MediaPost's "Around the Net in online media" picked-up Mark Cuban's open letter (blog?) to Rupert Murdoch with advice on how to sell content online. His advice has two parts: 1) create editorial scarcity by blocking the aggregators that point to News Corp content and, then, 2) reassemble and repackage News Corp content from around the world into useful bundles that might appeal to news junkies or sports freaks, etc. Essentially, Cuban says to Murdoch, aggregate your own content on your own terms; put the fact that you own a media empire to work for you and make the people pay for that value.
Mark Cuban's unsolicited advice was presumably inspired by Murdoch's assertion to the markets last week that News Corp will start charging for content in July 2010. He has that long to figure out how. If he heeds Cuban's advice the time between now and then will go to weaning his media empire off its addiction to the aggregators in order to create the scarcity value for News Corp content. I've relied on a few aggregators just to get this far in this blog post - "Around the Net", of course, plus Media Bistro (which led me to Time.com). As a drug, they are wonderful alternative to the real thing. The danger to News Corp and others, of course, is that without them reality may bite.
But there is something fundamentally positive in the talk about value and value creation online. The whole third-party aggregation thing is being scrutinized not just on the content side, but on the advertising sales side with the thought that it's time to start kicking some of these habits. I don't think many companies are going to be successful charging for content. Cuban talks about the Wall Street Journal as an exception and that may be true. But if companies can't charge for their content they may want at least to ensure their exclusive rights to sell advertising against it.
In that regard, we live in the ad network space here at Burst Media where there has been much gnashing of teeth over the last year among web publishers - principally branded publishers such as any of those in the News Corp stable - who are trying to cut down their reliance on third-party ad networks. We have mostly stayed out of the fray by avoiding relationships with publishers that aren't willing to work with us transparently - meaning, fundamentally, all the brand publishers with their own sales forces. If today those publishers are plotting their escape from unwanted third-parties, we won't have a dog in the fight and we can choose to root for the value the publishers may win back as result. (And why not root for value?)
Advertisers - mostly ad agencies - are also strung-out on the whole third-party aggregation thing and are devising 12 step programs of their own to get back in charge. At a glance, their goals appear different than the publishers that are engaged in cleansing their systems, but who should be surprised? It has always been thus. The torment affecting everyone online has been a lack of differentiation, and it is that demon causing all the aggravation over aggregation.