The intensified debate over free Internet content may become a moot point in a boundless viral digital universe. The true economics of interactivity are not rooted in content, but in the wealth of related connections and actions that are so misunderstood. The Internet has become a commodity of space and time. Those who exploit its free resources will win.
Walt Disney and News Corp. have it in spades. CBS is getting it. Time Warner and Viacom don't have as much as they should. It is the power of international growth to offset the economic turmoil that's clogging media's advertising engine. Now that companies have shown their vulnerabilities in recent earnings calls, it's worth taking a closer look at media backstops. There aren't many.
The most notable change in this year's upfront will be widespread resignation that the status quo cannot survive next year's mandated digital conversion. And as the rebalance of ad dollars continues, the process of pricing, evaluation and measurement effectiveness requires refinement that can only come from an underlying digital infrastructure that connects all media platforms and devices.
Electronic Arts' continued pursuit of Take-Two Interactive would not be surprising, given the strength of the "Grand Theft Auto" video game franchise. But the real winner would be Strauss Zelnick, who bet two years ago that the troubled independent games publisher would be a value play.
Public media has a dilemma. It has been one of the most culturally, intellectually, socially and politically unique entities in the U.S. But it is woefully under-monetized in today's burgeoning digital world. It doesn't need to be that way. The powers that be at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Public Broadcasting and public media outlets can lead change by embracing it.
General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt was adamant in December when he declared the multinational conglomerate is worth more with NBC than without. "This is the wrong time to think about exiting," he said. That should have halted the incessant speculation about the sale or spinoff of NBC Universal and its assets. But Wall Street remains skeptical. JP Morgan analyst C. Stephen Tusa is the latest to lead that chorus, recommending that a piecemeal sale can generate $10 billion to $15 billion more than the $33 billion value implied for NBCU in GE's sluggish stock price.
One of the most dramatic mandated conversions ever in media--requiring television stations to relinquish their analog signals for new digital ways--has been rooted in a wrong-headed assumption. Just because broadcasters have invested millions each on digital infrastructure doesn't mean they know how to make money with it.
The prevailing Wall Street notion is that the brands that have historically lifted media out of a cyclical economic abyss will come to the rescue as companies fight to restore their public valuations. But this time, the recovery process shows signs of being hindered by the industry's inability to value and adequately consider new competitive forces.
You may never have heard the name Scott Switzer but he may be David to Google's Goliath. His eight-month-old company is the only open source ad server facilitator of scale. This week he will rebrand it from the OpenAds name it has been operating under to OpenX, as part of an expansion intended to give clients more interactive heft. Switzer says his "five-year laundry list" includes initiatives to help publishers grab a bigger portion of text, video and mobile online advertising dollars, partly by aggregating them into like-minded Web communities.
Regardless of whether News Corp. and Yahoo can successfully partner in a defense against Microsoft's unsolicited takeover, their efforts raise an interesting question: Why does News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch, who owns MySpace, need a leading Internet search engine?