With more and more of our time spent online, the digital platforms face the same question as the bricks-and-mortar retailers or entertainment groups of yore. They have captured the fickle audience; can they now continue to captivate it?
Facebook and Twitter, as did Yahoo! And Google before them, built their empire largely “for free”. By offering a great service at no cost, they could scale up much faster than would otherwise be the case – in the process getting you to sign up to Terms and Conditions you would probably not have settled for otherwise. Sophisticated venture capital – and then not-so-clever stock market money – allowed these winners to take all.
These platforms of interconnected “friends” and “followers” provide the base for a valuable advertising ecosystem. But in the end, what converts the audience to stay is the enduring quality of the experience. Give the people what they want: searching for the right “content” must be intuitively simple, or the right content must simply find you. And now all of those evangelists must be all things to all men.
The trifecta of ads platforms has enough usage data to target its users with the right ad in the right way at the right time and the premium content to wrap those high-conversion ads around. If you ever wandered where the current hypes derive from, look no further. Anything that heightens digital experience receives top priority. Anything that diverts users from the main platforms will be assimilated. Anything that offers insight into the big stack of consumer data is now C-suite material.
But the digital revolution’s zero marginal cost comes with high fixed costs. We are not (only) talking about hosting those networks and serving traffic that burns millions of dollars a day. Developing high-quality content and dedicated (“intrusive”) adverts has to be paid for too.
It is ironic that while the ancient bulwarks of serious journalism lose out to the new online media moguls, the latter’s demand for premium online content is rampant. The incumbents fail fast in providing the digital natives what they are looking for. In a counterproductive defensive maneuver, they hold their precious content away from the web, instead of monetising it and keeping their brand in the hearts and minds of those digital natives. We see ever more investors and entrepreneurs going into the development of “online original” content, stepping up the competition.