by Julius WiedemannMar 09, 2022
We know content is king. But to what extent, it has been changing for every new technology that is created and adopted on mass scale. Content is king, especially for people and companies who own them. The fight for space on TV sets, which now means basically streaming, is the fight for ownership to be able to stream whatever is in the catalogue, forever. It is not an easy fight because innovation in this area came through people who were originally not content owners. Blockbuster with VCR tapes first, Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and a couple others later. It took a little while for content providers such as Disney, HBO, National Geographic, to understand that what was changing was not just having a huge catalogue that could be sold to distributors. It was about owning exclusivity and being able to stream it. The subscription model has pulverised and aggregators became old fashion. Cable TV has somehow created a culture where content owners had to be part of a much bigger chunk of content that were delivered as bundles, and the most expensive pieces belonged to the live streamings of special events such as the NFL and football Champions League. Bundles are going to survive, but they will be transformed as well, as consumers become more selective about what is needed and what is rubbish.
TV as we have conceived it for decades, and as it has thrived, is part of the past now. And to think that this transformation occurred in just a few years. The change is so radical that Netflix itself went from CD to streaming, almost facing shareholder revolt, to become the hero of the industry, to face again a new challenge this year because of incoming competition. Whereas the growth of audience remains scalable through cash burn and good strategy, the production of content is much more complex. The truth is the pandemic has made things worse, creating difficulties for filming. But also true to say that there is an advantage for companies with a lot of cash to burn to engage studios all over the world. Disney+ is catching up. They have now over 130 million subscribers, still behind Netflix with about 220 million, but working hard to have the revenue from their content coming directly to them. Needless to say that the acquisition of NatGeo will have a big impact in acquiring content. The acquisition of Marvel is paying back too. It might be time for Netflix to start acquiring entire studios, media outlets, and other catalogues, paying top dollar before someone else does.
But original content is not only in video format. Audio is undergoing a strong competition, including between music and podcasts. Content providers want to make sure they do not have to rely solely on licensing assets, a business that is certain to become more competitive and harder to negotiate as service providers expand the quantity. Exclusivity, something that was already hard enough, is going to become part of self developed content, or through acquired catalogues. With the demise of traditional radios, especially through programming that was pre-recorded and offered very little innovation, the channels have risen to the challenge and have re-conquered the market in the last five years to become more global, and much smarter about the content that they serve.
Lastly, there is Metaverse, which is now known that it's going to be developed in a much slower pace than previously thought, according to Facebook itself, but there's still hope for many content creators to think outside the box. Markets Insider recently published an article named All museums will build a metaverse copy using NFTs, predicts contemporary art chief at world's largest museum”, anticipating the frisson about both NFTs and Facebook’s virtual life platform. The virtual world Second Life has also an active group of artists who aim to display visual arts online with the same credibility that art is displayed in brick and mortar museums. From Apple Music to YouTube, Spotify has amassed a large number of competitors for audio contents. Not that music is not important anymore, but there’s so much more out there that can be used as both entertainment and educational initiatives, that audio has surged as a new digital panacea.
Ultimately, it is all content. Audio has now acquired the credibility of videos and also well edited media. But there is a problem in there. In this day and age, we are not equipped with the discipline to check the veracity of a lot of information that comes to us through social media and messaging apps. Audio poses a threat to our ability to understand fake news. Because people listen to someone who sounds very confident about what is being said, we tend to believe that the information that is coming with it is true. Owning content does not mean owning good content. The bars are rising for every company providing any sort of information. One of the bars that is going to count the most will be about how serious it is taken by its producers. Donald Trump has been advertising the new social platform called Truth Social. Hard to believe that anything there is going to be really serious, but surely they have a huge potential audience. My claim, as in many other columns, is that we remain vigilant about what we read, what information comes to us. The resilience of checking everything is important for our education and also for the education of our children. Let’s allow content to remain the king.
Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.