How to achieve content monetization in media convergence



The transnational Spring Festival Gala “Melody of Spring 2024” was recorded in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The gala was jointly produced by Nanning City and 46 media and organizations from ASEAN countries, Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan, and others. Photo: CNSphoto

After more than 10 years of integration and transformation, media convergence in China has achieved significant results. Today, there is an urgent need to restructure both business models and profit models, with content monetization rising to become in increasingly crucial aspect. To successfully monetize content in media convergence, it is essential to build high-quality products that truly meet market demands—based on the data-driven transformation of content.

How content evolves

During the last decade, Chinese media has significantly developed and transformed. Now, traditional media has successfully achieved organic monetization through the integration of content and channels. However, with the advent of the internet era, everything changed once more. Although traditional media has continuously explored content monetization by deepening media convergence, we are again finding replicable, sustainable, and stable monetization methods elusive.

First, the traditional media content monetization model has essentially collapsed. Traditional media has long repeated the mantra that “content is king” and has dedicated itself to the creation of integrated media products based on content and channels, whose monetization was mostly achieved through advertisement attached to channels. This crumbled as the internet became the primary channel for content distribution. The reason is rather straightforward. While advertisement and television channels have natural bonds, advertising is relatively detached from television content. With the rapid development of the internet, the internet has become the primary venue for content transmission, and advertisement has subsequently shifted its base.

As a result, ad revenue for traditional media witnessed a steep decline. Simultaneously, the loss of channels led to a sharp decline in distribution revenues, causing many traditional media outlets to face severe financial losses under the superposition of unfavorable conditions.

Second, other content monetization models in traditional media are also diminishing. Apart from advertising, traditional media can achieve content monetization through copyright sales. However, traditional media outlets’ ability to produce high-quality content that truly meets market demands has significantly declined over the years. Today, copyright sales are mainly concentrated among a few mainstream media outlets, such as Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily, and some local or vertical media outlets like The Paper, Beijing News, and Cover News.

New explorations

Against this backdrop, media convergence continues to forge new paths for content monetization. Mainstream media, while actively promoting deep media convergence, places a high emphasis on the role of content. This has led to numerous new creations and progress in content monetization.

First, outlets are deeply invested in the exploration of the value of copyrights and innovative copyright sales. For example, China Central Television, a national TV network, has strengthened efforts to develop copyright assets, including exploring the copyright value of top sports events and expanding copyright cooperation on premium Intellectual Property (IP) programs. They focus on amplifying the spread of high-quality program resources in the field of integrated media. Now, they created an overall brand concept for the “Spring Festival Gala Season,” and innovatively developed IP derivatives and cultural products. As a localized concept in China, IP dates to 2013. The term IP in the Chinese context refers to the creative intellectual property that attracts broad attention, has a huge impact, and can be reproduced. Its emergence is closely associated with the spread of the internet and the possibility of reproducing original works.

Second, built on unique and scarce news resources, experiments are being conducted in creating paid news services. For instance, according to the latest data from the 2023 Global Digital Subscription Report, released by the International Federation of Periodical Publishers in June 2023, Caixin has exceeded 1 million paid subscribers, which is tied for eighth place in international rankings alongside the Financial Times. Similarly, Southern Weekly, upon the official launch of its “Content Payment Project” in August 2018, has brought in a direct revenue of 44 million yuan, accumulated 320,000 paying users, and attracted 430,000 subscribers to its knowledge payment product line.

Third, new products are being developed based on big data. For example, Southern Metropolis Daily established the Southern Metropolis Big Data Research Institute, which focuses on data production, and is driven by intelligent technology and an industry standard format. This institute actively integrates itself into the national governance system and seeks to modernize governance capabilities, aiming to become a link in the regional and industry public governance chain. By 2022, the institute had more than 30 research projects in areas such as urban governance, new economic forms and new businesses, quality living, and cultural communication. Nearly a thousand research reports and evaluations have been released by this institute, and four business matrices relying on data journalism, data products, data applications, and the data industry have been established.

Another example of innovation is the participation of the Southern Finance Omnimedia Corp in the construction of data trading centers, and the creation of one-stop financial information solutions based on data, which falls under the purview of new explorations in content monetization.

However, although some media outlets have achieved a level of success in content monetization, the overall accomplishments remain weak. The reasons are threefold. There has been a significant decline in the market-oriented production capacity of high-quality content among most mainstream media outlets, which chains them to traditional content monetization methods. The internet has also disrupted the connection between media and users, leading to a breakdown in communication channels and a decline in ad revenues. Finally, it is difficult to replicate specific examples of successful content monetization on a large scale. The massive scale and outsized content production crew working for China Central Television make it challenging for any other media outlets to emulate its success.

High-quality product

In the new era, mainstream media needs to rely on content monetization to become self-sustaining. This requires diverse content monetization methods and substantial capacity for content monetization. The key is to create high-quality products that meet users’ needs based on data. As mentioned earlier, copyright sales and news subscription models are impossible to replicate on a large scale. Autonomous and controllable platforms may be a replicable form of content monetization.

First, content datafication is essential. Mainstream media produces a large volume of content primarily used for news production, but this content is not further processed or used if it doesn’t have a “news” value. The lack of datafication prevents this content from reaching its full potential and, consequently, it is not effectively monetized. Internet platforms leverage their technological capabilities to annotate various types of content on their platforms. This process smoothly matches content with user demands, as seen in platforms like Taobao and Douyin, which promote must-buy, must-see content via livestreaming, or Xiaohongshu which recommends content. Mainstream media, as it advances media convergence, should recognize the importance of datafication and the essential difference between dataficaiton and digitization. Media outlets should meticulously label and datafy content to intelligently match it with accurate user demands.

Second, creating autonomously controllable platforms with a large user base is a core strategy which must be adopted. In practice, mainstream media, constrained by various institutional factors, has not yet built privately-owned platforms through social financing. However, they can use a broad integration approach to build locally based autonomous and controllable platforms. This approach involves deep integration into local economic and social development initiatives, governance systems, and the modernization process. This strategy would utilize institutional advantages to obtain scarce resources, particularly government data resources.

Namely, autonomous and controllable platforms should be positioned as local “governance platforms for Chinese modernization.” They can leverage institutional advantages to gain funding, policies, data, and other high-quality scarce resources. These platforms therefore should provide three essential services: intelligent media services (the fundamental function of media), smart governance (an effective extension of media work), and smart city operation services (essential services for reshaping business and profit models).

Recently, a number of provincial, municipal, and county-level media convergence centers have made progress in building autonomous and controllable platforms. For example, the “Nanfang Plus,” an app created by the Nanfang Media Group, is a new mainstream media platform built through the concerted efforts of the Nanfang group. It adopts a “big merger” platform construction approach and completely connects internal resources to effectively align the platform with external resources through integration. After eight years of exploration and continued efforts, it has built a new prototype of a mainstream media platform with a limited user base, diverse profit models, and strong service capabilities, focusing on Guangdong Province and serving the whole country. As of the writing of this article, downloads on the app have exceeded 170 million, with a daily active user count surpassing 6 million, and its operating revenue exceeded 400 million yuan in 2022. Other examples include Sichuan-based Chuan Guan News and Shandong-based Qilu Yidian, which both have made notable progress.

In the meantime, “My Changsha,” the only official urban mobile integrated service platform in Changsha City, Hunan Province, operated by Changsha Radio Station, focuses on the four major sectors of personalized “administrative affairs, services, life, and consultation” to build a one-stop “Internet +” city life service for users. In 2022, it generated an annual revenue of 15 million yuan and it estimates an income of more than 50 million yuan in 2023.

Similarly, Jiangyin Media Convergence Center used the advantage of its financial media resources and data resources to integrate more than 2,000 functions from more than 80 departments in Jiangyin, Jiangsu Province, and created the city’s only super comprehensive app named “Most Jiangyin (“Zui Jiangyin” in Chinese).” As of early 2023, downloads of the app reached nearly 2.9 million, and the peak daily activity was 800,000 users. Local residents can read about all the major events in their surrounding area in one part of the app, and solve their livelihood problems in another section, forming a new platform for primary-level governance specific to Jiangyin. In addition, Rui’an Media Convergence Center, Anji Media Convergence Center, and Changxing Media Convergence Center in Zhejiang Province have also made significant progress in creating independent and controllable platforms.


Guo Quanzhong is a professor from the School of Journalism and Communication at Minzu University of China.

Editor:Yu Hui

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