Is content still king? A panel of industry heavyweights agreed to disagree at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference on Wednesday.
"It absolutely starts with good content," said Jason Kilar, CEO of Hulu, the joint video venture between NBC Universal and News Corp.
Sling Media Entertainment Group president Jason Hirschhorn, however, said the upper hand is now with content aggregation and syndication technology and platforms. "Distribution is certainly looking like (the) king these days," Hirschhorn said, to which he added: "Distribution without great content is nothing."
Kilar also made sure to tip his hat to the power of smart distribution. "American Idol," he said, may reach 25 million viewers on TV, but Web aggregation sites like Hulu give such properties the chance to reach a larger audience.
In addition, Kilar said, Hulu has gone out of its way to make itself broadly available online, which has resulted in the content being embedded into over 60,000 Web sites, including MySpace.
Such willingness on the part of content owners like NBC and News Corp. to distribute their content broadly has been a long time coming, said Hirschhorn. "There's now this realization that there's always going to be more people not going to my site than going to my site," he said.
The underlying issue is whether Web video will mature into sustainable business models, said Robert Levitan, CEO of Pando Networks, which creates software for distributing digital media.
"Media companies are still focused on digital revenues, but soon (they) will be asking where are the digital profits," said Levitan, who advocates a free subscription model of distribution.
In agreement was Tom Morgan, chief strategy officer at Move Networks, which provides Web TV delivery services to premium content owners and aggregators. "Monetizable content is the name of the game right now," said Morgan. "Scale is the name of the game."
Earlier in the week at the UBS Conference, NBC head Jeff Zucker said online ad growth at sites like Hulu.com had proved to be disappointing recently. "That marketplace has really, really slowed dramatically," Zucker told the audience. "It's still a growth area, but I don't think it's what we thought it would be."
Kilar, for his part, remained confident, but said the medium is open to change.
"We have to make sure that we work arm-in-arm with the advertising industry," he said "Five, 10 years from now, I think (the industry) is not going to look a lot like it does, today."
Added Kilar: "I'm not saying that our strategy is the right one for all companies, but it's the right one for Hulu, and we're sticking with it."