Content, Scalability, and Making More Pie

In the world of content, as in pies, more isn’t always better.

My mother is a good example of this; she is often charged with the task of making food for church events.  This works well, as she is fond of cooking and baking.  However, when the situation calls for 40 pounds of potato salad or pies baked at a two-per-week pace, things start to suffer.  She begins to enjoy it less than cooking for family.  She cuts some corners by buying pre-made pie crusts from the store just to keep up.  Both the process and end result are affected.

What was once sustainable in pie-making becomes unmanageable as the environment changes.  The same happens with the making of content.  In a terrific blog post titled, “Content Strategy Is About Publishing,” Erin Kissane writes:

“…the internet is made of publishing, and its new and often anarchic publishing models are messing with older models in all kinds of ways.”

This became clear in the content strategies of two major content producers: the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

The BBC announced last week some significant budget cuts; the web budget would be cut by 25%.  As a part of this, “The Guardian” reports “The BBC’s internet operation will see the number of web pages it publishes halve by 2013.” (emphasis mine)

Cutting back on projects/initiatives is something that the BBC has done many times in the past. In 2001, they ceased shortwave broadcasts to North America and Australasia.  They trimmed or cut entirely some of their language services in certain markets/regions later in the same decade.

The budget cuts will mean changes in the web staffing and managerial structure of the BBC.  It also means that there will be considerable changes in their content strategy in the next few years.

For a bit of history:  broadcasters once enjoyed the luxury of creating content in an environment that had great built-in features.  Content could be created in a much different way. This is no longer the case.  It is almost hard to image now:

  • Little or no public facing archive
  • Automatic context provided via linear broadcast timeline
  • Massive reach in an uncrowded landscape

Capacity to produce raw content is only one part of the equation.  To be successful, the rest of the editorial workflow must be given the proper attention.  Getting the story on-air is no longer the sole aim. Editors, publishers, and those governing the long-term life cycle of the content share an equal seat at the table.  These positions need not be separate people, but each duty requires time, resources, and diligence.

As newsrooms and broadcasters look to make their content available on all platforms, additional hours are required (once people are trained) to translate the content into appropriate formats.  Translation in this case means that some things will need to be added or subtracted from the formerly-finished product in order to remain in-context and relevant to its surroundings:

  • Text version of audio content
  • Video to accompany audio content
  • Images to populate slideshows
  • Text transcripts of video content
  • Interactive/casual gaming features
  • Platform-specific metadata
  • Branding, rights management, and editing all of the above

Online video, for example, has been viable and mainstream for years.  Many content producers are only now beginning to incorporate it into their content production and editorial workflows.  The chorus has often been “all content to all platforms.”  The CBC recently stated this on their “Inside the CBC” blog post titled “The CBC’s Digital Content Strategy.”

“We don’t know what will work,” (Richard Stursberg, the executive vice president of English programming) said, “One of the big outstanding questions is how long content will live on various platforms.” But he reiterated his commitment to pushing content onto new platforms regardless, “We’re gonna have to absolutely be there,” he said, if we don’t move to these new platforms, “we just lost all our viewers.”

This brings about a question that the BBC may have asked themselves: If it takes longer to create content that is viable on a multitude of platforms, could the current page counts on the web be unsustainable? The answer was a budget cut and subsequent planned page count reduction.

Is publishing a story in audio form, with an image slideshow and text version plus an interactive/gaming feature causing a change in focus?  Are the raw number of pages published no longer the benchmark?

A change of this magnitude allows for an alternative to the “content farm” model by offering an in-depth, robust slate of content–neither the BBC nor the CBC are strangers to that.  As Erin Kissane writes, creation of content that fits the new modes of consumption is “…largely made up of new applications for old skills.”  That is good news for the news.  What is left is this: content producers must now reconcile the amount of time and resources required with changes in output volume.

If it means baking fewer (but better) pies (or content), then I am all for it.

[“Pie Chart” image via Flickr user net_efekt (cc: by)]

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