tronc Unveils Its Content Monetization Engine

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A couple of months ago, the company that owns the LA Times drew mockery for its plans to introduce a “content monetization engine” that would “create more revenue…than you’ve ever seen.”

Then, a few weeks ago, they drew yet more mockery by renaming themselves tronc, for Tribune Online Content. Seriously. tronc. All lower case. I thought we’d gotten over that kind of nonsense in the 70s.

Today they officially began trading as TRNC on NASDAQ—and employees began receiving videos describing how all this content monetization will work. Monday’s blast features Malcolm CasSelle, tronc’s Chief Technology Officer, and Anne Vasquez, tronc’s Chief Digital Officer, who team up to toss around a whole mess of trendy buzzwords. tronc is all about “having a tech startup culture meet a legacy corporate culture.” They tell us that an “optimization group” will feed content “into a funnel and optimize it.” There will be “machine learning” and “artificial intelligence.” Stories will be “more visual.”  But what does all this mean? About three-quarters of the way in, we finally find out. It’s all about video:

VASQUEZ: Right now we’re averaging about 16 percent of our article pages have the type of video player that we can monetize. By 2017 we need to get to 50 percent of our article pages have a Brightcove video player attached to it.

CASSELLE: The CPM that we can earn with a video, or visualized content, is significantly higher than a page without it. And that’s the reason why we have to raise these numbers. It will significantly increase our annual revenue per user, which is a key metric for us to grow as a company.

I have too many friends who work for the Times to give this quite the snark it deserves. And besides, who knows? Maybe print really is dead. Maybe video is the future. And not just any video, but video being played on a Brightcove player that can be suitably monetized.

I hope there’s more to tronc than just this. Using artificial intelligence to slap monetizable viral videos onto every piece of journalism tronc produces is surely a wonderful thing, but it’s not exactly a vision of the future likely to inspire the troops. It sounds more as if reporters are now going to get daily summaries telling them how many of their pieces have Brightcove video attached, with stern talking-tos for everyone who fails to make their 50 percent quota. Exciting!

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