The CEO of Icanhascheezburger.com stated that their “mission is to make everyone in the world happy for five minutes a day.” If you are in the world, then you have no doubt seen the products of their website. If not, click on the link and enjoy your morning.
Sites like this are not usually considered a threat to the news media precisely because they suck up so little attention on average leaving people to move on to spend lots of time reading serious news. That is true. But what they do have is potential to take advertising revenues and since that’s what pays for the news, there is a threat.
Now you may ask: how can five minutes a day and a few ads be so disruptive? The issue is not the total share of ads that Icanhascheezburger can show — that is pretty small. Instead, if their mission is achieved, it is their reliability. This is because advertisers who want to reach a large number of customers face a dilemma. They can blanket all sites with lots of ads — for instance, AT&T serves up about 100 billion per annum to do just that — but, as you can imagine, that means paying for lots of ads that customers have already seen. The alternative is to target a small number of sites. But the risk there is you miss lots of customers.
Icanhascheezburger solves a problem for advertisers by making the ‘small target’ strategy work. This is because it has a large reach — lots of visitors, even if for a short time. It sacrifices quantity for quality in the market for attention but in the process can make a more straightforward offer to advertisers. That means higher ad prices even if for a relatively small number of ads. But that premium will lead to profitability and, at the same time, weaken the ability of more detailed news sites to earn ad revenue.
It is the combination of high reach and limited content (i.e., attention) that makes icanhascheezburger work. What’s more, like Facebook, most of the content is user generated. That is quite a high rate of return for their investment. That does not mean that news outlets are doomed (e.g., their front pages can play a limited content role) but it does suggest that there will be an evolution towards ‘high reach’ content.