Thursday, July 05, 2012

The radically reshaped media landscape

Today's media landscape is very different than it was even a few years ago. You might casually, or even professionally, follow one media business or another, but it's only when you look at all major media segments together that you understand just how radical the changes have been:
  • DVRs have fundamentally changed the way that people watch television. Viewers are saving up entire seasons of shows and watching them all at one time, finding something better to watch on the DVR at 10 p.m. instead of watching network television, and skipping enough commercials that it's having a serious impact on the bottom lines of networks.
  • Movie studios' home video revenues are in serious decline. Consumers are renting from Redbox and Netflix instead of buying DVDs, Blu-Ray is growing much too slowly to make much of a difference, and streaming video revenues haven't replaced, and probably will never fully replace, DVD revenues.
  • As of July 3rd, Netflix became more popular than any U.S. cable network, according to BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield. Greenfield estimates that Netflix now has around 24 million subscribers, and the company itself said that its users watched more than one billion hours of video in June. That works out to around 80 minutes of viewing per day. In Netflix households, the service even beats ABC and CBS. Every minute spent watching Netflix is a minute that a broadcast or cable network isn't showing that person a commercial.
  • Internet videos are finally making serious inroads into broadcast and cable viewership. It used to be that television networks simply used the Internet as a "farm system" to identify rising talent, but there are now too many people producing interesting Internet shows and not enough network slots to put them into. The Internet, unlike broadcast and cable, has an unlimited number of time slots and no requirement to get carriage from cable or satellite companies.
  • Newspapers have cut all the editorial and production staff they can while still staying in business. They're now cutting back on deliveries and days that they print their papers. The only remaining step for many of them is to drop their print versions altogether and try to survive in digital form.
  • Self-publishing has moved from the last resort for desperate authors to the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. book industry. Authors who could have gotten publishing contracts are choosing instead to self-publish, and are making more money as a result. Authors who were widely rejected by agents and publishers are turning to self-publishing and, in some cases, finding big audiences. (As with Internet video, major publishers see self-publishing as a "farm system," but it's only a matter of time before the farm teams overwhelm the big leagues.)
  • Internet music services such as Spotify and Pandora are having a major impact on both the recording and radio businesses. Record companies are becoming more dependent on subscription music services for revenues; radio stations are losing part of their audiences to paid, commercial-free services. Car companies are adding Internet music services to their infotainment systems, making them as easy to access and convenient as broadcast and satellite radio.
There isn't one major media business--television, cable, movies, newspapers, books, music or radio--that isn't undergoing a dramatic upheaval. All of the changes favor new entrants. Rather than fighting back with innovation, most major media companies have resorted to litigation, lobbying, restraint of trade and refusal to deal in order to try to hold back competitors, or to support their customers that are trying to hold back competitors. In the short run, these tactics often succeed, but in the long run, they'll undoubtedly fail. You can't hold back the ocean forever.
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