The Internet content industry is widespread and varied. Online content may be produced by successful companies in established media, such as movie and television studios, news organizations, publishers, and recording companies; by new or relatively young companies dedicated to producing online content, such as games, music, news, and videos; or even by individuals, such as bloggers and independent musicians and video producers who release their work online. There are no real restrictions on what individuals or entities can produce Internet content—and if a blog post, song, video, or other piece of content goes viral, it may be seen or heard around the world regardless of who created it.
Traditional media companies (e.g., newspapers, magazines, book publishers, television and radio stations) often have Web sites or mobile apps that provide content that has appeared in print or been broadcast on television. Many also create original digital content, and some may even publish digital-only products. Some entertainment companies have partnered to create advertising-supported on-demand streaming video sites, such as Hulu. These companies earn revenue via advertising or by the sale of products or services.
New media companies provide streaming and/or downloadable content that is produced by film and television studios, musicians, filmmakers, authors, and others. Revenue streams include site advertising and subscription fees. Examples of such companies include Amazon.com (Amazon Music and Prime Video), Apple (Apple TV+ and iTunes), Netflix, and Rhapsody International (Napster).
Web syndicators distribute the work of content producers. Some Web syndicators license content from content creators, and they keep all or a portion of the revenue obtained from the syndication of the content to third parties or from advertising. Others share advertising revenue with content creators.
Aggregators are companies that collect content from various online and offline sources. These sites focus on the news; product, restaurant, or movie reviews; entertainment; or other topics. They earn revenue by selling advertising. Popular news aggregators include The Drudge Report and Google News.
Curators are companies or individuals that continually search the Web to find the best information about a particular topic. They may do this as a hobby or with the goal of selling advertising at their sites as their reputation grows for curating excellent content about a topic.
Content farms, also known as content mills and crowd-source content companies, are companies that employ a large number of freelancers to create content (typically text, photos, and video) in a short period of time. They use sophisticated software to determine what Internet surfers want and how much revenue can be earned by publishing the content. Articles are uploaded to the companies’ Web sites or sold to traditional media outlets such as USA Today. Videos are uploaded to YouTube or licensed to other clients. One major content farm is Leaf Group (formerly Demand Media), which owns eHow, Techwalla, and other online brands. Content farms typically pay freelancers much lower fees than traditional media companies, and many believe the low pay causes freelancers to often create generic, poorly written articles and other content of limited quality. Despite these criticisms, content farms are big business.
Individuals also create Internet content in the form of blogs, podcasts, general Web sites, social-networking content, books, music, online games, and mobile apps. Web sites set up to provide users with a forum rely on this user-generated content to create interest in their site, attract more users, and drive advertising sales.
There are many opportunities for creative workers in the Internet content industry. There is steady demand for writers, bloggers, editors, game developers, designers, photographers, videographers, musicians, podcasters, and filmmakers. Technical workers, such as software designers, app developers, software engineers, Internet security specialists, and e-commerce specialists, also play an important role in the industry. Other popular careers include advertising sales workers, advertising and marketing workers, search engine marketing specialists, intellectual property lawyers, and administrative and support workers.
Some major issues will shape the future development of the Internet content industry. Control of content is one recurring controversy as the industry seeks a balance that keeps certain content—such as sexually explicit material—out of the hands of inappropriate audiences without engaging in censorship to do so. On a global scale, censorship itself is a concern because the governments of some nations actively restrict what content their citizens can access—a philosophy at odds with the idea of a free and open Internet. Two of the biggest issues challenging the industry are copyright infringement, or piracy, and privacy concerns among users.
Digital technology and the Internet have made it much easier to steal or pirate copyrighted films, television shows, music, video games, and digital publications and content. Citing U.S. Chamber of Commerce figures, in mid-2019 IBC reported that online piracy cost the U.S. Economy nearly $30 billion annually. Some digital content companies have been accused of being lax regarding intellectual property rights and even knowingly using copyrighted material. Jobs and tax revenue are also lost. Industry groups such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have pursued legal action against individuals and Internet service providers to combat piracy with mixed results. Today copyright owners are working closely with the content industry to fight online intellectual property theft.
Privacy is another important issue. In an attempt to grow advertising revenue and market share, Internet content providers are gathering more and more personal information from consumers to use in planning and selling advertising. Consumers are rebelling against this perceived invasion of privacy by canceling site memberships and choosing to obtain content from providers that collect less customer information. Also, in the spotlight is security of personal information, which is sought after by criminals who use it to commit identity theft crimes. Several high-profile security breaches, including the compromising of approximately 6.5 million LinkedIn passwords by a Russian hacker and the massive Equifax data breach in September 2017, in which the identities of 147 million people were compromised, illustrate the importance of protecting online users.
In its Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019–2023, PwC observed that leading media platforms continued to focus on delivering more personalized experiences to customers. This was accomplished through the use of artificial intelligence and algorithms that tried to make predictions and offer suggestions. "Although this individualised media world is steadily coalescing around the consumer, the transformation isn’t yet complete," the firm explained. "For example, PwC’s research shows that consumers are still dissatisfied with the recommendations from their streaming services. Real challenges surrounding the treatment and ownership of personal information are spurring regulators around the world to catch up, and put pressure on companies to adapt to new privacy regimes."