The Future of Content Distribution: Boutique Media Outlets

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YouTube and other video platforms are wreaking havoc on mainstream media outlets. But another wave of innovation is coming--boutique media outlets by the millions.

Growing up in a small town in Eastern Utah, I and my friends could get just one popular-music station, a 50k watt channel out of the Midwest. Consequently, we tended to share the same taste in music—whatever was being played on that one station. So when Styx, Queen, Kansas, etc. came out with a new album, the band’s new songs hit the airwaves, and we all rushed out to get our very own copy. That’s how the music industry worked back then.  But not anymore.

The Long Tail of Music Publishers

It’s been more than a decade since Chris Anderson published his landmark work, “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More,” which explained the demise of the music industry as it once existed. The Internet in combination with other technologies had enabled anyone with a laptop computer and a few bucks to get into the music publishing business. Put another way, every garage band on the planet now had the tools to get into a truly democratized market.

As the long tail grew, it eventually siphoned listeners away from the major acts. 

And as audience size for the major performers shrunk, the old model (radio stations/albums/record stores) became financially unviable. Forget the fact that the vast majority of what these garage bands produce was awful, at least in comparison to the Doobie Brothers and Kenny Loggins. Just the same, millions of acts, each garnering a few listeners, eroded the old model, turning it into a technological and financial dust heap.

From Network TV to YouTube

Cable TV had a similar impact (although, not yet lethal) on the four big television networks, ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, siphoning off factions of viewers, which, in totality, amounted to millions. And then Netflix began taking a hunk out of cable—binge watching whatever you want whenever you want without commercial interruption, it turns out, would be a very popular concept. Now, of course, Netflix has competitors that are taking a hunk out of it.

So what have we learned in the last decade? That Anderson’s Long Tail theory is sound as a pound: The Internet and collateral technologies catalyze the fragmentation of mass audiences into ever smaller factions that share the same taste in content. The end game will be devolution of factions into individuals, each of which will tailor a content library to exactly his or her personal taste.

My Journey into the Long Tail

As for me, I long ago canceled my cable service. ($100 a month and I hardly ever used it.) Now I have Netflix, Sling (for sports) and Amazon Prime. And here’s the thing—Netflix and Sling are hanging by a thread, because I find I’m watching them less and less. Why? Because I’m addicted to YouTube, where I can find content on virtually anything that I find remotely interesting. For me and most of humanity, an endless library of on-demand content is often more entertaining than content built for mass audiences.  

Is YouTube the End of the Line?

YouTube is the embodiment of everything Chris Anderson was describing: A technology stack that would enable Millions of tiny channels to nibble away at network audiences, until the networks would be forced to adapt or disappear altogether, just as the major record labels did back in the day. In fact, lots of pundits are suggesting that YouTube (and similar video platforms) will eventually kill off traditional media.

But are the pundits right? Do YouTube and its ilk represent the final vehicle for video publishing, at least into the foreseeable future?

As a platform, it’s hard for me to see past the YouTube model, which facilitates market fragmentation all the way down to individuals. But as for distribution of content on video platforms, I believe there’s another revolution in the works:

Just as technology enabled a long tail of publishing, so also will technology enable a long tail of distribution, millions of boutique media outlets that sit between YouTube-like video platforms and social networks, repackaging and enhancing content for targeted audiences.

Note that this long tail of media outlets would likely benefit video platforms and the channels that operate on them. In creating more viewers for these channels, though, this long tail of media outlets would likely do additional damage to main-stream media outlets.

Millions of Boutique Media Outlets

Why is there room in the market for millions of boutique media outlets that host YouTube videos (as well as video content from Facebook, Linkedin, and others)? There are several reasons:

  • The large majority of this video content is under exposed. By repackaging it and combining it in unique ways, boutique media outlets can expose it to new audiences, in the process, extracting untapped value.
  • Proprietors of these media outlets can add value to video content, republishing it as “hybrid” content. (See “What is Hybrid Content.”)
  • Boutique media outlets can augment video content with blog content, both original and syndicated.
  • Boutique media outlets can route traffic between social networks through their own sites, thus giving them the opportunity to monetize on traffic while increasing views of the videos they’re utilizing.

Getting from Here to There

At the moment, at least some of what I’m suggesting above can be accomplished on a WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla-based site, or any site having a blog editor that supports embedded videos. Although, these traditional content management systems (CMS) aren’t specifically designed for what I’m proposing. Just the same, if you’ve already got one of these sites, try repackaging it as a media outlet and get started with some hybrid posts.

If you don’t already have an existing site, you might want to give Mojified a try. It was designed specifically as a media-outlet platform, meaning it has built in features that you may not find elsewhere designed to facilitate the rapid publishing of various kinds of content, including hybrid and syndicated content.