Looking for the secret formula: how branded content shapes digital-native media’s revenue streams

Clara González-Tosat, Mathias-Felipe de-Lima-Santos, Charo Sádaba-Chalezquer, Ramón Salaverría-Aliaga

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In search of profitability, digital media have for years been exploring innovative strategies to produce and finance their content. Specifically, digital-native media, those news organisations that operate solely in digital networks, have generally evolved from an ad-based free content model to multi-revenue stream business models in which formulas like branded content have gained relevance. Drawing upon three cases—BuzzFeed, Vice and Vox—, this article analyses the evolution of the business strategies of global digital-native organisations towards multi-revenue streams paying attention to the role of the new forms the commercial content is adopting in this competitive scenario. This article uses a multiple case study approach that examines both relevant news stories (n=1,000) and in-depth interviews with managers and editors (n=7) to understand how the emphasis of these three leading digital-native media brands on branded content formats as a revenue source have impacted their business models. These brands have evolved towards a combination of news and branded editorial content, which is constantly adapted to user behaviour while looking for innovative ways to engage with the audience. Results show that although branded content and other alternative means of revenue have become essential for these digital-native media organisations, they do not provide an ultimate and long-term model. On the contrary, this study demonstrates that global digital-native media's business model is characterised by a state of flux in which revenue streams are constantly re-assessed in order to adapt to fast changes in the audience and the news market.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • digital-native media
  • branded content
  • business models
  • multi-revenue streams


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