2010.48 Thoughts on the media industry

Last weekend I was asked twice about what will happen with the media industry long term. I get asked this question often (or the variant…what are your thoughts on the media industry).

The question is so big and broad I always inhale and think for a minute before saying a word (it’s like being asked if there is a God or how we’ll fix social security).

So the short answer is that I don’t know.

But the long answer revolves around the best way to figure out any evolving industry. Start with what you know. Evolution is an iterative process and the end result isn’t pre-determined; rather it takes shape as each individual step or change is implemented (and chosen by a related party). Good ideas often repeat.

So, what I do know (including some clichés that we all know):

1. Story telling goes back before written history; it won’t disappear. It isn’t disappearing.

2. Quality content can’t be free; otherwise artists can’t afford to create much of it (and, to date, newer content has more value than does older content, in general).

3. People are social creatures; blockbusters and the mass market will continue to exist as people want to have common discussion topics.

4. Technology will continue to disrupt media. It always has (the printing press…).

5. A friend’s point: technology is actually adding less value over the past ten years than it did in the years leading up to 2000 (think the PC or Internet over arguably the biggest tech breakthrough of the past ten years – the iPad).

6. Artists need to be more multidimensional. As radio killed the video star and talkies cratered the career of the silent greats the distribution platforms have gotten more demanding and diverse. Lady Gaga is a performer; not a singer.

7. But, I don’t believe that all content should reach its audience over all platforms all of the time. If your audience isn’t watching television don’t spend (money and employee time) to get on television. Note the original argument only works well if you take mainstream media onto the newer avenues of portable devices or the Web and not vice versa (no Farmville movie planned in my knowledge).

8. Digital content is much harder to monetize; no one has perfected the model but I’ve met with some companies that are successfully monetizing (and not just pennies). Look at online gaming!

9. Anecdotal evidence only but the tech world seems to be hiring more out of the studios or other mainstream media companies than vice versa (except in tech systems and support areas).

10. People really do like fragmented distribution. It’s fun and convenient.

11. My kids love games. Kids love games. Women, who make up a lot of the monetizable online traffic right now increasingly, love games.

12. The MacBook Air is great. I like the iPad less (no flash). My Blackberry and Kindle are dear to my heart. Books and Kindles can co-exist.

13. The studio model will continue to be under attack from many Silicon Valley types. The core question is whether it will adapt quickly enough to survive by migrating to a – highly different – form (“protected and feudal microcosm that was only able to stay artificially alive as long as it did because the artists were a part of this small community and helped protect it longer than was wise” was what I heard today from a friend).

14. Iteration broken by big break throughs is the pattern.

15. The old definitions no longer apply: “technology” and “media” are imprecise.

16. Cisco has a tough job. After hours on the line with tech support making my home network “work” I can attest that seamless home networks are not a plug and play concept yet.

17. Some people are open to new ideas and others will resist disruptive change and related solutions (one of my promised clichés). Our brains aren’t wired to accept or process ideas that are vastly different than what we’ve accepted to be true in the past. Having been windows based for so long I’ve had a harder time working my daughter’s Mac than she has (at 9). I keep looking for an X in the right hand upper corner.

18. I haven’t been as excited by so many companies in ten years or more.

Are we in the early stages of this change? No; most industries continue to evolve but the media industry gets more press (it’s more fun!). And the related innovations have accelerated (with the music industry leading the charge).

Coming from the tech world I’ve lived the fast pace of such cycles; and the Internet has clearly injected that speed into media, which had been protected from certain competitive forces by its strong dominant niche position. Consumers have more choice now and the ramifications have been felt throughout all forms of media and created new ones. Some won’t survive. This resolution is far from pre-determined and I’m enjoying meeting with and advising companies that are at the cutting edge of such changes or creatively meeting them head on.

So, in conclusion, what are my thoughts on the media industry? The business model is shifting from protected windows to a more tech style model of proactively focusing on the customer/audience. But, actually, there is no true conclusion for this blog posting. Rather, the debate will continue.

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