Friday, May 06, 2011

New media has to break its addiction to old media

People have been trying to turn the Internet into a new medium that can compete on an equal footing with television, radio, newspapers, etc. since the Netscape days of the mid-1990s. So, fifteen years on, what have we accomplished?
  • Netflix has more subscribers than Comcast, but it lives or dies based on which television networks, cable networks and movie studios are willing to do business with it, what shows they're willing to supply, when they're willing to supply them and at what cost.
  • Hulu has much the same problem, even though it's owned by three of the four major U.S. television networks.
  • YouTube is trying to cut distribution deals with many of the same television networks, cable networks and movie studios as Netflix and Hulu.
  • Pundits spend an inordinate amount of time discussing how much The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are charging for access to their newspapers online, whether paywalls work, how to circumvent paywalls, etc.
  • Hearst, Condé Nast and Time Warner will offer their eMagazines on the iPad if they can only get a business deal worked out with Apple. Meanwhile, News Corporation's "The Daily" is on the iPad and is losing money.
  • Clear Channel is building its own clone of the Pandora streaming music service and plans to launch it this summer.
The "new media" has largely become a repackaging of old media for Internet delivery: Old wine in new bottles. Almost all of the content on the Internet that's economically viable comes from old media companies.

In order for content to be economically viable, it has to have two key attributes:
  1. It has to attract a large audience, and
  2. It has to be repeatable--audiences have to be willing to come back day after day, week after week
Content that repeatably attracts large audiences can be sold to national advertisers, which generates the revenues necessary to create more content and make the business attractive to investors. Viral videos, like those found on YouTube, meet the first criteria: A popular viral video can get millions of views. The problem is that they're not repeatable. The vast majority of viral videos are "one-hit wonders". Google has found that it's possible, but very difficult, to sell advertising against viral videos. Many advertisers don't want their ads to run alongside "objectionable" content, yet it's that same objectionable content that makes many videos go viral.

On the other hand, webcast networks like TWiT and Revision3 get audiences that come back week after week for original shows, but the audiences aren't big enough to generate a lot of advertising revenue. They make enough money to make a nice living for a few people, but not enough to attract investors.

That's why new media companies keep turning to old media companies to get their content. The problem is that old media companies don't want to risk their existing revenue streams, even if those revenue streams are already being eroded. If you're an Internet company and your business plan depends on convincing old media companies to license their content to you, you're starting with two strikes against you. Even worse, your biggest suppliers are in a position to become your biggest competitors, if they aren't already competing against you.

New media companies have to break their dependence on old media, and the only way to do that is to produce original content in new forms that old media companies can't, or won't, duplicate.
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