ADOTAS – Mark Cuban — digital entrepreneur, chairman of HDNet and vocal owner of the Dallas Mavericks — is notorious for being outspoken and he played to character during his OnMedia 2010 keynote and domination of the obligatory “Lordy, Who Will Save Journalism?!?” panel that opened the second day of the event.
Of course he made headlines by proclaiming first-off and forthright that, concerning its aggregating of other’s creative content, “Google is a vampire.” It was more effective than Rupert Murdoch’s sneering parasite comparison, especially since Cuban fleshed out the grisly details of the metaphor (including references to stakes). Plus, it plays on the whole “Twilight” shebang — still trendy!
But the most interesting bit of his tirade and the panel that followed was what wasn’t talked about. While the crowd politely clapped at the conclusion, I turned to my neighbor from SixDegrees Media and asked, “Did they say anything about advertising?”
He shook his head. It seemed the group had already dismissed the idea that advertising could support journalistic content on the web and mobile devices.
It wouldn’t be a media conference without a lengthy debate about how to save the journalism industry. It seems these panels always come early — they tend to be the most cantankerous (have people not had enough coffee?) and no one agrees on a solution.
Cuban is certainly a larger-than-life figure, with a brutal intensity in his speech, a swaggering confidence that some might associate with a cowboy, posture that’s always jutting forward and a gaze that likely melts glaciers. He dominated the panel, rifling off ideas like a Gatling gun and building his Google-as-Dracula analogy throughout the session.
And it’s not a bad comparison – one with a theme that publishers can pump their fists to. Fresh content is akin to blood, and aggregators are sucking content creators dry. Google and its brood haven’t added value to the content, just taken away conversions.
Journalism outposts have done this to themselves, Cuban said. “If you turn your neck to a vampire, they’re going to bite,” he said.
Eventually, the vampires are going to run out of blood, he opined, as content creators’ revenue is decimated. So his suggested approach was similar to Murdoch’s – de-index, reveal the aggregators as the desperate fiends they are and make consumers go to NYTimes.com or AssociatedContent before heading to Google.
“If someone goes through Google to get to your site, what destination do they have in mind?” Cuban said. “Google is the brand they remember. People default to Google. By indexing, you are reinforcing actions that hurt your brand.”
However, Cuban and the other publishers on the panel were more excited about the future in mobile, particularly with the introduction of the iPad. There was a recognition that content creators missed the boat by giving their content away on the Internet. Surely they won’t make the same mistake with mobile.
Cuban noted that the iPad is a new form factor, and already publishers are trying to get ahead of the curve with the device instead of adapting like they did with online content. The key is to tailor the product for the device — and then you have the potential to charge consumers for content.
But it’s weird to me — in the halcyon days of print journalism, for most publications subscriptions made up only a sliver of revenue. Advertising — from classifieds to multipage spreads — brought in the king’s ransom. I’m not sure what’s changed in this model — charging consumers for content is not going to cover the costs of creating that content.
There was no mention of the advances in display, targeting or dynamic advertising. No word about rich media, video advertising, in-stream, in-app –- nothing.
So Cuban and his content crew may ward off the vampires through their mobile escapades, but it seems they’ve been so fearful of the creatures of the night that they haven’t looked toward the lifeline that is interactive advertising.