The way people consume media has moved away from print to digital forms of content but the debate around how best to monetise that content continues to rage. Initially content providers were hopeful that external revenue sources such as advertising would mean that the content itself could remain free. For some this worked, for example The Guardian’s online content is free to access, but others have had to move to a subscription based model where consumers have to pay to read some or all of their content. UK publications such as the Times and Financial Times have moved to this model rather than rely on advertising revenues. But monetising digital content is becoming increasingly complex as result of digital diversity, the use of third party stores such as the App Store and a rise in password sharing.

Digital Diversity

Quality content clearly requires time and money to produce but understandably many digital content providers remain concerned that paywalls will drive consumers away, particularly as there is plenty of free content available online. But in an age of digital diversity where consumers access content via multiple devices including mobile phone, tablet and laptop, each with different operating systems, screen sizes and settings the cost of producing content is increasing. As a result, limiting what people can access for free and deciding how to price content is a challenge. Even small changes to how you deliver your digital content can have a big impact. The recently relaxed its paywall and saw traffic jump 62%. However, others have had to abandon their paywall strategy entirely and revert back to a free content model.

Online media stores

Adding to this complexity is the fact that consumers are now purchasing media subscriptions differently. In the past people were only able to purchase subscriptions directly from the publication but today they can be purchased via online media stores such as Google Play or Apple’s App store. If the latter is the case it becomes difficult for the media company to ensure they are always aware of the status of that subscription. In some cases, this can result in the subscription being cancelled by the customer without the publication being made aware and the customer remains able to access their subscription even though they are no longer paying for it.

Music and film based content

Music or film streaming providers usually operate subscription models where the consumer has access to an unlimited amount or content but this is restricted to a limited number of devices. For providers operating this type of model, password sharing is an increasing concern but often difficult to pinpoint. Research from Parks Associates found that OTT video service credential sharing will cost the industry $500 million in direct revenues worldwide in 2015.

Identity based permissions technology

So what can digital content providers do to ensure they are monetising their content effectively and maximising revenue? Up until recently organisations have made use of location-based permissions technology combined with simple logon credentials and cookie tracking. However, this is unreliable in situations where the customer is a regular traveller, using a VPN or trying to avoid a paywall.

Online services such as Google ID or Facebook Login have changed consumer expectations around the ease with which they expect to be able to access multiple content and services. As a result, identity based permissions technology is increasing in popularity. Identity-based permissions technology utilises a single point of access which users can access across a variety of online content using one set of login credentials. This identity can be cross-referenced against the content package a user has licensed to allow them to access the content they have subscribed for. Identity-based permissions also allow content packages to be easily tailored to suit the user.

Generating customer insights

Accurately identifying who your customer is the moment they access your services can also provide the foundation for a far more effective sales strategy. From here organisations are in a position to be able to start collecting data on their customers and their preferences and as a result, enables them to offer much more granular and targeted subscription packages to suit a customers’ needs.

Identity-based permissions management therefore is about more than just making sure that subscribers are paying what they should be, it also enables what a ‘single view’ of the customer. If you know and understand who your customer is you are not only in a position to develop new products and services, you can also more effectively cross-sell existing ones.

Currently many digital content businesses including newspapers, magazines, music and film streaming providers do not have the systems in place to be able to effectively manage customer access rights. The challenge of digital diversity, third party stores and password sharing makes this capability a necessity for any content publisher or risk unintentionally giving a significant amount of content away for free. Digital content providers should look to identity-based permissions technology not only to help them ensure that their customers can only access what they are entitled to but also to provide a platform on which to build valuable customer insights.

Neil Fenton

Neil Fenton


Neil Fenton is Chairman at 10Duke.