Consider this a eulogy for the way things used to be.
On Friday, ESPN announced it would suspend the publication of Grantland, its long-form sports and pop culture criticism site. The move came five months after ESPN failed to renegotiate the contract of the site’s founder, Bill Simmons, who for a time was the highest-paid employee at ESPN.
The move comes at a time when ESPN is cutting nearly 4% of its workforce, according to a recent Los Angeles Times article, in the face of pressures from the disintermediation of viewing and readership habits.
While we’ve discussed the decline of traditional TV viewing as a result of increased choice and rise of time-adjusted options, the demise of Grantland likewise signifies a change in how individuals consume the Internet.
Because credit unions produce content for the Internet in the form of blogs and social media posts, this is a change worth understanding.
A Beast That Needs Feeding
Content is king, reigning as food for the hungry masses who surf the web. It’s a network built for commercial, entertainment, social and idealistic purposes that we spend, on average, more than six hours a day using, according to a GlobalWebIndex report.
And with sophisticated tools such as Google Analytics, content producers (such as the editorial team responsible for CreditUnions.com) can track, in hyper-detail, breakdowns of audience traffic and behavior. It’s what differentiates online from print. Online content producers know what’s popular and what’s not. Since page views are hard to come by, content producers are acting in their best interest to post what gets the most clicks.
But what gets clicks? As this Vox article puts it [warning: this article contains explicit language], “the kinds of things that people want to read are sort of an endless collection of what’s cool.” And cool can be anything.
But, the article postulates, coolness fades quick. So the sites best positioned to see traffic day after day are the aggregators, the sites that, as the article states, “take the most crowd-pleasing stuff and get it before as many eyeballs as possible.” This is how sites like ViralNova and Huffington Post operate.
The Social Service
Social media is big business. And according to a September 2014 Pew Research Center study, the percentage of adults on these sites — specifically Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram — is growing.
Because so much traffic flows through these channels, content producers publish on them more frequently. In fact, posts to these social sites are often automated. As more of these sites battle for more content — you remember Snapchat’s Discover feature? — producers will publish on more platforms, not simply limited to their own homepage. It’s an argument Ezra Klein makes in a piece wondering if media is becoming a wire service.
Because if he’s right, it has both positive and negative implications. On the one hand, more social channels to publish through should correlate with a larger audience because there is a greater chance to attract eyeballs. On the other, because the social channels are designed differently there’s less incentive for producers to innovate when it’s much simpler and faster to publish to the “lowest common denominator.”
What The Future Holds
The rise of mobile has given rise to new tastes. Readers of the Internet crave short, sharable stories that can fit on a 6-inch screen. But that’s just part of the shift to come.
The Dissolve was a film criticism website that published movie reviews and other long-form, film-related content nearly every day until it shut down in July 2015. It and Grantland both bet, incorrectly, that loyal people would read their long-form content every day (without a subscriber base) and come back again tomorrow. Turns out, the Internet doesn’t quite work like that.
The Internet is now a social creature. Our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram pages are an amalgamation of us: what we find interesting, what says something about ourselves, what we want others to know about us. Anything that doesn’t directly speak to me or my experience will not get my engagement.
“The future belongs to the fleet, to the fast, to the instantly assembled hot take,” the author of the Vox article writes. “Thoughtfulness is almost beside the point, in many cases, if you can produce something enough people will want to associate with the curation of their core beings.” And that something can be as simple as tips for saving money, such as Member One Federal Credit Union’s ($748.8M, Roanoke, VA) “Save This Buy That” blog.
Whereas the Internet of yesterday was built upon smaller total audiences and could be more community-based (read: niche), the Internet of today is built upon the ability for once piece of content to hit as many pleased eyeballs as possible, and it’s where shares are more important than the cross-pollination of ideas.
Because why say something when you can just retweet it?