Content Remains King. All Rise For The King!

Advertising Age’s recent Media Issue (Oct. 3, 2011) looks hard at the “Content Is King” motto, questions its relevance in the current digital mix, and offers some insightful observations in the process. Overwhelmingly though, the various articles and writers support the premise that in today’s media tug of war, content and content owners remain royal.

“Rising competition for content has…strengthened the hand of content owners…,” says writer Jack Neff (As Devices And Distribution Compete, Content Enjoys A Renaissance) who points to Netflix’s increasing costs and competition from other outlets while trying to renew its content licenses as an example. (According to Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter Netflix content costs are likely to rise 10X from about $180 million in 2010 to nearly $2 billion next year.)

In many ways Netflix appeared like it had cornered the video streaming market and would be able to leverage its power to exercise control over the space. Not so argues Neff. “Netflix is perhaps the biggest victim of content’s rising power—and just when it looked to some like it had killed the king.” He also points to the book world as an example. “Book publishers used the leverage from Apple’s iPad entry last year to break the $9.99 price ceiling Amazon once had on most e-books.”

However, Neff notes that content owners and distributors need each other. “It’s true that creating content alone won’t cut it,” he says. “Owners need to find smart partnerships with an increasingly complex web of distributors. But it’s equally true that a distribution platform with little to distribute is of little use to consumers, no matter how fancy the interface is.”

“Content owners are in the catbird seat, because anytime a new distributor or new device crops up they need great content to drive the platform’s appeal,” says Will Richmond President of marketing intellegence and consulting firm Broadband Decisions. “Video-content owners and book publishers benefit most from rising demand for content because they didn’t take the paths that have hurt the music and newspaper industries. The music industry was slow to make its product available online for a fee, which helped fuel illegal peer-to-peer content sharing. And newspapers and many magazines spent years giving their product away for free, supported (marginally) by advertising…”

Nonetheless, Neff warns content owners not to get too greedy. If prices increase too far, they will run the real risk of stimulating consumers toward illegal file sharing. Helping to pay for these increased content costs, several cable networks, including Nashville’s Comcast, have quietly, but effectively tightened the video-on-demand (VOD) ad model by disabling the fast-forward option for VOD selections allowing networks to include more VOD viewing impressions in their ad metrics.

Ad Age’s Media edition also studies the evolution of content distribution business models. Wired Editor in Chief Chris Anderson tells writer Matthew Creamer, “Once rich content can be distributed globally at virtually no cost on platforms that have billing relationships already established (IOS, Android, Kindle, etc.), we can experiment wildly with who pays and how much. For example, ad-dependent models can diversify into profitable subscriber models and turn periodicals into brands and digital storefronts that can sell other content.”

David Remnick, Editor of the New Yorker cautions creators to stay focused on quality, “The guiding idea here is that new technologies should amplify, not alter our principles: in this case, values of depth, beauty, accuracy and journalistic ambition.”

Great content undeniably still sits on a special throne. And that seems to be true across the entire media realm—print, music, video and online. But content is not like buying bologna in the supermarket deli section, it doesn’t come by the pound. To comfortably wear a crown, it must have a royal spark which attracts attention and audience engagement.

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David M. Ross has been covering Nashville's music industry for over 25 years. [email protected]

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