Will It Take Television 10 Years To Learn The Lesson Of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times?

Nov 16th, 2007 | By | Category: Digital Video Downloads, Internet TV, Streaming Video, Video

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal were, for a long time, considered two of the most successful gated communities on the net. They had enough caché that they could be closed and charge a premium for access to their content.

But, by being closed, they put up barriers for readers and encouraged readers to look to other sites for their news. As a result, instead of dominating online news, the NYT & WSJ have given other sites more than a decade to become strong competitors.

Both companies are shifting gears, offering their content freely online, because they expect to make more money offering very popular ad-supported content than they were making from a limited number of subscriptions.

The Wall Street Journal reports on this:

America’s journalistic establishment will scrutinise every move Mr (Rupert) Murdoch makes with the Journal; many newsmen fear that he may damage it by taking it downmarket or using it to further his wider commercial interests. The new owner seems intent on shaking things up as quickly as possible. After months of hints, he confirmed this week that he intends to make its website free. That goes against the wishes of the Journal’s publisher, Gordon Crovitz, who believes that wsj.com should remain partially a paid site, insiders say. In the next few weeks Mr Crovitz will make a presentation to Mr Murdoch outlining the financial impact of various options for the site‚Äîbut his new boss seems to have made up his mind.

Mr Murdoch reckons that the Journal could dominate the market for financial information online. A free wsj.com, he thinks, could attract 10m-15m regular readers from around the world (compared with 3.1m unique monthly users in September, according to comScore); the resulting increase in ad revenue would more than offset the loss of subscription income. Such a shift would be near-impossible to reverse.

The New York Times recently opened its doors, and is seeing the results immediately. In September, the site had 14.6 million visitors. In October, it had 17.5 million, an increase of about 20% in one month.

According to an interview at Beet.tv, Times management attributes their most successful month ever to offering their content for free:

In reaching 17.5 million uniques, the paper had its best month ever, a Times spokeswoman told me. The numbers are up from 14.6 million in September.

Earlier this afternoon I interviewed Vivian Schiller, Senior VP and General Manager of the NYTimes.com She attributes a significant part of the increase to the end of the subscription model called Times Select. Fueling the growth, she also cites popular multimedia features, blogs and a successful search maximization strategy.

The question this begs is this: how long until television learns the lesson of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times?

Will the networks spend a decade pouring their efforts into closed Internet video offerings that no one seems to be interested in? Will they continue to lock up their content with DRM, when people’s attention is moving to a larger variety of video players than ever? Will they continue to sell a paltry number of videos via iTunes, while people are downloading free Internet videos by the billions?

If the networks do wait a decade to free their content, who will be their competition when they finally do open up?

Leave a Reply