Content vs. Advertising...FIGHT!

Photo by Hilary Detwiller

Photo by Hilary Detwiller

Photo by Hilary Detwiller

Photo by Hilary Detwiller

Photo by Hilary Detwiller

Photo by Hilary Detwiller

I hear the refrain all the time: Why don't content providers make this content easier to get? 

It's  invariably about a film, a digital book, a piece of music … content. 

The party "holding" things up is always the content provider. 

While it seems obvious to everyone on the planet that the content owners are best served making their content easily available for a fair price with no impediments, they put all manner of obstacles in the way of interested parties at every turn. 

Idiotic DRM schemes (which never work),  lack of availability, cable subscription to watch a single show, higher prices, or the content not being available at all in digital format are the most common issues.

Content owners don't do this because they are stupid (for the most part), they do it because they want to control what you see, read or hear. 

Not in some sinister political sense; they hope to keep afloat the 60-year paradigm of putting ads between you and your content, and when they can't, they want to make up their "lost ad cost" in overcharging for digital content; to force the market back to physical sales. 

They also don't want to worry the collapsing cash cow that is the cable industry that they are going direct to the customer.

Every major content provider is addicted to this cable revenue, even as ad sales on those platforms are collapsing. Still, these earnings are vast.  

The conflict above most often summarized as "stupid content providers" is actually:

Content providers want to choose what you see and hear, so they can sell it ads in front of that content.

vs.

People want to consume what they want and will happily pay to do so. They are not interested in ads.

These desires are in direct opposition.  The tension between these concepts has growing in the last few years.

When you control the information (as these content providers once did), you can force unwanted data into people's heads. The people have no choice, you are the sole provider of such information. You can put ads, or promotions, or other content between them and what they hope to consume; and they'll wait for it. 

They'll wait weeks or months or even years.

But the moment that control is lost, even a little bit, that paradigm is over. It may take time for the order behind it to collapse, but it is effectively dead.

The music industry is a great predictor of what is going to happen (and indeed is already happening) to television and movies. 

The moment the distribution of music went global and more disastrous, free, the conventional music industry began a long collapse to where it is now. Fragmented and to a large (and ever growing) degree, digital. The record industry of the 1950's through the early 2000's is gone forever. Erased.

The "transition" was so poorly handled by the industry it changed, that today,  thirteen years after the "summer of Napster" it is still settling. 

Movies and television heard the warning bell of the music collapse, and raised their guard. Today, they are fighting on all fronts to prevent a similar cataclysm. Still many parties in the content providers seeing cracks in the edifice, have jumped the wall.

In fact, I'd go as far as to say, the content providers have already lost the battle for TV and movies. The shift is ongoing, and it's beyond any control.

The shift for TV and movies to follow music already occurred, of all places, in Netflix streaming. 

When it first appeared, to content providers, Netflix streaming was seen as a dumping house for bad content. An "island of misfit toys" for stuff the content guys couldn't sell anywhere else. Over time, as Netflix gained share and revenue, their buying power began to match the cable providers, and soon enough, better content crept in.

Still, by that time I posit, it was already too late.

It was too late the moment people saw you could stream an HD movie — any HD movie — over the internet with ease for a reasonable price. 

That was it. That's all it took. That movie could be Leprechaun 3 or Giant Squid vs. Killer Shark, it didn't matter. That such a thing was possible was enough to shift the public mentality.

Even worse, today, an entire generation of kids — the future of the content provider's market — are being raised in a non-cable world. They watch YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Digital and nothing else. Ads are completely abhorrent to them, a failure on their part to not load the proper plug-in, or find the "pure" content. It's not even the ad that's abhorrent, it's the wait. The time between launching the video and actually seeing what they came for. Anything longer than necessary = search for the content elsewhere.

And it's almost always available somewhere else. 

Today, cable subscriptions are collapsing, Netflix, Hulu and Apple streaming are 70%+ of web traffic on a busy day, and physical media sales are dropping. By the time the youth of today are the market, I imagine cable will be what broadcast TV is now (a tiny fragment), nearly all content will be streaming, and almost nothing will be on physical media.

If music was a collapse, TV and movies was a collapse that has been angled into a bungled controlled demolition. 

The problem is, the content providers did not start the collapse. They did not call the pace of the shift. It happened, is happening and will be ongoing because now there is no escape except to completely pull out — which will never happen. 

If we have learned anything, it is this: once the disruptive technology is out, be it the DVR, the MP3, DVD ripping tech, it cannot be contained. It will rot and ruin previously existing businesses with great aplomb, and will never, ever be put back in the bottle.