This is where thoughts become things.

Hi, I'm Daniela. Welcome to my personal lair on the Internet. This is where I write about storytelling, activism, technology and pop culture. Sometimes I post videos. I update my lair when the mood strikes me. Follow me on Twitter for daily updates (@dcap).

On My Radar: Media Job Layoffs Across All Platforms & The Impact On Original Content Creators

The economic crisis isn’t just affecting those working for corporate media owned digital properties.

Epic-Fu, one of my favorite web shows/original content-driven communities, recently announced that their web licensing partner Revision 3 would no longer be able keep them on as part of their network of shows. As a result, Smashface productions had to let go three of their Epic-Fu employees.

My instincts tell me they did this as an alternative to taking on sponsors who didn’t fit their message and would diminish their brand authenticity. They can afford to make this kind of choice because they are a small outfit and will be able to continue creating their content, even with less staff. Their current model works for them. This is one of the benefits of running your own company and controlling your message, but what happens when your growing company can’t find advertisers who support your content – and how do you allow this to inform what you are creating?

– YouTube star Fred creates episodes to promote the ZIPIT device

(More about the impact of sponsors on original content creators, after the jump!)

Creating content that retains advertiser interest as well as the audience’s  is a quandary that big media has wrestled with since the early days of radio.

One of my favorite old comedies, I Love Lucy, was the most-watched show in the United States and won numerous awards for it’s quality content. It also consistently featured product placement and storyline driven by advertiser involvement. ex: The 1995 episode “Lucy Learns to Drive” was part of a product placement deal with General Motors.

Product placement continues to day – with varying levels of subtlety – and has most recently extended into the world of online original content creators. More and more “Joe Six Pack”s  are featuring products and endorsing advertisers in their content, causing a shift in existing storyline with mixed results.

Interestingly, independently owned digital brands face more of the same creatively-constricting challenges everyday that have historically plagued and shaped the content of big media. As long as you rely on advertisers to pay your bills, you are never completely free to create the kind of content you want. At the end of the day if your audience isn’t purchasing the products advertised during your show, you have a problem. And that problem escalates much faster with online content.

It is so much easier to target the kind of online content that “sells” to your audience via site metrics, giving advertisers online more ammo to complain. Make a video about a pig in a diaper and it gets a million hits. You find that any videos of animals in diapers reap similar rewards and the next thing you know, you decide to have a daily feature on your site called “Diaper Animals.” Advertisers are loving your diaper videos because they know someone is watching their ads that run before and after them. Your company hasn’t folded and you can hire more staff, but is this a good thing? Are you in the business of Diaper Animals?

YouTube star Fred injects product placement into practically every single episode he makes now, something that has not gone unnoticed by his fans. For now, his casual and creative methods for selling products through his DIY-style videos seem to work – but how long until he is just another corporate shill?

Consider why your audience started consuming your content in the first place. What made them subscribe to your podcast for the first time? Why do they continue to visit your website when they can view your content on their ipod already? Why do they follow your growth so closely and create conversation around the content you offer them?

You may temporarily save your company by creating a bunch of Diaper Animal videos, but your audience is going to change. Those not interested in diaper animals are going to leave and those who are crazy about diaper animals are going to stay. Your original voice and authority won’t work in your own environment anymore. You are now accountable to an audience that you may never have wanted to serve in the first place. Your original audience has left and will find a myriad of other destinations – yours is now an obsolete voice, in their eyes.

As the economy continues to suffer, digital media companies concerned with losing sponsorship will find themselves going for this quick fix – tailoring their content to reproduce successfully received content. In some cases this will be the logical thing to do – it’s good to identify what content is well received and why. But community driven content also has it’s drawbacks – there’s something to be said about retaining control over your own voice. It makes you unique. Your audience can depend on you to provide them with the unexpected (unless you are – you many want to stick with what sells).

Give your audience a reason to keep coming back. Surprise them. Delight and inspire them. But as an original content creator, always maintain control over your own voice. If you don’t, your audience will leave.

I am not offering any solutions in this post – it’s not possible to address all the different variables that go into how companies program and promote their own content, but as someone who is an avid supporter of original content online, I am concerned with how corporate sponsorships and advertiser relationships are shifting the creative process for independent content creators who rely on them to sustain their companies.

I hope that Epic-Fu continues to make the right choices for them and that they always stay true to their own voice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *