The velocity and degree of change in the media sector the last 15 years is almost beyond comprehension. From print publications to video distribution, music sales to book delivery systems, just about every medium and media has seen upheaval. Of course the catalyst for all this has been the Digital Revolution. Now we see Digital Rev 2.0 taking shape as mobile – from phones to tablets – and social reshape the landscape further.
Jim Louderback, the CEO of Revision3 Internet Television, recently wrote in Ad Age about how the Digital Revolution – the scourge of traditional media – may actually be the salvation for dying cable channels in a piece called, Zombie Cable Channels Poised for Second Life Online. Louderback, a longtime veteran of media content plays, sees a future where niche cable channels jump to online as a distribution channel.
I think Jim is on the right track here. But maybe rather than full networks shifting online, the model of the future for video content will be closer to what we are seeing with music. Is the time right for someone to do with video content what Radiohead, Trent Reznor and other music acts are doing – self-distribution. This model, on a small scale, is already starting to happen, and with top talent involved, like the Joss Whedon – Neill Patrick Harris vehicle, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
The concept of the “Network,” whether the broadcast stalwarts like NBC, CBS and ABC or more recent upstart cable operations like Fx or Starz, is really an outmoded one. People today have no allegiance to particular channels, they just watch content, and often when they want and now on the platform they want. So, why does a guy like Matthew Weiner, the man behind Mad Men, need AMC? Why couldn’t he simply distribute his property via iTunes, for say $2.99 an episode? The other revenue streams – product placement, Season DVDs, books, licensed merchandise, integrated marketing tie-ins and yes, even commercials, all could still be in place. And all those options would be critical as putting on a production the quality of Mad Men or Lost is a costly one indeed. I’ll be honest, I haven’t done the math so maybe the business model doesn’t hold up right now. But I find it hard to envision a future in which this doesn’t happen.
And the big winner in all this could be Apple. Once you get off the TV and look at other distribution models, Apple is in a pretty good position. Though Google or Amazon could easily get in the game as well. A consumer buys a season pass for a show for $30 and downloads to the device of their choice (set top, iPad, Android mobile device…) as new episodes become available.
Then perhaps a new type of network comes to life. Perhaps a brand – Nike or Coca-Cola or Starbucks – starts to aggregate these independent shows around themes that are relevant to the brand and the people who are fans of the brand. These brands would help promote these shows or perhaps subsidize and host the shows on their online or mobile hubs, allowing people to download the shows for free.
Let’s call this “The Nextwork.” A model where independent production companies produce content for channels (mobile, laptop, set-top) sponsored by brands. NBC, CBS, USA, TNT? Time to meet your friends print newspapers and music CDs in the House for Obsolete Media Empires.