Put This Thought In Your Pipe

You’re going to be hearing a lot about the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable if you haven’t already.


(Photo credit: LizMarie_AK)

That’s not really what today’s screed is about but it is what triggered the topic.  Many people are very outspoken against the merger; just as many seem not to care.  Whether you are for it or against it, the interesting thing is that the argument is over “the pipe.”  More and more, the pipe – the channel through which content is delivered – matters less and less.

Let’s take it out of digital terms.  Take Starbucks. Their “content” is coffee and coffee drinks.  Their pipe was initially their stores.  Then the content moved to other channels – supermarkets, airports, etc.  They also got many of their customers – 7 million of them at latest count – into a Rewards program using phones and other digital assets.  They continued to make the content experience appropriate to the channel – you get a nice china mug when you’re drinking in-store, you get free WiFi, etc.  What has that meant?

“Holiday 2013 was the first in which many traditional brick and mortar retailers experienced in-store foot traffic give way to online shopping in a major way,” said Howard Schultz, chairman, president and ceo of Starbucks Coffee Company. “As our solid traffic growth and record Q1 results demonstrate, Starbucks unique combination of physical and digital assets positions us as one of the very few consumer brands with a national and global footprint to benefit from the seismic shift underway.”

In other words, it’s the content.  If you’re really good at it, the content morphs as needed for the particular channel.  In general, however, most of us can access that content though multiple channels, and if we’re unhappy with one we generally have the option to go to another to get the content we seek.  Sure, that’s not universally true on a free basis but if you throw in the ability to rent – generally for less than the cost of one Starbucks drink – you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that’s inaccessible (and I’m not including all the illegal availability either).

Yes, it’s important that consumers are protected from monopoly control.  Yes it’s important that the Internet remain open and equally accessible to all.  Those discussions are worth having but if the concern is that one pipe will be less attractive, believe me there are other ways to get to what it is we’re really after – the content.  The demand for that will drive the market to find a way around any pipe that gets blocked.


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