actually putting these companies in the black, but it represented promise. If, one day, publications could really figure out how to monetize those readers, they’d be doing great. At many digital-only startups, this was exactly the sort of thing that VCs loved to hear. But even outside of that world, even in the hallowed halls of the oldest journalism institutions in America, the people in charge were also susceptible to their own version of that hope. The top of the funnel was full, so they just needed to work to move them through to the bottom. Some places ultimately were very successful at this (NYT), but most others failed horribly.
There are a lot of reasons why it happened, but eventually, the whole proposition fell apart as social media traffic fell back to earth.
On the seventh day, a lot of people rested because they were out of work.
The Hollywood Version
A version of this is currently happening in Hollywood. Just replace “social media companies” with “streaming services.”
More people in aggregate consuming content but with less intentionality? Check.
Those people being worth less revenue? Check.
The illusive promise of scale? Check.
Check check check.
All of this has happened or is happening.
But one thing that seems soon to happen is the data.
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