The 7 kinds of content sharing agreements

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There used to be only one kind of “content partnership” in the media world: editor and writers. Media companies, especially in news, were closely guarded and usually looked at competitors with disdain. Sure, media companies licensed content from third-party sources, but those sources were usually outside of their direct competitive space. 

However, new economic realities have forced newspaper and magazine executives in particular to reevaluate partnering with other content producers. Sometimes, that partnership can even mean sharing content or other resources with a crosstown rival.

“For journalism to survive and - more importantly - thrive, we may be in the same boat here for a while," says Steve Gunn, Editor for Innovations at the Charlotte Observer.

We scanned the media landscape and identified seven types of partnerships that media companies are utilizing to help steady and improve their editorial structures and the content they deliver to their audience.

1. Newspaper + blogs

As local dalies trim coverage and cut staff, many of those former employees and concerned citizens create independent news websites covering niches or local neighborhoods. The result is a fractured local news ecosystem, often with a large number of redundant stories. Now, more of these groups are joining forces. 

Example: The J-Lab news partnerships.

Gunn heads up the Charlotte Observer's efforts to partner with local news sites. However, unlike the other participating newspapers in the J-Lab-funded experiment, the Observer often creates the website and offers training to citizen reporters to ensure quality content.

“Our basic requirement is that you’re doing journalism,” says Gunn. One of the main problems, however, is that most sites are run by a single person who is also selling advertising. The breakdown of the editorial and advertising wall is often the norm for hyperlocals, but Gunn says it’s a “sticky wicket” for newspapers. 

Thanks to a $45,000 grant from J-Lab, the Observer pays a part-time worker to help manage all of the partnerships, which vary from site to site. The partner blogs often produce content that appears in the newspaper. 

The expectations for each agreement need to be negotiated individually, says Gunn, but he says that the Observer never wavers on its editorial standards.

2. Web app + publisher

When publishers partner with a developer of Web applications, it's a win-win: the media company appears current, snags some new readers and the web application gets some mainstream legitimacy.

Example: The Wall Street Journal and Foursquare. The Journal partnered with the mobile check-in app to offer exclusive content and discounts to its users.

3. Broadcast + broadcast

While not experiencing quite the same pain as their print companions, anyone not named “Fox News” is having trouble keeping up ratings these days, which is leading to cuts. As a results, rivals are exploring new ways to share content. 

Example: CNN and CBS. According to New York Magazine, CNN needs to bounce back from recent layoffs and CBS needs the “shelter” of a cable news network to help streamline news costs. The two parent companies are fresh off of a March Madness deal that would have TNT and CBS sharing coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament; many observers believe that sharing news talent and content is a logical next step.

4. Vendor + Publisher

When freelance and editorial budgets are slashed, newspapers must do whatever they can to help continue a high rate of content production. This has led to some firms that specialize in content creation to take some (or all) of the reins from newspaper section editors.

Example: Demand Media and USA Today. USA Today will be handing over its “Travel Tips” section to Demand Media. The company will supply the content and the technology.

"I think its a continuation of trend that's been around for 100-plus years," says Demand CMO Dave Panos. "People have been buying syndicated content forever."

More detailed coverage behind the deal can be found in our post “Behind the scenes: How Demand Media partnered with USA Today."

5. Newspaper + Newspaper

The oldest example of a content partnership, the AP, technically fits into this category. But some newspapers have been have been forming more granular agreements.

Example: The Ohio News Organization. In 2008, the state’s large metropolitan dailies all agreed to share content in an effort to usurp the AP while coming to the realization that papers in different cities don’t necessarily compete with one another.

In a note to readers, The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote:

It took a bit of doing because the competitive instinct is in every good journalist’s DNA, and most of us would swallow our notebooks before we’d share what’s in them with another reporter. We’ve spent our professional lives trying to keep other newspapers from getting our good stories. Now, we’re giving them away.

6. Around a platform

It seems like every year a new distribution platform emerges for publishers. Mobile, tablets and e-readers all require dedicated resources to produce content, and it doesn’t make sense for publishers to repeat efforts. Much like some newspapers share printing presses, media companies are looking at ways to share platform development teams and strategy. 

Example: Next Issue Media. Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp. and Time launched this venture to help streamline the production, marketing and development of e-reader editions of publications. For more details see our post about Managing Director John Squires' comments at the American Business Media conference this week. 

7. Local + National

National brands can’t have a presence in every metropolitan area, and local brands often crave the reach of a national platform.

Example: The San Francisco Chronicle and Bloomberg. We originally wrote about the deal here. The content and revenue sharing deal has the Chronicle creating a separate page in its print edition and on its website for Bloomberg’s news. The deal also helped the Chronicle expand business coverage while others were cutting back.

Of course, sharing content is often the easy part of these arrangements. The real issue often involves the revenue-sharing.

“It’s clear that this should work. But it’s not a license to print money,” says Gunn of his paper’s blog partnerships. “It really seems that this is the model in the future. But who knows? When you figure it out, get back to me.”

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