How much content are you willing to pay for online? That’s what providers from publishers to media outlets want to know as they gear up to launch subscription services. Hulu and the New York Times are just two of the many experimenting with paywalls. But the idea has yet to become viable among consumers who are used to free, ad-supported content.
The Content Project (TCP) may change that. Developed by WPP, the world’s largest advertising firm, TCP is a scalable platform that will help content-providers share revenue from a pool of consumer payments. Rather than doling out $10/month to, say, the Wall Street Journal, users will be able to pay a single fee to TCP to gain access to a network of sites. Revenue will be shared among this network depending on usage.
"Our ambition is to create a network whereby we have a number of publishers agreeing to a common platform, so we could roll this out on a broader scale," says general manager David Restrepo. "From a consumer perspective, you won’t need dozens of accounts at different places."
So TCP will act as a mobile wallet enabling consumers to jump to different media sources without having to pay or log in. Restrepo recognizes that this idea has been discussed before: "Is it unique? No, it's been talked about it, and there’s been tons written and theorized about paid content," he says. "There are case-by-case examples for paid content—WSJ, Hulu, ESPN.com—but we’re of the opinion that we have to experiment much more."
TCP was created as a joint venture between two WPP subsidiaries: 24/7 RealMedia, a digital marketing and analytics company, and design firm Schematic. Restrepo says WPP’s technology, user-experience expertise, and "right relationships" will help TCP succeed.
So what exactly are these "right relationships?" Restrepo could only say that there would be a number of "major initial charter members" that would help introduce TCP when the service launches in early 2011.
With any paywall scheme, there are a number of important questions. How much access will users have to these sites? Which sites are involved in TCP’s network? Will consumers have to pay for sites even if they are not interested in subscribing to them? How will these network partners agree to share revenue? Is shared revenue a sustainable model?
Restrepo admits that "our solution isn’t going to be right for everyone." As he puts it, TCP needs to "experiment before it can draw any hard conclusions."