Around 2004, I learned a lot about the power struggle between content and distribution — a squabble at least as old as the Guttenberg press.
I was with a production company that had a handful of small episodic TV series, a few indie films, and some other projects. One of the TV series became a big hit and punched above its weight in terms of cultural zeitgeist. The series was called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
Among other gear required to produce the series were vehicles and mobile phones. And we needed these things inside the content, as part of the show, as well as for the production staff. Once the series gained cultural currency, something happened — we went from paying for our props and production supplies to being paid to use them. Suddenly, the power dynamic had shifted. Expenses turned to revenue. We were alchemists.
Yesterday, news broke of a huge gauntlet that Google has thrown down. In layman’s terms, Google has basically stated that brands engaging directly with content creators for promotional work or product placement will need to pay Google to advertise the content. That’s the basic idea. The enabler, or distribution channel, would like a bigger slice of the pie.
There is a lot of speculation about what this will mean, how it will be enforced, the definition of terms, etc.
But the biggest surprise is, in some ways, that we didn’t see it coming. After all, as I stated, it is the oldest power tussle in this space. Will Facebook start to require an affiliate share of revenue when Michael Jordan posts about his Hanes underwear? Perhaps.
I used a television analogy, but it’s a flawed analogy. There are many reasons why, but the biggest is this: given the inexorable march to fully addressable audiences, known individually across devices (including your car and bathroom scale and yard — let alone living room), the time has come for digital to drop the “safety net” of the TV comparison — simply because it will no longer exist, or be apt, in what is left of the current sense of the word “TV.”
This will not be the last fight over the value chain of money that lines the digital street from brand to consumer. Let’s not rail against Google — let’s all find our place inside that value chain. There are, and will continue to be, content forces that are bigger than Google. There are, and will continue to be, alternatives for distribution.
In the meantime, I need to go look at my content creator deals.