My new book, and this blog, is about the most important issue the media business is facing as it tries to move forward: control. Try Googling for a definition of “control” and you will find many interesting morsels, such as: control = power to direct or determine; “under control.” Control is the power to determine - for the purpose of this blook, that will make a very suitable definition.
In my work as speaker and advisor, the tough issue of control emerges, again and again, as the key contention point within TV companies, publishers, record labels, and broadcasters: How can a commercial venture that is based on so-called “intellectual property” thrive and prosper in an environment that seems to continuously and progressively remove control from the creators/owners/providers of content, and hands it over to the people formerly known as consumers (aka the users), effectively making them more powerful every single day?
But the reality is that every click inadvertently makes another case for the consumer’s ever-increasing rise in importance. Within all the conversations I have had about things like commercial content versus shared content, about the read-only or the read-write web, and about copyright versus Fair Use, the crucial question always seems to boil down to WHERE IS THE CONTROL HERE, i.e., questions such as “Who will control this new media universe” and “How much control do I need to run a revenue-generating business?”
Ever more devices, ever faster broadband, more channels, more platforms, faster processors, endless storage, better search — and still, we have only 24 hours in a day. The real barrier is attention! For many content creators or providers, it may often seem that one’s power to monetize stands to be inadvertently diminished every time some geek in some garage publishes a new piece of code. Today, those digital natives (i.e., the 10–25 year olds who were born as the Net Generation) increasingly self-assemble or pull media, controlling and sharing their own collections — and thereby making the companies that usually purvey their mass-media less crucial in the process.
Seven years after the explosion of the dot-com bubble, the future of media once again seems to be up for grabs. Bloggers and Web 2.0 entrepreneurs; social media and UGC (user-generated content) startups; mobile filesharers and P2P software developers; teenage inventors; hungry telecoms; operators and cellcos; mobile phone makers; worried governments and industry organizations; exasperated venture capitalists and their latest and greatest offspring, search engines and online communities — they all want a nice, juicy piece of the anticipated $ 1.6 trillion entertainment economy of 2010. And they all are hell-bent to take control away from the people who used to have it: the studios, and the titans of content.
This book will offer a counter-intuitive theory of we will get there: Give Up on Control.
Yes, really: Every piece of control your users — aka customers, fans, or clients — run away with represents another leg-up gained by your company. Much easier said than done, granted, but said it must be, nevertheless.
Old-media veterans, be they music moguls or newspaper, radio, or TV executives — those who have cherished and at all cost maintained their absolute control over the marketplace — are now howling with disgust as those People Formerly Known as Consumers are becoming their de-facto bosses. They have suddenly lost their Monopoly on Attention. Yes, it’s happening everywhere, in all industries, but it is in media where we are most awestruck by its implications: We will now have to work much harder at getting people’s attention, and to gain and keep trust, rather than just use distribution monopolies to send more stuff they should watch down the pipeline.
Hundreds of millions of users are now on their merry way toward becoming what I like to call context creators, or — as some would argue — even co-creators and publishers (something I have started to call Usators★).
To further step up the frenzy, many new, second-generation media companies are already being built from scratch, propelled by the rebound flow of new VC money — money that, for the first time, comes not only from Silicon (V)Alley, but also from Beijing and Shanghai, Tel Aviv and Berlin. The excitement is palpable, new ideas are flooding the market, new opportunities abound, mobile and wireless media are gearing up to dwarf PC-tethered content commerce, and Asia is set to blow the roof off the ivory towers of traditional, western-modeled media. The New York Times and even the venerable Wall Street Journal now feature select bloggers (aka amateurs). CNN embraces amateur videomakers, showing video clips shot and sent in by its viewers. The good old BBC wants to become one of the biggest new-media purveyors in the world.... The list goes on.
What’s more, convergence is no longer just an idea, or a PowerPoint tagline. It’s naked reality for every media company, discussed in every boardroom. And many convergent products are relying on a substantial loss of control by all involved parties. Can we offer converged media services without giving up control? Highly unlikely.
The bottom line is that in the future, we will need to learn how to live and prosper with relative control.
It is also likely that new players (i.e. those that start with this new paradigm rather than having had to switch to it) will have a lot more success in the media business of tomorrow than any incumbent no matter how much they want to change, simply because they may have never tasted the pleasures of Total Control. Getting off the total control paradigm means putting the audience, aka the user, the fan, the ‘Foknacs’ - those formerly known as consumers - in charge, and handing the power over to them – as much as that seems a bunch of empty Silicon Valley web2.0 marketing talk, that is the real challenge.
And a challenge it is, because we are basically talking about beliefs here, not purely about facts. In other words, we’re talking about something akin to religion. What else would be the reason that the major record labels have, for the past ten years, continued to pound away on Digital Rights Management (DRM) software — until just recently — even in the face of total disaster as far as user acceptance goes, with digital music sales having stalled worldwide?
The simple reason is their belief systems, their assumptions: “Once we permit un-control, once we permit and even bless sharing, once we let go, we are screwed!” Unless conquered, this fear is guaranteed to lead to their fast demise: They have only succeeded in making themselves utterly dispensable and irrelevant — the laughingstock of the financial markets.
Let’s face it: in a world where digital content is ubiquitously created and made readily available to everyone, everywhere, anytime, we simply will not generate enough revenues by attempting to control the copies (or the access to those copies). Throttling distribution and monetizing scarcity — an operating mode that most media conglomerates have enjoyed since the invention of the printing press, the phonograph, the TV, and the CD — is no longer a viable option. Rather, access to media content will simply be a universal, default, built-in status — and therefore, media will first be a service and only then a product.
Value will be generated by being and remaining the trusted context (formerly known as being 'the networks' but now becoming known as 'being networked'); by becoming the unique purveyor of a particular media experience; and by providing added values, again and again, every time the user shows up — real-life, virtually, or both.
It is becoming evident that a “media company of the future” that does not hand over the control to its customers and users will wither and fade quickly, while those companies that empower their users and in return receive trust, respect, and appreciation will grow exponentially and profit very handsomely, building a much bigger content industry than we could ever have imagined in the days of unit sales. Don Tapscott’s book Wikinomics offers some good insights on this, by the way.
Here and now, the people formerly known as consumers are becoming fully empowered Netizens, and it is the Net Generation that will quickly become the default audience for our content, rather than an aberration. The Digital Natives are taking over everywhere, and they will not play if they, in the aggregate, don’t feel like they control the game, or if they get even the slightest whiff that the game may be rigged.
Social networks are quickly becoming the new radio and stand to have more influence over music trends (and commerce) than MTV ever had; (digital) radio is fast turning into a music retailer and distributor; and smart, software-based taste-making agents are set to become a standard in digital music. Mobile phones are becoming powerful media players, and remix devices, and super-distribution nodes — by default. Ubiquitous Wi-Fi and Wimax will soon mean that online and offline cease to be meaningful terms of distinction.
All of this can be summarized in one conclusion: It is now becoming utterly impossible to control the people formerly known as consumers. Instead, they control the media purveyors — by virtue of millions of mouse-clicks and the power of their combined click-streams.
Welcome to my blook, and welcome to the End of Control.
Added video comment:
Here is an excerpt of a video by Fora.tv, shot back in March 2007 at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, where I think I pretty much nailed it (if I may say so myself): The bottom line is CONTROL.