Distribution’s Brand Effect Neglected at Media Event

Yesterday I sat in on an Argyle Executive Forum event, “2007 Market Trends in Media,” featuring folks from TBS, MySpace, Hearst, Reuters and others, and led by Rafat Ali of PaidContent.

TBS to Google: Work Harder
Towards the tail end of a discussion with Phil Kent, CEO of Turner Broadcasting Systems, he said the firm is trying to find a way to work with search firms, particularly Google, in order to protect TBS copyrights and monetize its content. It’s infeasible to charge cable companies for its content and then give it away to Google, he said.

“[Google] needs to come up with better technological tools to help media companies clear and filter out their content,” he added.

MySpace to Google: We’ll Fight YouTube
MySpace founder and COO Josh Berman was on the next unnamed panel, during which he told the crowd about MySpace’s news content plans, noting, “We’re cutting deals with major content holders.” Deals with sports content providers for video and articles are also on the horizon, he said.

Displaying the co-opetition that seems to be the norm among online media partners, Berman praised Google as a great search companion for MySpace (making a point to say the deal, officially signed, is for three years). Later, however, Berman mentioned MySpace’s goal is to launch a video product that will be better than YouTube. Ahhh…consolidation.

News Media to Distribution Deals: You’re Our Hero
On the newspaper front, Lincoln Millstein, SVP digital media for Hearst Newspapers discussed the Yahoo newspaper consortium, of which Hearst Newspapers is a founding member. The partnership represents the early stages of recognition by paper publishers that their “old silo-ed mentality,” requiring people to come to their sites to read their content doesn’t work anymor, he said.

That statement served as a launch pad for a question I asked during the Q&A segment, regarding whether the growth of distribution deals among media firms could dilute their brands. “If people are viewing their content on various sites across the Web rather than their own, how will media firms prove the value of their brands to advertisers?” I wondered.

Well, the response was surprisingly dismissive.

“I don’t think we’re changing our brand,” said Millstein.

Christopher Ahearn, president of media for Reuters “took exception” with my premise, noting that media businesses have to keep up with the way users consume their products, and get past their tendencies toward maintaining control. Hence, the very basis for my question was faulty. But was it? Lots of people have asked this very question.

Of course, Reuters obviously has a different perspective here, considering the content it produces is, by nature, distributed.

As for Hearst or other publishers’ brands, I don’t think it’s illegitimate to inquire how they’ll convince advertisers of the value of their branded properties once their content is distributed all over the Web. Couldn’t the Yahoo deal, even if The San Francisco Chronicle gets its logo slapped on every story, alter the way people perceive the paper’s brand?

I realize distribution deals among strange bedfellows are in vogue, and they certainly could be part of the survival solution. But to blow off this brand question (and not even raise any questions regarding advertising during the session proper) seems like ostrich-like behavior.

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