The tension between commerce and content in media, news and entertainment was the subject of today’s Gotham Media Breakfast. The collapse of traditional media models have blurred what was until recently considered the “church and state” separation between the editorial and business sides of the media industry. The panes discussion, held at the New York law firm of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, featured:

Rick Kurnit (Moderator) – Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz

Glenn Hall – Managing Editor, TheBlaze.com; Fmr. SVP and Editor-in-Chief, TheStreet.com; Frm Chief Innovation Officer, The Orange County Register; Fmr. Managing Editor (Washington) Bloomberg News

Eason Jordan – General Manager, NowThisNews; Fmr. Exec in Charge of Newsgathering, CNN

Scott Kurnit – CEO, Keep.com

Robert Rasmussen – Chief Creative Officer, Story Worldwide

Rebecca Sanhueza – Vice President & Deputy General Counsel, Director of Business Affairs, TV and Video at Time Inc.

The  content and commerce dilemma facing the media, as described by Glenn Hall, is that there is an “abundance and ubiquity” of media. So much content is available free of charge that it is difficult for media properties to acquire and aggregate the viewers that attract advertisers. Both Hall and NowThisNews’ Eason Jordan laid out the business models, including ads, subscription and sponsored content (aka native or content marketing). Thus far, none have proven to be entirely satisfactory. Eason Jordan stressed the importance of serving audiences, especially in an era of so much choice. It’s the reason that Now This News does not run pre-rolled advertising before its video clips.

Hall mentioned that the “right of center” media company “The Blaze” had met with good success with sponsored content. He singled out a series on guns, saying that the editorial content had not been subject to sponsor review. Scott Kurnit, the CEO of Keep.com took issue with this characterization, saying that any type of sponsored content represented a case of advisers trying to “trick” readers or viewers into confusing advertising and objective, editorial content. Kurnit said that advertising itself could and should be content. True, he is the CEO of Keep.com which does just that. He also pointed to the example of HSN and QVC as pure advertising sites.

Kurnit went on to say that he was not optimistic about the prospects for media companies that rely on traditional advertising models. He said that the future was not bright for companies like Time Inc. that produce great editorial content but can no longer depend on traditional print advertising. Before firing back, Time, Inc. Deputy General Counsel Rebecca Sanhueza joked that the second half of the discussion could be turned into a job networking session. She went on to say that there will always be an audience for great content. The discussion then turned to subscription models that have been successful in financing quality, in-depth journalism. Sanhueza  commented that consumers often buy lifestyle and fashion magazines like In Style at least in part for their ads. That in those cases advertising truly is perceived to be content.

Rob Rasmussen, Chief Creative Officer at Story Worldwide, commented that advertising could be great content, giving Nike as one example, but went on to say that  traditional advertising alone does not make for great content. He emphasized that there’s got to be some depth and something that people want to see. He stressed the success of the Dove soap campaigns which have elevated that brand by producing great content. The content which, he said, has very little to do with selling soap, builds and enhances the credibility of the brand. When people can relate to the brand, they buy the product. Rasmussen stressed the importance of story telling as an integral part of modern advertising, giving as an example his own firm Story Worldwide, where the two founders are both former, traditional content producers. He said that at some level, all content is sponsored, whether directly by sponsors or indirectly by the overall sponsor support of media brands. They left traditional media to form a company that would work with sponsors and brands directly.

One key takeaway from the discussion is that it’s the Wild West out in contentville. There are few hard and fast rules when it comes to content and commerce — other than those against outright fraud, and content producers and owners are trying and doing everything to remain afloat and in business, much less profit. They’re all still searching for the Holy Grail, a prize that has thus fair eluded them all.

 

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