Voxant has developed content licensing relationships with a variety of video, image, and text news sources including CBS, Fox News and Bloomberg. Voxant re-licenses the content, including built-in advertising and streaming video, to individual web sites and blog operators. Target sites select subscription content from a Voxant web service called TheNewsRoom and embed code in their own web pages that provides web page visitors clickable access to the subscribed content and advertising. Usage determines the web site's share of the advertising revenue, Crigler says.
People are familiar with services like this. Users of Flickr and YouTube already have the ability to embed content from those sources in their own web pages. This functionality is widely accepted. What Crigler and Voxant have done is the heavy lifting of licensing the content from the news sources and then making it available through their feeder service that manages subscription, advertising delivery, and payments.
But wait, there's more. Visitors to subscribing web pages are encouraged to copy and embed Voxant's viral mashing code within their own web pages; the process of generating the code snippet provides identity information on the new viral partner back to Voxant. Once the new partner starts generating additional download or streaming from Voxant, the overall revenue share is recalculated.
This is a clever example of the concept of superdistribution where the customer become part of the distribution channel; that's the source of the "viral" references in Voxant's marketing copy. (A Voxant flier distributed at yesterday's conference reads, "Viral mashing. Do it once and you're addicted.")
This is a clever idea; making it possible for visitors of a web page to create plug-ins for their own web pages in a way that keeps track of the original licensor is one way around having to associate a unique set of tags with the licensed content. Voxant keeps track of who wants to subscribe to what as well as where they got the subscription source. All this plays into the calculation of payments based on an advertising model.
Assuming this all works as volume and complexity scale up, what Voxant is doing is, in effect, developing a new distribution platform that "traditional" news outlets can use that balances the needs of monetization with the "viral marketing" model where participation, sharing, and relationships drive ever-growing volume.
Not all news sources are completely comfortable with all aspects of the process, according to Crigler. This is one reason why a lot of effort was required to craft individual licensing and distribution agreements. Some suppliers have an embargo on the front end so that Voxant distribution does not compete directly with existing channels. Other suppliers have limited the length of time certain news streams will be available as part of the subscription process. In addition, Crigler notes, it has been necessary to create processes to ensure that certain types of programming are not licensed inadvertently to certain types of web sites (e.g., porn sites).
Still, the potential for this advertising supported system to substantially expand viewership for certain types of news and advertising is substantial. I'm looking forward to watching this one!
This type of service raises interesting questions about how usage metrics are calculated. Some of these problems are addressed in this blog post titled Page Views Are Dead! Long Live Page Views! (A Discussion of Page View Alternatives).
My friend Jeremiah Owyang has posted a note on his web site relating what Voxant is doing to the rapidly rising popularity of "consumer generated media." That's not a connection I had made initially since I was thinking mostly about the publishing aspect of superdistribution and how systems such as Voxant's effectively provide new distribution channels (read: additional revenue opportunities) for media that are controlled not by the source but by the users themselves who are encouraged to pass the media along.
I'm sure that <understatement> there are folks in the publishing and media industry that are not totally comfortable with this model </understatement> even if it is not designed to support the re-editing and modification of the video, images, and text that are distributed. But given how frequently folks pass files and links around on the Web and via peer to peer systems, figuring out a way for publishers and media companies to take advantage of that fact without killing the system with overly intrusive DRM makes eminently good business sense. (For an extraordinarily insightful discussion of how DRM is already convoluting the digital music business, check out this RoughType article and discussion thread.)