We had a dream. The dream was that the Internet and the many digital channels and platforms that have poured out of this technology and connectivity would give us better, more unique and different voices. There was a hope that the Internet would reshape the media world as we have known it to date. The Internet was going to lead us out of the mass media boredom and into an era of enlightenment (ok, that's just me and my wishful thinking). From a content perspective, it's hard to argue that it hasn't. The challenge is that for any media channel to truly be effective, it needs to be funded. The primary way that media channels are not only funded but benchmarked for success is the media and advertising that it attracts. Whether we like this metric or not, it is what it is (as they say).
So what does the online media spend look like?
Digital Marketing professional and venture capitalist, Darren Herman, ran some quick numbers and here's what he uncovered: "...the digital media ad spend (search, display, mobile, etc) is controlled by Google, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook, and Microsoft... after searching through their 10K's, it's about $40.1B, or roughly 64% of the worlds digital media ad spend. According to a ZenithOptimedia press release on October 3, 2011, worldwide digital advertising accounted for about $64.03B. Google generates approximately 364% more revenue from advertising than it's next closest rival, Yahoo! With Facebook at $1.86B in advertising revenue (excluding virtual currencies/goods) for 2010, it puts them at right behind Microsoft but ahead of AOL. With Facebook only now starting to monetize their platform, you can start to see how big an impact they could have on the dominance of the digital advertising landscape." You can read his full Blog post here: 64% of Digital Ad Spend Controlled by 5 Companies.
Does that freak you out (just a little bit)?
A lack of choice is what brought the major television networks to this world of fragmentation, cable networks, specialty channels and more. The truth (and it may be a sad truth for some) is that four companies control the majority of the advertising space online, because they control all of the traffic (people, eyeballs, etc...). To push this inequity even further, if you look at the comments in Herman's Blog post, Jon Steinberg (the President of BuzzFeed), points to a flickr photo of another staggering statistic: 75% of all advertising spend is controlled by four advertising networks: WPP, Omnicom, Publicis and Interpublic.
As Twitter's popularity grew several years back, I noticed something that disturbed me: the trending topics were becoming the same subject matter that we might see covered on CNN or Entertainment Tonight. Prior to that moment, the majority of trending topics on Twitter were more niche topics. The type of stuff that was trending was from a different type of culture. It wasn't mass. It wasn't Hollywood. It was... us... a different group of people connecting in different channels to get a different type of (new) media experience. Don't get me wrong, I'm not here to wax poetic about the good ole' days or lament a time that was better because everybody didn't know about it. I'm simply fascinated by how "vanilla" all of our media eventually becomes. It panders to the middle. The good news is that the edges are still here. The deep thought, the more complicated discourse and beyond. The challenge is that it may not be all that sustainable as a media model when a handful of 800-pound gorillas have all of the bananas.
Yep, that's what's been driving me crazy today.