5 minutes to understand why traditional media are suffering in the new economy

by bold-lichterman

Traditional media have a business model unsuitable for digital

The media business model is linear. It is still mainly based on the monetization of a mono-format and mono-medium media – audiovisual for TV, audio for radio, paper for the press and posters – carried out during its consultation by those who constitute the audience:

  • either by the act, via a number sale

  • either prepaid, via a subscription

  • either by advertising, via the sale to advertisers of a typical audience (urban CSP + for example), stable (readers and listeners remain loyal to this model), buying or consulting the media en masse. This monetization is accompanied by a logic of power.

  • via a controlled physical distribution network, kiosks and other press houses which are gradually disappearing from our streets.

This economic model is inapplicable in a digital world which brings about a convergence of media where multi-format reigns – text, photo, illustration, video, interactive diagrams – and multi-medium – Web and mobile applications in mind:

  • the free consultation of the contents is the majority in the uses

  • the number of digital subscribers is low: online media cover news in near real time. Only the specificity and exclusivity of information make it possible to recruit subscribers. A generalist media cannot meet this challenge in a niche mass market where niche demand prevails.

  • the cost of advertising space has been considerably lower than that of traditional media since the Internet bubble burst in the early 2000s. In addition, there is no typical and stable audience on a medium. online generalist: it all depends on the content publication and consultation platform. The working population and the elderly consult more on the Web, via the computer, sometimes the tablet, the young people rather in the applications on mobile (smartphone) or the mobile Web. It also depends on good referencing in search engines which will allow you to attract more or less Internet users.

  • the multiplicity of distribution networks does not allow you to master them: you must comply with the changing rules of natural referencing at Google according to its own interests, the fragmentation of online kiosks, submit to the conditions of the App Store of ‘Apple or Android’s Play Store, etc.

The GAFA are trying to impose a platformization of the media and their audiences

The audience is no longer monolithic, it is moving, fluctuating, without the link of subordination linked to the act of purchase, but above all it is fragmented

The audience is on the site, but also on the Facebook page with media fans who follow it for information, and on Twitter for subscribers thirsty for fresh news. Google, Facebook, Apple or Snapchat do not intend to stop there and are now trying to monopolize their audiences. They allow readers to consult content in the best conditions within each of their platforms without redirecting it to the media, just like radio podcasts which are accessible from iTunes or linear TV via mobile applications from the App Store. and Play Store. Without counting on the boxes of French telecom operators who have started this platform.


Regarding the online press, content found in Google via a mobile phone is now highlighted in search results and can be viewed from Google via its AMP format without generating traffic on the publisher’s site. With Facebook Instant Articles, readers benefit from a content format perfectly optimized for the social network’s mobile application. Apple also promises the best reading experience on iPhone and iPad in its app Apple News still unpublished in France on the model of the application Flipboard.

Gone are the Web 1.0 “site-centric” audience acquisition strategies, long live Web 2.0 “content-centric” strategies


The notion of audience goes far beyond that of the publisher’s own site now. The group France Télévisions has just taken the plunge by announcing the shutdown of its Zoom mobile application in order to focus on the development of its offer on social networks and video platforms where the uses of its target on the Internet are concentrated, the 18 – 34 year olds.

Platformization carries a real risk of loss of economic independence for the media

What is left for publishers to control their turnover and independence as much as possible? By promoting the consultation of content on their own platforms, GAFA and other Snapchat’s capture the advertising value linked to audiences. They generate less traffic to the sites, and therefore advertising revenue: fewer visitors means fewer page views and therefore less space to sell for the publisher and its management. Even if the platforms accept that these networks sometimes manage monetization, like Facebook Instant Articles, they especially encourage publishers to use them to benefit from optimized formats and better integrated into the interface, so a priori a better user experience for better performance. The platform then replaces the media management and weakens it a little more.


Google, for its part, with its AMP pages, has chosen to block a number of elements on websites that slow down mobile pages, starting with ad scripts and their sworn enemies the ad blockers that harm users. Google revenue. As often, the pro user argument is put forward. The lighter and faster pages will be better referenced than the others, but behind this still hides the benefit that the platform can derive from it: the blocking of certain competing agencies and other obstacles to going around in circles, producers of forced content adopting the Google format at the risk of lowering the results and generating less traffic, therefore less income. Google offers support for a full range of ad formats, ad networks and technologies, but still allows sites using AMP HTML to choose ad networks, as well as ad formats that do not harm the business. user experience. For others, dry advertising regime.

The risk that some advertising investments switch to platforms to the detriment of the media is real and foreseeable

The media must therefore redefine their strategies and their business taking into account these new uses and their progressive disintermediation in favor of these platforms which do not produce content. Google News, Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles, Flipboard. So many services offering Internet users to consult and search for information by freeing themselves from media sites. But more than aggregators, these platforms offer to carry out curation work, to select the content that may be of interest to the Internet user from the various sources offered by the service or selected by it, its declared areas of interest, their behavior during the consultation, their reactions to suggestions made by the platform. How, under these conditions, to establish a viable economic model while constantly adapting?

Some avenues to support the media in their digital transformation

The solution, in my opinion, lies in refocusing the content around a less generalist line to better respond to a logic of niches specific to digital and illustrated by the long tail.

Digital technology is replacing mass media with a mass of niches


Each medium must define its audience as a niche or a set of niches for the bigger ones, around a reading contract that is more affinity and identity in order to differentiate itself. I am not talking about an ideological editorial line that the race for the news atomizes, but of a strong idea such as that of M the magazine whose success strangely took everyone by surprise, to the point of having inspired the majority of competitors. Forget the traditional sections, long live “The style”, “The era”, “The news”. Eric Fottorino’s 1 is also a good example in spirit. What traditional actors call ufo editorials should rather consider them as a standard.

Access to information is no longer an issue, its treatment, its analysis and its putting into perspective in a clear and differentiating editorial project, yes, always and more than ever. The medium determines the content and its use:

  • digital for accessibility, real time and interaction

  • the paperweight for hindsight and distance

  • TV for power and emotional experience

  • radio for proximity and affinity.

In this context of platformization and disintermediation, digital platforms are becoming powerful allies on condition that they are not used as distribution networks contributing more or less to the business model, but as living places of reintermediation with live, posts in real time, interactivity. Each platform must have specific editorial treatment, distinct objectives, and complementarity with other media.

Finally, we must redefine the place and role of the media in our society in the face of these more or less dominant platforms, and make use of them. They also have their limits linked to our cultural, ideological, moral and ethical differences. What French media would censor Courbet’s “L’Origine du Monde” or allow the free circulation of jihadist videos as Facebook did? None (I dare to hope).

Nicolas BariteauFounder of The ThinkLab, Nicolas Bariteau specializes in digital strategies and interactive communication. After a few years as a business developer within pure-player media (Evene.fr – Groupe Le Figaro, Rue89.com, MK2…), Nicolas created his consulting company in 2009. Referent trainer in digital strategy and Web marketing at Ziggourat Formation, Nicolas also works with master’s students within ESCEN.

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