Big media bungles it, Small ones sport a smile - 2

Don't miss the third para. Joe

News Trends Tilt Toward Niche Sites: By David Carr/NYT

Apart from the specific business issues feeding the travails of web
majors like Yahoo and AOL — sinking traffic and profits at both — they
provide yet another lesson of the Internet age: as news surges on the
Web, giant ocean liners like AOL and Yahoo are being outmaneuvered by
the speedboats zipping
around them, relatively small sites that have
passionate audiences and sharply focused information.

AOL's acquisition of TechCrunch last year for a reported $30 million
was an acknowledgement that scale, once the grail of the Web, can be a
disadvantage when it comes to attracting the kind of audiences
advertisers want. Last year, Yahoo hired writers who had a made a name
for themselves at smaller sites — including Mark Lisanti, Courtney
Reimer and Will Leitch — for the same reasons.

Like newspapers, portals like AOL and Yahoo are confronting the cold
fact that there is less general interest in general interest news.
Readers have peeled off into verticals of information — TMZ for
gossip, Politico for politics and Deadspin for sports, and so on.

Part of the problem is the result of a fundamental shift in Web
behavior. Media stalwarts erected a frame around the Web and
organized, and sometimes produced, content. Now the frame around
content is the Web browser itself, and consumers do their own
programming and are more inclined to see news consumption as a kind of
voting, selecting smaller brands that reflect their sensibilities.

Watching the throwdown between AOL, a behemoth with a market
capitalization of over $1.5 billion, and TechCrunch, a six-year-old
Silicon Valley news site started on a shoestring, it was hard to tell
which was the more important brand. What works on the Web right now is
an identity, one that sparks recognition and in the best case, passion
among its employees and consumers. Even though AOL paid a lot of money
for TechCrunch, it was clear last week that its audience and its
writers believed it belonged to them.

AOL, as a way of buying what they could not grow, aggressively grabbed
onto some of the shiniest names on the Web, including The Huffington
Post, Engadget and TechCrunch. The jury is out on The Huffington Post,
most of the staff of Engadget deserted and TechCrunch is in the middle
of an uprising.

There are exceptions. TMZ has thrived as a division of Time Warner,
College Humor continues to crack wise as part of IAC/InterActiveCorp
and CBS seems to have done well by CNET after acquiring it.

There are some parallels with the television world. Broadcast networks
still have mass and reach, but cable has been surging in part because
brands come to mean something identifiable and attractive. The name
NBC communicates very little other than generic bigness, while right
now, FX, HBO, AMC and Showtime each convey a cachet that the big
networks lack.

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