Hipmojo has an interesting article that asks the question is content the new king?
One point he makes is that excessive distribution dilutes the value of good content. This is certainly true, and yet there is very little content so valuable that hoarding it benefits the content owner. Information wants to find distribution and people that don’t syndicate content risk having other people syndicate competing content, slowly devaluing the overall genre of content.
If Yahoo didn’t syndicate its news, someone else would.
Furthermore, I suspect we will find out pretty quickly that there is very, very little content so good that strangling distribution benefits the content generator.
I think the benefit of an ad network, relative to a publisher, is that not owning any content, simply buying temporary access to distribution, prevents the network from being held captive by their own mores. A network moves from content to content, following the demands of the audience. Because they treat content generation as a commodity marketplace, they can move more nimbly to follow audiences. Publishers are in some way restricted by the very content they generate to the audiences that consume that content. If social mores change, their audience changes for better or worse. They must adapt their business to follow that audience. Ad networks never gain the encumbrance of needing to adapt.
Of course, a savvy publisher would argue that an ad network is forced to pay a premium for access to premium audiences at all times. A strong publisher that is in an appropriate market could theoretically generate outsized margins by arbitraging their content and maximizing its value in the marketplace.