Syndicate Your Content Broadly Online

There is a story on the front page of the Marketplace section of the Wall Street Journal today titled As TV Networks Use Web, Affiliates Seek Piece of the Action written by Brooks Barnes.

It’s an interesting piece because it talks about the emerging conflicts between the networks and their affiliates over the digital distribution of television content.  The example that Brooks gives is CBS’ decision to sell some of its shows via iTunes which charges $1.99 per show for download and the reaction of one of CBS’ largest affiliates, Capitol Broadcasting, which wants to offer the same shows on the website of its Raleigh, NC station WRAL.

Here’s the bottom line. In the digital medium, the content should be syndicated as broadly as possible. If iTunes wants to charge $1.99 for the shows, let them.  If WRAL wants to stream the shows with ads (and download them for a small fee), let them.

CBS should do the same on its website.  I think they should offer RSS feeds of every show in their lineup.  The service should be either subscription driven or ad supported or ideally offer both options.

This is the digital medium we are talking about.  Bits are bits.  They are going to get widely distributed anyway.  That’s how this medium works.  If CBS understands that, they’ll forget about exclusivity, which doesn’t work online anyway, and make their content ubiquitious, monetize it with whatever business models their distribution partners want to use, take a cut of the action, and they should do the same themselves on their websites and then sit back and watch the digital medium work its magic.

If you don’t get this, do yourself a favor and go do a search on SNL on google video, youtube, myspace video, or anywhere else that video content is aggregated on the web.  You’ll find a bunch of Saturday Night Live skits that have been uploaded by internet users who wanted to share them with their friends.  I did the same with the Steve Jobs SNL skit on this blog last year.

NBC needs to make SNL available on the web wherever people want to get it.  And they need to microchunk the shows down to the skit level. And monetize it with ads or subscriptions or both.  Because if they don’t others will and are already doing it.

As for the debate about subscription versus ad supported business models, I think the data is coming in pretty conclusively that the free model is where the big money will be made.  I posted the results of a survey several weeks ago on this topic that said 68% of the population prefer free and ad supported.  Yesterday, the results of another survey were published, this time by the Points North Group and Horowitz Associates.  This time 62% prefer free versus 17% who want paid with no ads.  21% are undecided which means they haven’t been asked to pay yet and hit the back button.  Either way, the digital medium has worked best with a free ad-supported model (see Google’s earnings last night $2bn in revenue in Q4 and cash flow of almost $500 million all from ads on free web content).

So back to WRAL and CBS.  WRAL has the right idea.  They are in the television content distribution business.  It’s moving to the web. They want to continue to be the one to deliver it to their audience.  CBS should let them do just that and get paid fairly for their content in the process.