When I started my career in media I worked for a content distributor – the station division of a national TV company. We bought programming from content creators and used our distribution system to put it in front of consumers. Other than some local programming such as news and public affairs, we didn’t create much and I suspect we’d have done a bit less had we not been mandated to provide what we did in return for our broadcast licenses. Our business was to buy content and sell eyeballs and it was a very good business indeed.
By the time I had moved over to the network side, 10 years later, the business has changed a bit. Networks now produced some shows and invested in others. The business was still primarily about distribution but things were starting to change. And now?
Now, as Jimmy Durante used to say, everybody wants to get into the act. In sports, leagues (content providers) own networks that distribute their products. While it’s mostly to other distributors such as cable and satellite companies at the moment, Kansas State announced the other day it was launching an online HD network (behind a pay wall, of course) and all pro leagues have some sort of direct to consumer distribution of the same product that would ordinarily have required a partner in the past. In entertainment, TV networks own studios and distribute that programming directly to consumers via Hulu, a distribution entity they own (but for how long?).
The biggest change is the access that’s now available. TV networks had to pay local antenna owners (stations to you) for over the air distribution a very long time ago. Since then, everyone can access the same digital pipes. While the distribution advantage is gone, the big guys still own a huge advantage in reach (not potential reach – that’s all about equal) and, most importantly, in their ability to tap the marketer base to sell the eyeballs they attract to their programing.
Two last points. First, you’ll notice that I’m not distinguishing between web, mobile, tablets, or any other platform and one would hope that content providers, whoever they are, don’t either. There are dozens of reports each week about how different population segments are using each of these channels and we ignore any of them at huge peril.
Finally, I don’t know who is what any more. Marketers produce branded content. Networks own events and production companies. Distributors own networks. The lines have blurred so much as to be invisible. But I do know this: consumers continue to demand high-quality content which is available to them on demand on any platform. They want to socialize that content and ask for tools to do so. No matter what you call yourself, you’re in the business of pleasing those customers and that’s the one act you need to perform to huge applause.