Democratization of Content: It Already Happened!

Not a week goes by where I don't receive a call to discuss the "democratization of content" and what it means for major entertainment companies.  People call and tell me that content was king, but now consumers are king and ask me what I think.  Before responding whether I agree with this presumption, a follow-up question based on agreeing with the former occurs: Do I think major entertainment companies are doomed because of the Internet?  These two questions -- who is king, content or consumers, and are major entertainment companies doomed because of the Internet -- bring to mind the meaning of "democratization of content," which I believe to mean first and foremost the right of the people to determine what they want to consume and second, the right to choose how they consume.

Let's dig into these two questions.

All of us are very excited about Internet-distributed video and the new business and creative opportunities it brings. But is content becoming democratized only now?  Content is entertainment, which has been around longer than history has been recorded.  But if we look at recorded history as a reference point, all of us know that the success and failure of entertainment has been decided by consumers. 

In the western world, democratization of content started when the church and royalty gave up absolute decision-making on what constituted appropriate and quality entertainment.  During more recent periods, entertainment has been further democratized by economic factors as we vote with our feet and wallets.  During the last 70 years we selected among competing radio shows in the 1940s and 1950s, voted at the retail store when purchasing Parcheesi or Twister in the 1960s, decided whether to tune in to "Charlie's Angels," "The Waltons" or "Seinfeld" from the 1970s through the 1990s, and considered whether to purchase a ticket to Broadway shows such as "Jersey Boys." 

The point is that for as long as any of us can remember, content has been democratized as we decide what is good and bad content.  This summer, movies will bomb, television pilots will be cancelled, and playhouses will go dark.  The entertainment industry is filled with corpses because content is democratized.  Cases in point:  Millions of us voted "Slum Dog Millionaire" as quality entertainment by reaching into our wallets to shell out the bucks at the box office window.  Very few said, "I refuse to watch until it's released for my iCoolDevice."  Conversely, do any of you remember Kevin Costner's movie "Waterworld," which cost $180 million to make?  Consumers (a couple anyway) showed up at the box office for that flick and voted too.  Result?  "Waterworld" did as well at the box office as A-Rod does in October.  ICoolDevice, free or pay -- no one wanted that one. 

The reality is, all content and entertainment -- board games, plays, books, radio, television, movies, and sports -- are democratized, have been for years, have tremendous competition and need to be top quality or consumers won't tune in no matter how we choose to consume.  And before the New Englanders counterpoint with "The pre- ‘Big Papi' days of the BoSox wasn't first class entertainment, yet sold out," rest assured I've spent enough time in Fenway to know all 39,928 attendees (and I suspect the players) were inebriated by the fifth inning, so the first-class entertainment didn't have to be on the field.

So what's really the Internet's effect?  Formal academics call it Economic Substitution.  We simply call it "Choice."  Given a finite number of available hours in a day, we have more options to fill our time.  The Internet allows us to choose whether we want to shop, do research, sit back and be entertained with video and music, play board games, socialize with friends -- or, with inventions like Kindle, dare I say it, read a book.  But the entertainment has to be all-star quality or we'll choose another "sport."  In addition to providing Economic Substitution, the Internet decreases friction, enabling easier entry into the entertainment business. Just ask Miles and Greg at EQAL, the creators of "Lonely Girl."

So what's the Internet's effect on major entertainment companies?  Economic Substitution = More Competition!  Professional content continues to get better as it has for years.  If it didn't, we would find substitutes, just as we did for football in Los Angeles.

6 comments about "Democratization of Content: It Already Happened! ".
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  1. Brian Olson from Video Professor, Inc, April 28, 2009 at 3:04 p.m.

    I'm not this exactly fits the topic at hand, but I'll jump in the pool anyways. My hobby is video and video editing. Family events, trips and other adventures are shot, edited and whenver possible the appropriate music added in.

    My favorite place to post to share is youtube. I pay nothing to do so, nor is anyone charged to watch what I post.

    I'm not a major movie studio, I'm not providing a copy of the latest hot movie, just some home video albeit rather nicely shot and edited home video.

    Lately, I've had several videos kicked back because of using copyrighted music by some artists. If was making even a penny, I'd be happy to give it to the band.

    Seems to me the worst that can happen when I post the video is the band gets a little exposure. I rarely, if at all, use a full music clip so it's not like whole songs are available to somehow steal.

    So I end up arranging, often times the same music, and playing it myself using garageband.

    Nothing gets kicked back.

  2. Tilly Pick from Development Practice 360, LLC., April 28, 2009 at 3:41 p.m.

    Agree with Steve. Only add is that the internet is enabling a lot more content junk and litter along with the occasional brilliant piece from people that had not yet been anointed by Hollywood. That's the good thing. It's now more possible for any of us to make it.

  3. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, April 28, 2009 at 4:37 p.m.

    Wow, GREAT post. People have gotten the delivery system mixed up with the content itself for years - remember the great debate over TV killing Radio? OK, maybe you don't, but back in the day there was one, 'video killed the radio star' was actually culturally relevant when MTV launched. The reality is people weren't listening to radio for hours any more, they were listening for minutes, and 3 minute songs did better than 15 minute Abbot and Costello routines. And now they're back on Satellite because in a large enough pool there's enough demand to sustain a micromarket niche.

    Point being, the internet is another way to get mostly the same stuff as on TV, just in a different form and probably a different physical size; it also has this oddball HTML-browser-content schema thing going on that TV doesnt have. But because of that schema and the way the internet developed out of the workplace (the other media weren't initially deployed mostly in white collar offices before they ended up in the home), people interact with it in a completely different way than TV (or radio or magazines or newspapers or whatever media you want), and that's what makes it a whole different paradigm. The stuff is still the stuff, but the interface for interacting with the stuff is different now.

  4. Mike Mcgrath from RealXstream PTY LTD, April 29, 2009 at 12:55 a.m.

    Cabel brought us fragmentation with hundreds of channels, bow online video can offer us a infinite number of channels so smaller, niche but increasingly engaged audiences may be what advertisers and media business owners are looking at...

  5. Jeff Bach from Quietwater Media, April 29, 2009 at noon

    Love this post. Well done Steve Robinson!

    I would reiterate and agree the most with the distribution/marketing/discovery angle that Steve obliquely mentions in this article.

    I'm not so sure Hollywood will be impacted by the democratization of content. Hwood is the only place in town making $$ with moving pictures. Repeatedly. As a business. How do the do it? Hwood literally supplies one dollar for marketing and promotion for every dollar it spends on content development. That marketing spend makes the whole thing work, in my opinion, and is the ONLY thing separating Hwood from the seething horde of zero-revenue smaller-scale content creators.

    We can all create and post thanks to the Youtubes of the world, but only the very few with a large enough bag of marketing dollars are ever going to have a successful (and REPEATABLE) business model. Any of the handful of Hwood studios is an example of this.

    One-off successes will always be there, but they will be the exceptions, the "one-offs", not the norm and will not be repeatable by the same creator. Lonely Girl, to me, is an example of this.

    Thankfully, our culture allows us all to compete and pursue individual goals. Much like the California gold rush, a lucky few individual content creators will make their strike and find a motherlode of interest and viewership. By and large though, the only people that will make money will be the ones selling the modern day equivalent of gold rush shovels and boots.

    Great article Steve!

  6. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, April 30, 2009 at 5:37 p.m.

    True, consumers have always had the ability to "vote with the remote." The New Democratization, however, has brought with it a seemingly unlimited amount of bandwidth. Consider TV, as an example. While viewers could always "vote," 30 years ago there were only three "candidates" per time slot, and the major networks decided who they were (so it was sort of like an Eastern Bloc election, rather than a true democracy). Cable added maybe a hundred other candidates. But the new media platforms gives viewers access to an unthinkable amount of video content, to watch at the time of their choosing. It is the ultimate "Public Access Channel," adding a true grass roots element that heretofore wasn't represented.

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