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Redefining Professional Content and Accepting Digital's Limitations

Scott Karp expands on claims that Hulu is nipping at YouTube’s heels with 10 pointed observations about the future of media. Karp’s full list is recommended reading, but the following points inspired a few thoughts of my own:

1 . Professional content still has A LOT more value than “user-generated content.”

This bodes well for publishers, studios and other companies that have attained professional status, but there’s another aspect that deserves mention: The concept of professional in the digital realm is transforming from exclusive to inclusive.

Under traditional models with limited channels, a professional was someone who achieved a certain title through luck, talent and output; the content produced by these people was deemed professional by default. But digital platforms allow consumers to choose material on their own terms, and with that comes a shift of the professional label from job association to consumer impression. If consumers deem a piece of “user-generated” content to be professional, then it is (to those particular consumers). And if enough consumers assign the same value to the same content, advertisers will eventually get on board. We’re in the very early stages of this professional transition (and the ensuing debate), but I’m excited to see how a reimiagining that includes both traditional companies and upstart professionals plays out.

8. Most analogue media businesses, when fully transitioned to the web, will likely bear little resemblance to the original businesses.

Karp summarizes something that’s been gnawing at me for months: the old models just don’t hold up in the digital world. Distribution went from narrow and expensive to wide and cheap; audiences once limited to specific channels have dispersed across a broad landscape; Web advertising revenue will not replace traditional ad revenue; and, after 10-plus years of Web use, consumers now expect basic digital content to be free. Fighting against these changes delays the inevitable, but acceptance opens up enormous opportunity to build leaner businesses that use content, community and the Web’s efficiences to sell scarce products (i.e. targeted research, consulting, education, events, experiences, and access).

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  • Pete Scisco

    A pragmatist’s point of view: The value proposition isn’t whether consumers consider content “professional,” but rather that they find it “useful.” Now, usefulness arises from an infinite number of questions and concerns and problems that consumers bring to any engagement with content. One of those concerns might be that content is more useful if you can depend on it to work, and that dependablity may in some cases link to professionalism. Many people on the Internet can offer content, but not all of them provide evidence, or exhibit the skill, or come out of a discipline that a consumer can depend on to the extent that he or she is willing to change a practice or adopt a perspective or switch a belief (or willingly suspend belief in the case of fiction or other entertainments) as a means of solving an immediate problem. Professionalism doesn’t arise out of luck or default, although plenty of people wish it did and plenty of others believe that to be true. Aside from engaging with the mechanics of electronically disseminating and distributing their current catalogs, publishers may have to develop new means of measuring usefulness and new ways of presenting that to the public as a service, so that it is “valuable.” My experience tells me that over the last 30 years or so, the publishing business in general pushed those kinds of concerns out of its strategic decison making, its mission, and its vision of itself. (I could be wrong in that belief, but the best thing about beliefs is that they can be wrong and so provide the oppotunity to learn and change.) That gap provides an opportunity for more voices, more conversation, more views — all great stuff that we are seeing on our screens. But still, beneath the noise and flash, readers want answers they can put into action to see if they work, and a good number of them want some way of measuring whether or not an answer works before they waste their time on it. If publishers can figure out how to put themselves back into serving that public need, if they are willing, then perhaps they can not only survive, but thrive.