Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Context Is More Important Than Distribution Control

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The explosion of content from television producers bringing original content to the Web may look on the surface like a consumer content story, but it's really only a very visible sign of a broader story impacting all content producers.

Photo credit: Olga Shelego

In a world with a limitless supply of content via a universal Web, traditional content distribution is on its way to becoming a secondary business model.

With the emphasis on getting the attention of audiences saturated with content options, profitable publishing is less about controlling distribution and more about helping others to push content into its most valuable context without traditional distribution deals.

Original Web-first content production is an important step, but without context-driven value the job is half done.

Photo credit: Michael Osterrieder

Last week was the week that television went wild on the Web. In a spurt of activity to catch up with the rapid migration of young TV audiences to online outlets numerous TV and online networks beefed up their video program offerings. From the new CBS offering Innertube, to the announcement of Microsoft's MSN Originals to ABC television's launch of next-day online viewing of their on-air program schedule (with ads) commercial television is racing to go elbow to elbow with the explosion of new and oftentimes original online video sources available from both professional and amateur sources.

CBS Innertube

While widely available broadband service in the U.S. and beyond combined with mature video infrastructure makes these services possible in the technical sense, the real enabler is the changing attitude of video producers.

Long locked in to relationships with local broadcast affiliates and cable outlets, television is feeling its way gingerly through these old relationships based on distribution to build new direct relationships with audiences through online access.

The shadow of controlling distribution as a key tenet of profitability hangs heavily on the content industry.

From the first clay tablets in ancient times to Guttenberg's press to the age of electronics content producers have prized closely held distribution channels as the key to their riches and power.

But then came the Web, where content flows with few controls on its distribution.

This is not a business philosophy as much as it is an inherent design of the Web. The original Internet was designed in the 1970's by the U.S. military to overcome wartime communications disruptions between any sender and receiver automatically.

In other words, the Internet by its very nature tries to overcome the distribution bottlenecks that content producers have coveted. No small wonder, then, that content producers wedded to long-standing proprietary distribution channels have been slow to adapt to the Web.

But now that potential substitute products are cropping up everywhere on the Web, content producers used to controlling distribution channels have little choice but to adapt their marketing strategies to a post-distribution world. In doing so they move gently to maintain revenues from existing print, audio and video channels and to maintain relationships with the organizations that manage those distribution channels for them. It's not an easy balance - and one that can easily take one's eye off the ultimate prize. Original and exclusive content for their Web offerings helps to soften the blow to their existing distribution channels, but it's all part of facing a hard and uncomfortable truth: controlling distribution is becoming less valuable than enabling the most valuable context for content easily accessed by audiences that have abundant choices.

Be it video, audio, text or data, there are a few key rules that will emerge as old distribution patterns merge in with new context-driven capabilities:

  • Separate your content user licensing from content distribution channels


    Many media companies have jumped on proprietary DRM solutions to lock down premium content, in effect re-creating traditional proprietary content distribution relationships. While licensing controls remain important, there are far more potential channels for premium content than there are proprietary DRM schemes that users will find to be acceptable before they opt to bypass DRM schemes for less onerous controls. The emerging digital exchange standards being backed by Sony, Microsoft, Apple and others hint that a broadening of technology to support this concept, but it's up to content producers themselves to develop new standards for licensing in digital media that will make it attractive for users to play by the rules with licenses that can move to and from whatever devices and channels suit their fancy.

  • Make it easy for content to go viral


    NBC learned a lesson from earlier hacked distributions of popular clips from their TV shows and started making it much easier for viewers to view and share clips with people. This builds up the value of their Web site more effectively, but it limits potential content shares to just a handful of clips. In a post-distribution world content producers need to be able to leverage users as key partners in content propagation, allowing as many agents as possible to help content find its most valuable context. In an environment in which technology makes copying extremely simple and inexpensive globally, the fastest and most cost-effective way to implement highly valuable contexts for content is to make it easy for anyone in the world to distribute content in the right packaging that will ensure its producer appropriate recognition of its value.

  • Package distribution options as value-add features for go-anywhere content


    Though cries of "print is dead" still ring out now and again, for the most part publishers and audiences recognize that traditional media will be with us for a long while. The question that still hangs out there, though, is what should be packaged in these media and how. If traditional distribution channels are no longer necessary to service most audiences, then they can be packaged as value-add services for people who prefer other media and venues for content that they've licensed. We're probably far away from theatre-screen-rental-on-demand movies, but not far off from print-on-demand magazines and newspapers tailored for individuals and highly focused groups that leverage traditional distribution media as a custom service.

It will take a long while for most publishers and content producers to adjust to a world in which distribution is secondary to enabling content to find its own context as efficiently as possible. But it is an exorable movement that must respond to the fundamental economics of publishing in a Web-driven era.

The world has an infinite supply of content and only a very finite amount of attention that can be gained from highly mobile and fleeting potential audiences.

The content that can rise to the top of the list for that audience's attention most quickly and efficiently is the content that will ring up revenues most effectively.

By pushing Web-first content traditional content producers have started to engage the post-distribution content model in earnest. But now comes the hard part - getting long-established business models to take the most advantage of that environment. Stay tuned for further developments.

John Blossom -
Reference: Shore [ Read more ]
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posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, May 10 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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