Monday, September 19, 2005

New plans, new media, new Web

I've spent some time in recent days feeling nostalgic for my time at CNN.fn.com, the online business-news site that is now known as CNN.Money.com. I was a producer there in the early days of the Internet boom. I worked with a slew of exceedingly bright people and we created some remarkably good work.
I've been thinking about the past because of an announcement about the future -- Time Warner plans to combine all of its business magazine Web sites into a single property under the banner of CNN.Money.
The move makes sense in at least one way -- editorial operations will be run by CNN.Money, which is a far superior site to anything else in the Time Warner universe.
And the consolidation was predictable, because Time Warner's Web operations continue to be roiled by corporate infighting. The purchase of AOL created open warfare among executives looking to control the conglomerate's new media offerings. There has never been peace. And it seems to me that battles are often fought solely for executive glory. So the latest decision may be nothing more than the result of corporate warfare; the new CNNMoney may prove to be an unmanageable mess held together, temporarily, by some leader's will and arrogance -- a sort of post-war Yugoslavia for the Internet.
Interestingly, Time Warner says the move is driven by advertising. And I'll confess to being confused by that. Take a look at what Prescott Shibles, the smartest guy who ever worked for me, thinks about Time Warner's ad plans.
But while I was reminiscing about CNNfn and contemplating the future, I had a thought worth exploring that may shed some light on what Time Warner is doing.
I worked the late shift at CNNfn, taking over the site a few hours after the markets closed in New York. I started my commute into Manhattan at around 3 p.m. or so, and just before I left my apartment each day I "synched" my Palm Pilot using a software system called AvantGo. The software would drop all of CNNfn's stories into my PDA. And I'd read those stories on the train. By the time I arrived at work, I was up to speed on everything we had covered around the globe while I slept.
Today I think of that software as an early warning of what I think now is a fundamental shift in information distribution. As I've written before, content is separating from its containers. RSS, podcasting, etc. are indicators of a new world where content moves outside the confines of a single Web site, magazine or device.
In this new world, a Web site becomes less important than the individual pieces of content that once lived on it. And thus, for someone like Time Warner, it becomes less important to operate a series of Web sites for each of its brands.
Instead, it may make more sense to consolidate all the content on a single site -- knowing that even that lone site is likely to grow less relevant with time -- and work on ways to distribute, monetize and brand content that moves across platforms. In other words, Time Warner may be making the exact right move -- dumping a bunch of unneeded Web sites and moving electronic content under the control of the smartest Web guys at the company.
For Businessweek's take on the new culture of the Web, click here.

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