Commentary

Dishwashers, Confections, Shampoo: Next Chapter For Media Companies?

Cable operators might be surprised that their business was never really about TV. Through the decades, cable TV subscriptions have kept declining while operators’ other businesses -- and media leverage -- have kept climbing.

What are the lessons from cable operator for other media companies, new and traditional? Should they follow similar business logic for the next decade?

Early insight into this issue for cable companies came from Glenn Britt, the longtime chief executive officer of Time Warner Cable, who died last week.

N. J. Nicholas Jr., a senior Time Warner executive who first worked with Britt in the early 1970s, toldThe New York Times: “He’d say, ‘Think of cable as a giant media infrastructure play. There are going to be new products to be developed for consumer benefit, but it is not about television. Never has been.’’’

Cable’s eventual big expansion into broadband and phone services proved Britt’s point. He believed this model would be the foundation of media platforms and businesses to come. In 2013, he told the NYC Media Lab Summit that Google and other new digital media platforms would never have existed without cable.

A number of other media-related companies have expanded well beyond their initial business models. For example, Amazon, which started out selling books, now sells dishwashers and produces TV shows.

So we can imagine the likes of TV stations, aging cable networks, and other TV content companies, also thinking about expansion well beyond their obvious goals. Digital media? Check. More original programming? Check.

But what else? Are snacks, sofas and living room electronics/lighting out of the question? What about shampoo and replacement sport sunglass lenses?  

Traditional media companies have been a central place for consumer goods and services companies to do much of their marketing.  Maybe these media companies need to think bigger to expand into areas not previously imagine. They just need to look back a little.

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