Who Pays for Content? Funding in Interactive Media


  • Sally J. McMillan

    Corresponding author
    1. Assistant Professor in the College of Communication at Boston University. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Oregon and her MA from the University of Maryland. Her research has been published in Communication Yearbook, Health Communication, and proceedings of the American Academy of Advertising and the Advertising and Consumer Psychology Conferences. She co-authored a study of public journalism which appears as a chapter in a University of Missouri Press book on that subject. Her current research focus on the nature of interactivity in computer-mediated environments and on historical development of interactive media. She is also exploring the ways in which interactive communication builds virtual community.
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College of Communication, Boston University, 640 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215


This study presents four models of funding for content in computer-mediated communication (CMC). These models emerge from analysis of 395 sites on the World Wide Web (Web). Key factors underlying the models are interactivity, ideologies related to intellectual property, and audience size. Relationships between these factors and funding of sites were tested by examining data collected through both content analysis of Web sites and surveys of individuals who manage the creation of content at those sites.

The data reported in this study indicate that multiple funding models can co-exist in the current CMC environment. These include content that supports organizational objectives in Sales and Promotion sites, pre-packed information and entertainment in Sponsored Content sites, a wealth of information in Public Information sites, and content provided by individuals and non-profit groups in Community Content sites.

However, the future infrastructure of CMC may play a major role in the funding of content. If systems of the future significantly increase the cost of developing and/or receiving content, the diversity of CMC could be lost. Public Information and Community Content sites may become too costly to maintain and commercial voices may gain dominance in Sales and Promotion and Sponsored Content sites. Thus, responsible public decisions should be made in the public sphere about how future CMC infrastructures are to be financed.