CAMPAIGN-I: Perspective - Content fees only work as standard

There have been a few breaks in the black dotcom clouds over the

past weeks, allowing some rays of sunlight to hit the digital

landscape.



It's both easy and fashionable nowadays to label anything dotcom

'terribly last year' and the recent, but predictable, downturn in some

areas of the market seem to garner more media attention than the good

news.



And there has been some good news. AOL has weathered the downturn of the

US ad market and reported a 9 per cent increase in revenue for the first

quarter of 2001, and added a further two million subscribers to its

service.



The latest figures from PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Internet

Advertising Bureau show that online adspend grew by more than 200 per

cent in 2000, compared with 1999. Although the growth of online ad

revenue slowed slightly in the final quarter of 2000, it still showed an

increase of 135 per cent and overtook cinema. Total ad revenue for 2000

was pounds 154.7 million - towering over 1999's pounds 51 million.



Figures for the first quarter of 2001 are expected to show the

long-awaited drop in the market.



Things are still pretty tough out there and internet-based companies are

looking at ways to bump up revenue. The most popular seems to be the

introduction of paid-for content.



It recently emerged that FT.com was considering charging subscribers and

the media and marketing internet newswire NetImperative suggested a

pounds 50 subscription fee to its users this week.



Freeserve trialled a pay-per-view model for the recent Lennox Lewis

fight and both Granada and ntl have confirmed their intentions to roll

out pay-per-view-based viewing models for online football coverage.



The question that online media owners are asking themselves is: 'Have we

spoilt our subscribers too much so far?' I'm afraid that, yes, they

probably have. We are so used to getting our content when we want it

online, and for free, why would we want to start paying for it now?



The only way this might work on a major scale is if all online media

owners begin to follow this model. If there are still content providers

offering people for free what they would have to pay for on other sites,

then it's obvious which way most consumers will go. If AOL is surviving

on ad revenue alone, why should it annoy its happy subscribers by

introducing fees? Plus, we all know how great the new-media industry is

at sticking to the same rule-book. I think it might be back to the

drawing board.



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