The key to sucess is the quality of content offered

I was talking to a representative of a publisher the other day who told me that every single advertising slot on their busiest website was completely sold out for months to come. The slots consisted mainly of traditional banners, skyscrapers and messaging plus units.

There can't be many media owners who can boast they have sold out of ad space and, I must admit, I found it comforting that what is essentially an online display environment could still be so successful when we are continually being told clients are looking for much more.

The key to the site's success was the quality of content the publisher was offering. It meant that online income for the media property in question was set to overtake traditional revenues by next year. It shows that the skills of placing traditional display-style ads in an environment where it will attract relevant and high numbers of eyeballs can still do the trick and meet the client's brief. It's just that this advertising is increasingly migrating online.

Imagine how much more revenue could be generated if the publisher achieved the leap from online display to user-generated content, blogging, search, podcasts, virtual communities and vodcasts. These are just some of the buzzwords taxing media owners and advertisers as they work out the best way to exploit the new media environment.

The most successful new digital businesses are creating online communities by providing information and content that genuinely entertains, solves a problem or meets a need.

Social networks such as YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, Wikipedia and Craigslist have established themselves as massive media properties in a very short space of time.

These networks rely on content that transmits through the community, often by word of mouth. Our traditional publisher's site relies on must-have content to attract the users display advertisers want to get in front of.

The key is that the content that underpins these communities is credible, attractive and sticky. The user-generated content must attract traffic, otherwise the users, and the advertisers, will fade away.

The process of contextualising content and presenting it in order of importance, relevance and associations is a skill that crosses traditional and new media. The conundrum is working out how you can get users to add real value to what you do.

- Steve Barrett is editor of Media Week.

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