The Portal Deal Redux

We absolutely live in a curved universe where, if we wait long enough, old ideas come back again and again. In the late 1990's Portal Deals made their appearance. And they're back. With a vengeance. Too bad.

Portal Deals, in case you don't remember, were an early variation of the TV Upfront for the internet. They weren't billed that way, but that's what they sure looked like. In a standard portal deal a marketer/agency committed to a significant amount of spending with one or more of the 'portals' (AOL, Yahoo!, Excite, MSN, Lycos etc.). In exchange they got a press release and not much more.

 

Portal Deals were really important for many of the emerging internet-only brands (you remember Provolone.com don't you?). In many cases the money was essentially transferred directly from their venture capital backers directly to the portals. The brand got a big press release announcing the deal which was supposed to result in an immediate bump in their share price...and sometimes it actually did. These were multi-million dollar deals in an era when that many zeroes simply did not get readily spent online.

 

These Portal Deals had little real, enduring value and they eventually disappeared. Many of the 'portals' disappeared and the remainder actually started to deliver real advertising value. Hence the charade of the portal deal/press release was exposed for the fraud it was and eventually disappeared. Until now.

 

Facebook, Twitter and others have reinvented the portal deal...this time with the holding companies as the dupes. A huge 'upfront' deal is announced, a press release makes sure that everyone now knows that the Holding Company/Media Agency/Agency Group in question has some kind of special clout with the social media 'portal' de jour which guarantees their clients, current or (hopefully) future access to the wonders of this obviously thoughtful and unique deal.

 

Hah! Or maybe Huh? is more to the point. I'm not saying that Facebook, Twitter et al are not excellent media properties. Properly used they absolutely are. But the chimerical nature of these deals are simply making believe that the deal rather than the marketing idea behind the deal is what's important. I don't think so. It's another cynical ploy to dupe the unknowing and unsuspecting. Again.