Focus Washington: Vorys Partner Brian Dengler on Helping Clients “Monetize” Online Content

Brian Dengler, a partner at the Washington office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour, and Pease LLP, talks with Chuck Conconi about developing an innovative law practice on e-media issues that assists broadcasting, university and start up clients monetize news and online content.

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Chuck Conconi:  Welcome to Focus Washington, I am Chuck Conconi.  Joining me today is Brian Dengler. He is a Washington partner at the law firm of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease and in his past life an Emmy award winning journalist. Thank you for joining us at Focus Washington today. One of the questions I wanted to lead off with if I may is that you specialize in e- media issues and help media startups and university clients make money on news and other online content. Explain to me how you do this for your clients?

Brian Dengler:  Basically it’s a combination of consulting work and legal work in which we help e-media companies and content companies and information companies make money online.

Chuck Conconi: But this is something we have always been told is almost impossible to do. How do you do that?  What issues are important?

Brian Dengler: The issues are there’s a big difference between traditional media such as newspaper and television and digital platforms like android phones and I-phones and tablets and the like. And it just takes a different approach to make a living online then it was with traditional media.

Chuck Conconi: What does it mean for journalists—and I know one of your clients is Kent State University and we both are graduates of the school of journalism there?  You’ve devised a curriculum that teaches this new generation of journalist the business aspect of blogging.  What is that you teach them? How does it work?

Brian Dengler: Well, most of the j-schools that offer new media platforms, new media instructions, focus on the nuts and bolts like how to plug a flip camera into your Mac and then do a YouTube story. That’s not what this course is about.  This course teaches journalists how to be entrepreneurs and how to care about the business side of their profession. Because I believe that journalists need to become entrepreneurs, they are not just a reporter writing an article. They are producing information that can be re-purposed through multiple digital platforms and they need to learn not only how to find all these different distribution channels for their work, but also how to monetize, or make money, from these different platforms. It could be advertising connected to a video, but then they could take that same piece of information and re-package it into the form of an e-book or a magazine article and then re-sell it to another content provider and perhaps even do consulting work. For example The Houston Chronicle actually helps local businesses build web pages so they can get more traffic for their clients. Obviously this has helped The Houston Chronicle not only develop a new business based on information but also help them get some new advertisers as well.

Chuck Conconi: This is revolutionary I mean the way we were taught journalism

Brian Dengler: I know.

Chuck Conconi: You must find this has been hard to convince people who might be going to the universities. Have you found that?

Brian Dengler:  No. I think everyone is hungry to find a way to do this. I mean everyone realizes the importance that journalism plays in this country, I mean it is the Fourth Estate, and everyone appreciates that in order to get quality content it takes effort, it takes resources and they ought to be paid for it. So I think journalism students and the industry itself are hungry for trying to find a new way to adapt to a digital market.

Chuck Conconi: Now Columbia University just released a study about this, would you talk about that a little bit?

Brian Dengler: Sure.  I mean this week Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism came out with a report that basically said journalism students and journalists need to have more business savvy in what they do.

Chuck Conconi: so they’re agreeing with you?

Brian Dengler: They are agreeing with me. I mean basically they’re  saying that you can’t take the old traditional media model that you and I had worked under, which is you have a story in the newspaper and an advertisement next to it and that’s how they made their money, Now those two components have come apart. And what they are suggesting is, don’t take your old model and then try to make it fit into a digital world. You should be building new businesses from the ground up that will work in a digital world. That was the report’s conclusion.

Chuck Conconi:  When working with tech clients are there problem with privacy and advertising and are there hot issues that come into this?

Brian Dengler:  It’s a very hot issue. I mean the big issue right now is online behavioral advertising or as we call it, OBA. Basically a new industry has emerged. You can use technology to figure out what different audiences are doing and what they’re interested in on the Internet, place them into demographic categories, and then be able to serve advertisements against those persons who fit within a category. So, if I’m in a category of being interested in buying a car, what I will see happen after a while is that I’ll start seeing advertisements for cars because that’s my interest.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perspective, the Federal Trade Commission and Congress feel that perhaps this needs some regulation. So in Congress, for example, Senator Kerry, Senator McCain, and Senator Rockefeller have introduced bills to basically impose some regulation on this type of online behavioral advertising and the FTC also has come along recently and said maybe a do-not-track system should be implemented. So right now all of this is in policy discussion, it’s very controversial. But it’s an emerging industry, it’s a very hot topic and, of course, it’s one of the things we’re doing because we have clients in retail who like it, because they can now spend their ad dollars going after a demographic group that may be interested in their products and the consumers would be perhaps benefited because they would want to be able to reach a merchant for a product, may not be able to get there, and the technology is bringing the two together efficiently.

Chuck Conconi:  You’re confident about the future of the news business?

Brian Dengler: I am.

Chuck Conconi: Would you want to do it in a technological age?

Brian Dengler:  I do.  Now, who’s going to survive, I don’t know. Will traditional media survive, will they be able to embrace the new models, or will it be the new startups that will be the rising stars? That’s yet to be told.

Chuck Conconi:  Brian, thank you for coming to focus Washington.  I’m Chuck Conconi and this has been Focus Washington.

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