Fusion’s game plan is to look at TV as roughly analogous to print: a luxury product that can charge a premium for advertising space but that will never have the audience of a digital platform. It describes itself as a “multiplatform, digital-first cable network, which is trying to reach an audience that is digital-native.” It recently hired some of the smartest people who made their names on the Web—Margarita Noriega, whose social media skillz are universally recognized by media Twitter elite; Anna Holmes, who reinvented “women’s media” as Jezebel’s first editor; Felix Salmon, who’s been one of the smartest bloggers on the Web basically since bloggers became a thing. It’s not totally clear what they’ll be serving to their digital-native audience—there’s been some talk of “post-text” content—but it’s unlikely to be like anything on TV today.
PolicyMic’s current approach is to focus on stories chock full of counter-narrative, that prod readers into engaging with complicated topics by playing devil’s advocate. The site reads like BuzzFeed for nerds—emotion-grabbing headlines about the conflict in Syria (“What Would New York State Look Like if It Endured the Syrian Conflict”) or school shootings (“There Have Been 5 Major Shootings in the U.S. in the Past Week Alone”) or climate change (“Finally, President Obama Takes a Bold Stand Against Climate Change Deniers”). Part of the company’s pitch is that millennials are nerds—hyper-educated people who care about the world and want to feel engaged in trying to fix its problems.
If any of these projects get this right—convince mercurial millennials that they’re the real deal—it’ll be lucrative in the long run. “When millennials get excited about a brand, they stick with it,” Altchek argues. “Millennials have been loyal to Starbucks and Whole Foods and even Apple.” Whichever media companies works its way into our suspicious little hearts will be able to tell advertisers that they, and few others, can deliver us up.
“People didn’t take ESPN or MTV or CNN very seriously in the ’80s,” says Altchek. “The media companies who figure out social today will be like the companies who figured out cable.”