Over the past ten years, I've had a front row seat watching the plot evolve in the online video revolution. I've seen every fad fade as one challenger after another tumbled due to misguided strategy or tactical misfires.
But, I've also seen challengers become the incumbents who today create the rules of engagement.
First, with YouTube emerging victorious in online video, they've gone from disruptor to the player who sets the standard.
Then with Facebook surpassing MySpace in social media, it set up today's Facebook/YouTube rivalry.
While Facebook will ultimately remain a key player in video, it remains to be seen what kind of videos people will associate and consume on Facebook (likely of a more social nature based on people's personal networks).
After all, if a few years ago a mother would upload and share photos of little Johnny's first steps, it's not implausible for those pictures to be replaced by videos of family moments, especially as Facebook eventually tackles the "freebooting" problem it faces.
As such, YouTube will remain the leader where audiences flock to to watch informational and entertaining videos. In fact, YouTube has already undergone many metamorphoses, and today most of the popular videos aren't created by "traditional," but by bigger organizations such as marketers, traditional broadcasters and movie studios, or the emerging producers who built YouTube-native (let alone digital native) programming, brands and companies.
YouTube made certain tactical decisions that explain its current success, but its domination proves that content matters most: it's always had the most varied catalog of videos, regardless of how the content got there in the first place.
This reflects the increasingly-held belief that we are experiencing a golden age of content, though much of that stems from the emergence of Netflix as a patron of the scripted entertainment model, even though Netflix itself cares less about the scripts, characters and plot twists and more about the subscribers and revenue their efforts in originals have created.
In the ten years that YouTube has gone from a registered URL to the industry's market maker, Netflix has gone from a stock-adjusted $4 to $120 per share, with a market cap of $50 billion.
Not to be outdone, Google's $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube may go down as the single best M&A ever, especially when you read about Disney's ESPN subsidiary shedding 7 million subscribers in the past couple of years, which translates to $2 billion in evaporated revenues.
Disney isn't alone: Viacom caused itself irreparable harm by sitting on the sidelines as audiences' tastes evolved and flocked to a new breed of brands and programming, mainly on YouTube.
It's a great era to be a producer of content, but in reality, the power remains in the hands of those who have aggregated the largest distribution pipelines.
Not only are Netflix and YouTube the undisputed champions of the $80 billion paid video and $70 billion ad supported video markets, but this has manifested itself in traditional circles too, culminating with Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal in 2013.
But while many get caught up in the "content or distribution" paradigm, the real takeaway for me has been that content remains King, but distribution is an equally important and arguably more powerful Queen. But like all monarchy concepts, a narrow view of each independent of the bigger family portrait is a recipe for failure.The future of media, I believe, is the marriage of the right content and distribution, and the harnessing of their offspring - that being community or audience (or, the Prince) - which is a more dynamic and evolving metabolism.
While distribution is sometimes erroneously assumed to equal audience, the reality is that not all distribution is created equally. So, while content creators don't suffer the same zero-sum, winner takes all fate as tech companies, the only way to fortify oneself against disruptive distribution challengers or ever-evolving tastes in programming is to balance content and distribution to create an audience-community that can evolve with the times, adapt to opportunities and shifting horizons.
The strategy that prevails, ultimately, is a recognition that the conditions may never be ideal, but marrying the right content with the right distribution will reward you with the audience reach and valuable community that will make your brand prosper.