The TV Guys Aren't as Stupid as You Think

With a few notable exceptions, the blogosphere is, predictably, dumping on the NBC-News Corp. announcement of a new video distribution service. Don’t be so quick to write it off.

There are two ways to build an audience: aggregation and syndication.

Aggregation means bringing everyone to you. It’s what the broadcast networks do on television, and what YouTube does on the Web. It’s a two-step process: build scale, then monetize. I think most people get this model, although doing it effectively (especially the second part) is harder than it seems.

There’s also syndication, which means distributing the content (or applications, or transaction opportunities) to where people already are. TV content producers do that too — in fact, they largely invented syndication as a business model. And YouTube syndicates as well. I rarely go to the website, but I watch lots of YouTube videos embedded on blogs and other sites I visit. However, YouTube’s revenues primarily come from leveraging viewership into visits to the central site, which creates and advertising and transaction opportunities.

The new NBC-News Corp. venture is all about syndication. They are getting beaten up for not having a name for the website, but as they made clear at the announcement, the central site is almost an afterthought. The core of the effort is syndicated distribution through a network of partners, like Yahoo! and MySpace. This is smart. Putting only some popular content into the syndication pipe isn’t smart, but I predict that if the effort takes off, that limitation will go away soon. Notice that lots of midsize media companies are already syndicating through third parties, like Voxant and Brightcove. An effective monetization ecosystem for content needs three things: platforms, standards, and tracking data. That’s what the current efforts are working towards.

Put aside the copyright rhetoric, which I agree is still overblown. This debate has never really been about “piracy” — it’s about business models and strategy: How big is the pie, and who gets which pieces. Don’t underestimate the significance of big traditional media players acknowledging they need to follow their users to the Web.