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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Why data is media’s revenue diversification differentiator 

August 8, 2022 | By Chris Hansen, SVP Media and Information Services – 3Pillar Global @3PillarGlobal

For the better part of the last decade, there has been a clear case for revenue diversification as the key to sustainable success in media. Dependency on one or two revenue models is risky, especially amid times of economic uncertainty.

Revenue diversification is particularly critical as ad-supported business models provide less and less return. Programmatic ad buying increased efficiency. However, in many cases it has led to lower CPMs for media companies. As a result many have increased the number of ads per page, which limits advertising’s impact. Now, even that option is under threat as the digital media industry faces the challenges that come with cookie deprecation.

As important as it is, revenue diversification is challenging. Media companies have seized the opportunity to launch more revenue generating products over the past few years, including newsletters, podcasts, leadership communities, and live events, to name a few. Each of these products generates additional revenue, which is great. However, they also provide a precious resource: better audience data and insights. That said, not every organization has the ability to fully leverage these insights to further capitalize through diversification. 

Media companies that have a unified view of their data can better engage with audiences and drive them to new revenue-generating activities. Unfortunately, they rarely have a single view of reader and customer activity. The key to revenue diversification is uniting these viewpoints to maximize engagement and better understand and promote the products that are going to continue driving revenue.

Seizing the diversification opportunity

Before we dive deeply into the challenge, let’s spend some time laying out the opportunity, because it runs wide and deep. Media companies have explored myriad ways to drive revenue, from old-school methods like selling branded merchandise, to the new school, such as branded streaming services. 

While the roadmap will look different for each media entity, there are three diversified revenue streams that every company should consider. 

Live events

The first is events, which are experiencing a comeback as attendees get more comfortable with in-person interactions. Events are a way for a media brand to translate its content and expertise into a real-world experience. By building events around popular content topics and leveraging editorial staff as on-stage talent, media companies can create an engaging, replicable experience that drives revenue. While the pandemic may have paused in-person events, it showed that digital and hybrid events are a viable business model going forward. This opens the door to even greater scale for an events business. 


Second is Ecommerce. More than opening an online store, the opportunity lies in integrating seamless opportunities for readers and subscribers to make purchases as a part of their engagement with the content and media brand. Many media companies leverage affiliate programs to match their content to products and monetize that connection. 

More advanced media companies integrate products and ecommerce links directly into their content so that they get credit for these sales, as opposed to having their audience buy a product elsewhere. By leveraging the trust in their media brand, they can promote products and drive sales, which helps both the media company and the retail partner.


Finally, there’s the media company’s community. This isn’t simply about building a dedicated members-only portion of a website, or a unique newsletter. Community is about more than creating an environment. It’s about exciting brand advocates and aligning with activists in an organic fashion. 

In fact, there is a very large opportunity to build multiple communities that are aligned with a media property. Larger organizations can no longer view their audience as a monolith. Readers visit sites for a variety of reasons, and the larger audience may be composed of several smaller segments that engage with different content topics. Each of these audiences represents an opportunity to unite and align with a formal community, complete with targeted content, newsletters, events, and other revenue opportunities.

The roadblock to diversification

The challenge for any large media company is getting a single view across all of their readers so that they understand how to strategically market and promote these new revenue streams. Big media companies likely have numerous disconnected back end technologies that offer a view into their readers and how those readers behave on a site, interact with newsletters, or what they consume at events.

This happens because companies often use point solutions to manage the individual revenue streams. These systems may have different information on the same individual reader, but the media company can’t unite those views and get a full picture.This siloed data is much harder to use across different internal disciplines.

For example, consider an event attendee with an interest in crypto. The business publication running the event wants to own the crypto reporting and thought leadership space through newsletters and interest-based communities. Right now, they don’t have a way to promote additional content, newsletters, podcasts, or subscriber communities to the attendees once they leave the event, because that data isn’t accessible to any of the other teams. 

The event revenue is great, but there’s a missed opportunity for deeper engagement.

Engagement is the key to new revenue streams

I’ve written before about how the relationship with the content consumer matters more than ever. This is especially true with revenue diversification, where the goal is to use existing content and expertise to drive more revenue. Whenever audiences interact with content, it creates data that helps better understand their interests, which helps media companies identify new revenue opportunities.

It’s possible to find new revenue streams without a unified view of the audience. However, media companies are leaving money on the table if they don’t try to better unite their customer view in order to understand engagement.

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