Internet People Versus Content People

March 22, 2009

I enjoyed Mark Cuban’s “Why Do Internet People Think Content People Are Stupid?” here. To be fair, I also like  Boxee’s CEO (Avner Ronen) and his compatriots view of content people. The trigger for this dust up is Hulu’s decision to block the Boxee service from Hulu content. You can get a refresher on this issue in Peter Kafka’s “Boxee CEO Avner Ronen Gets a Crash Course in the TV Business” here.

Mr. Cuban’s article sets the stage for the battle. He wrote:

…it would make absolutely zero sense for legit content providers to compete with the most consistent and largest source of revenue they have.

He is correct. In my opinion, his key point was:

If al a Carte is the way of the future, then it should apply to the Internet as well, right ?No one wants to pay the cost of the Web sites they don’t use, or the bandwidth they don’t consume, right ? Bring on Al a carte Internet. Make those who want 1mm Web sites available pay for it !

I can understand his argument, and it makes sense to those with a good understanding of the traditional media businesses and their methods.

Is the Boxee CEO wrong? I can understand his viewpoint because he like many other companies innovating in the datasphere come at content from a different angle. Mr. Ronen’s arguments make sense, particularly to those comfortable with the current digital information environment.

The challenge is time. The content people have to win over those who support the “Internet people” side of the argument. Time is running out because traditional media and some content people are marginalizing newspapers. I am not sure if the people who rely on or even will be subject to behavior modification. I run into more Internet people today than I did two years ago. I also don’t run into as many content people today as I did a couple of years ago.

I write for some traditional publishers, and I know that money is tight. Subscribers are drifting away. The managers are entertaining advertorials, inserts, and massive award programs to create revenue opportunities. None of these is what my former employer Barry Bingham Jr. would have called “content.”

Both sides of this argument are valid. In the present economic climate, this battle will be won by those younger than me moving through their careers. I don’t think the traditional media business models will have much traction unless significant, compelling progress is made quickly.

I remember when I got my first transistor radio when I was in grade school in the late 1950s. My mother asked, “Why do you want to carry a radio around with you?” I recall clearly that I was able to listen to the radio at night via an earphone. When I had to clean up the garage, I could tune my radio to a station playing rock and roll. I understood the convenience and discovered new uses for that aqua and white museum piece.

My generation set the stage for the Walkman, then the iPod. But those younger than me cannot envision a world without an iPhone and pervasive connectivity. My mother (may she rest in peace) clearly articulated her generation’s view of a portable radio. Now the clunker radio I had is a museum piece or a collectors’ item.

My hunch is that the business models that made broadcast radio work in the 1950s is destined for the same fate. Time is indeed running out. I don’t think there’s much doubt in my mind about which competitor will win. The question is, “When?”

For content people, their enemy is their own children. That’s what makes this battle interesting. King Lear writ in binary. Remember how that turned out?

Stephen Arnold, March 22, 2009


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