Rupert Murdoch did it. He pushed the big, red button. After months, maybe years of holding his trembling, anxious hand over it (the button’s pretty darn big) he shooed his butler out of the room, wiped his furrowed brow of the pooling sweat and pressed downward. Flashing lights popped out of the walls, and the signal was immediately sent to Fox’s Internet Golems to push the giant online switch from “Free” to “Not so much.”
So we now know for sure, that by the end of the fiscal year (aka next June) that all online content coming from Fox subsidiaries will have a handy little price tag attached to it. This makes them the first big player in the post Web 2.0 world to revert back to the limited-access viewpoint, because after all, as Murdoch has made clear, quality journalism doesn’t come cheap (apparently neither does FOXNews’ coverage). The question at hand is whether or not this venture will be successful or blow up in Murdoch’s face, as most Internet fanboys tend to think it will.
Fox ‘n Fans
On one hand, FOXNews has a very different audience and delivery method from the likes of say, CNN or the New York Times. While CNN presents news and then at least markets itself as leaving said news as it is, marketing itself as a presenter of facts and knowledge (though lately they seem to fancy themselves as a televised Twitter advertisement). FOXNews treats its audience differently. With its obvious ideological bend, it presents news and commentary simultaneously, the two contrasting ideas contorted around one another and presented to the viewer.
To some, this approach is entirely off-putting (though not to the brass at MSNBC…) but to those viewers who do enjoy FOXNews’ opinions, the coverage becomes conversational and personal. I personally think that no one tunes into FOXNews for the very latest, most indepth coverage, but instead to hear the opinions of their personalities, to see the anchors tear the left a new one.
Because of this, FOXNews fosters a community to a much greater degree than its competition. When was the last time you talked to someone who was passionate about CNN, who acted encouraged if you praised it or who reeled back and hissed if you sought to discredit it? FOXNews fans have these reactions, because it’s okay to be a fan of the network’s coverage, it’s built and marketed as such. While CNN advertises itself as “the number one name in news,” FOXNews lets communities build around its personalities.
This sort of loyalty might work in Murdoch’s favor in regard to this online plan. Since the network’s viewers already perceive the coverage to be a premium product, logic says that they would also have less of a problem paying extra for said product. Of course, this begs the question as to why anyone who loves FOXNews wouldn’t just watch it on the television, or pick through The New York Posts’ 10 pages of legitimate content at the newsstand and save themselves from online fees.
Those against the plan argue that it will limit the audience of Fox’s online content, thereby limiting both advertising and search engine access, which will then, in turn, further limit ad revenue. On an Internet landscape that’s becoming increasingly connected, Murdoch’s plan essentially creates a digitally gated community (now isn’t that appropriate?), but given the loyalty of his viewers, and his recent success in broadening the readership of The Wall Street Journal, this could work in his favor.
A profitable, vibrant, stagnant media
But, from a ideological standpoint, if the entire news media switches to this model, then you will not only have deep divides between party lines and political philosophies, but further divisions will emerge between news sources, which will only serve to further polarize the nation. I already have a subscription to The New York Times, and with that I receive unlimited access to their online content. Now let’s say the Times made that package marginally more expense, while the rest of the media instituted similar subscription plans. Of course I’m going to either stick with the Times, or with the news source that represents the best relationship between cost and quality. Remember that whole marketplace of ideas? Yeah, that gets tossed by the wayside.
That is, unless, you had brilliant individuals who had subscriptions and then used said subscriptions to draw news out of the gated communities and then report on it through independent websites, which everyone who is used to paying nothing for online news would then turn to for information. This would, inevitably, lead to the old-school media magnates receiving even fewer ad dollars, and then perhaps being forced to open up to free models, which leaves us in this whole stinking mess all over again, just with a few more wrinkles and a heightened sense of cynicism.