In recent years a range of industries have been disrupted by transaction-led companies which themselves own little in the way of rights and capital – Uber doesn’t own its cars, Airbnb doesn’t own its rooms, and Facebook doesn’t own the content that flows through its newsfeed.
There are, however, early signs that this trend is being turned on its head. Could we be about to see a return to more traditional principles of ownership, especially amongst media and content companies?
In recent weeks Snapchat has signalled that instead of sharing revenue with the partners who publish to its ‘Discover’ platform, it wants to pay them a fixed fee up front and then have full control of the end results. It’s also started recruiting for development managers to oversee “original shows” on the platform, an even clearer sign that it’s not content to simply be the media pipes that other people’s content flows through.
Snapchat has always had closer ties to professional producers through its Discover feature than most social platforms, which are monetised by ads served in the midst of whatever user or publisher content happens to be there. The move away from a revenue sharing approach would give it complete control of the ad inventory on its platform as it heads into a potential IPO, as well as eventually perhaps more of a say in the content that gets developed for it and the money any successful formats make through other means.
For many years YouTube has employed a model of revenue sharing with the super users who dominate its platform, and some of its biggest stars have been known to make millions. In recent years, however, YouTube has also explored new content models of its own, commissioning work from some of these same creators to flesh out its ‘Red’ subscription offering, and trying to encourage more professional content producers into the space. The prize at stake is certainly a lot for an individual, but the profit from a successful channel may still seem fairly modest to a large media corporation looking to enter the space.
Reimbursing professional publishers and duly owning their content is one approach, but rival platforms are exploring other ways to fill out their pipes. This week Facebook turned to traditional TV and out of home media to launch a push around its Live Video offering in the US and the UK. The ads encourage people to share powerful and emotional moments or just show off their party tricks, but in doing so Facebook is hoping to generate stickier content to keep other users online and potentially in front of ads for longer. It was well publicised that at the launch of its Live product, it was paying key publishers to encourage them to produce content for them, and it now seems Facebook is looking for other ways to fuel the pipes.
Twitter has been doing deals of its own, and has turned more to traditional TV content than any of its competitors to date. Its streaming deals with media heavyweights including the NFL, Wimbledon and the Premier League are bringing that content to a new audience in a mobile format, but ultimately in a familiar way. Its Moments team has now also been working for over a year to curate the best of the platform, similar to Snapchat’s Stories team, to ensure users are seeing the best it has to offer.
It all adds up to a world in which the competition for our eyeballs, and the value of whichever content formats do take off, is so great that no platform can really sit back and hope its users are producing good enough outputs on their own back. The likes of Netflix and Amazon have proven that made-for digital content can be as good, if not better, than traditional broadcast, and the social platforms are now having to work their way through that maze.
For now, Airbnb seems fairly content not to own any of its rooms, but will no doubt feel continued pressures to ensure the quality of those rooms is always increasing. Uber on the other hand looks set to follow media companies down the road of increased ownership and control – its trials around self-driving cars hint at a future where far from not owning any cars, it might own every single one of them.
Jerry Daykin is global digital partner at Carat. He tweets @jdaykin