February 22, 2022

More Publishers Should Be Thinking About International Licensing

There is an unbelievable demand for content around the world. Increasingly, that demand is in languages other than English, which shouldn’t be surprising. People, of course, want to consume content in their first language. So there are opportunities here that more publishers should be taking advantage of.

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Now let’s jump in…


Using data from Parrot Analytics, Axios reported on the growing demand for non-English language content.

Global demand for Hindi-language programming is the highest by far among non-English content, according to data from Parrot Analytics, despite losing some ground to Japanese content in recent months.

The year ended with market demand for Hindi-language programming at approximately 31%. Japanese was a little less than 25%, with Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and French as the other large, in demand languages. The “other” category was a little over 10%.

Further into the piece, Axios wrote:

India has long-been a coveted growth market for streaming companies, but the audience in India tends to demand localized content, which can make investments there expensive.

The context of this Axios piece is how streaming companies are trying to monetize content in India. So, for example, Disney+ has more subscribers in India than in North America. This is, of course, not too surprising considering the population of India, but it’s also something we should be thinking about as publishers.

There are 1.38 billion people in India, about 1 billion more than here in the United States. The country’s GDP also looks like the hockey-stick growth any VC would die to invest in. So India is a hot market in which to do business.

But this piece isn’t about why publishers should be looking to expand into India specifically. Instead, I am interested in exploring the possibilities of international and foreign language expansion from a macro perspective. This is something worth exploring as a strategy for new audience and revenue.

The problem with this strategy is that it’s expensive. If you’ve got an entire team supporting the English-language business, you’ll likely need to hire a separate team to target these others languages. Perhaps for Hindi, that makes sense because of how speak the language. But what about lesser spoken languages? And even if you want to expand to other English-speaking countries, it would still require new additions to the team.

I believe more businesses don’t expand because they view it as cost-prohibitive. And in many respects, it is. But I think a licensing strategy could help. I started thinking about this last week after writing about the Binance CEO investing in Forbes. I wrote:

The first is the brand. While here in the United States, the Forbes brand doesn’t carry the same respect as it once did, in other parts of the world, it is still legitimate. According to the SPAC presentation, there are 45 worldwide editions across 27 different languages. That’s worth something.

If you live in Japan, you can get Forbes Japan. Across Europe, there are Forbes Italy, Monaco, Poland, Ukraine, France, Greece, Hungary, and the list goes on. Twenty-seven different languages and 45 worldwide editions.

When I was at CoinDesk, we launched three international editions: CoinDesk Korea, CoinDesk China, and CoinDesk Japan. My colleague who ran that part of the business was hunting for other locations, as well, to expand the brand because the model is quite compelling.

At the core of this is a licensing deal. In essence, you’re giving another company permission to license your publication’s brand name. In the case of Forbes, they’re giving the partner the right to use the Forbes name. In exchange, you’re paid some yearly fee—CoinDesk had a minimum guarantee—and then a percentage of revenue on top of that.

In this case, you’ve effectively outsourced the launch of a publication to another entity. They’re responsible for hiring the team, creating the website, selling ads, etc. As part of CoinDesk’s deals, the local language publications could translate its content and run it on their sites. This was an easy way to get booted up while they also started doing their local coverage.

One important thing to understand, though, is that brand is the most important part of this strategy. The only reason that Forbes can charge upwards of $500k per license as its yearly minimum guarantee is because of how powerful the brand is. That’s it. That’s why we see so many of these magazines licensing their brand out to local publications. People know these brand names, and having a local version could be good business.

How do you know if it makes sense to do this?

The easiest way I would think about tackling this is by looking at your analytics. For example, where do readers live? If you find large pockets of people reading from specific parts of the world, that might support a local play.

Some pushback on this could be that it cannibalizes the main business, and, to some extent, that is true. People that might read your publication could default to the local publication because of the language. But there’s a balance. If you cannot provide sufficient local coverage, competition may fill that void. Therefore, is it better to potentially cannibalize the main business to ensure your brand remains the dominant one?

This is part of what makes licensing so compelling. If you can do a sufficient enough job on your own, there’s no reason to license. But if it’s the difference between doing a poor job or licensing the brand for some upside, I know the choice I would make.

Pubs can’t profit on Instagram

Not surprised is how I felt when I read this Digiday story on how publishers are not making much from Instagram videos.

“Underwhelmed” is how one publisher described their view of the money they are making from uploading long-form videos — formally labeled IGTV — to Instagram. Other publishers used stronger language.

Two of the publishers said they have seen CPMs for ads placed in their videos typically be in the range of $6, which is a third to half of the CPMs that they receive on YouTube and Facebook, respectively. For every ad that appears in an eligible video from a participating publisher or individual video creator, the video maker keeps at least 55% of the resulting revenue, according to Instagram’s terms.

The entire piece is pretty remarkable in how apathetic publishers are with Instagram at this point. If they can make a little money from it, great. If not, who cares?

But I think there’s something to be said about relying on platforms for passive monetization. On the one hand, getting compensated for distributing content to the audience on these massive platforms is compelling. But as publishers, we have very little control over how successful the monetization is. That’s why the publishers quoted in the Digiday story are so apathetic about Instagram; it’s clearly not working.

It’s harder to get right, but product placement and native ads are probably the only way to monetize content on these social media platforms efficiently. For example, if the narrator of an explainer video is in view, having the sponsor’s product on set may be one play. This works primarily for consumer products. The other way is to bake the sponsor’s logo into the video and put a quick “this is sponsored by X” at the end of the video.

The downside (or upside, depending on who you ask) is that you can’t sell it on a CPM basis. Instead, you’re selling a sponsorship that will live on in perpetuity. I, personally, find this a cleaner way, though some large advertisers struggle with it.

The benefit of this approach is that you get to eat your cake and have it too. You create great content on these platforms that get distributed, but you are not beholden to the same platform to monetize. As long as you’re getting eyeballs, your advertising partner is happy.

When it comes to video, there are no great answers. Users don’t instinctively think about going to a publisher’s site to view video, so we are stuck playing on the platforms. But trying to take ownership of our monetization is a way to minimize the downside risks. Otherwise, we’re stuck making no money like many of the publishers mentioned above.

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