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Age of Abundance: How the Content Explosion will Invert the Media Industry

Over the past century, technological advancements have massively reduced the cost and time needed to create and circulate content. Though this has liberated artists, consumers are now drowning in a virtually infinite supply of things to watch, listen to and read.
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If you read a list of mankind’s most important or influential inventions, there’s not far you could go without coming across those of Thomas Edison. Oddly, however, it’s unlikely you’d ever see the device he so-routinely identified as his favorite: the phonograph. While it didn’t defeat disease, conquer the night skies or take flight, the phonograph was just as Promethean as vaccines, electricity and the Wright Brothers’ ‘Flyer’. For thousands of years, media was a privilege of the elite, concentrated in cities and confined to a single moment in time. With Edison’s phonograph, music had become non-rivalrous, infinitely replicable and indefinite. Yes, it took decades until the average family could afford a record player or radio, but the dawn of democratized consumption had arrived.

Unfortunately, however, this same trend led to an ossification in content creation and distribution. Records, after all, cost money. Production was expensive – as was distribution, marketing and promotion. So expensive, in fact, that almost every artist lacked the capital required to actually release their music – a need that paved the way for record labels (or TV studios, film studios, publishers etc.) that would finance said efforts in exchange for hefty royalty fees and content rights. These money men though wouldn’t and couldn’t afford to invest in every artist with a dream. Given the upfront cost of talent development and distribution, labels invested in “Arts & Repertoire” men, whose job it was to sift through countless musicians in order to identify the select few with “commercial viability”. Potential artists were then further cut down in number when it came time to actually distributing their content – and then again via marketing/promotional support. Underlying this fact was an unavoidable truth: content publishers had scale-related disincentives to support more than a handful of artists. Why record, distribute, market and promote 15 albums if you can achieve the same unit sales with 10?

Though this system was far from ideal, it was the inevitable outcome of a market in which talent was abundant, capital limited, distribution bandwidth (e.g. shelf-space, broadcast spectrum, print layouts) scarce, barriers high, and the cost of failure significant. But as a result, the content industry slowly shaped itself around a mysterious cabal of financiers and executive tastemakers that essentially programmed the national media identity. And anyone who wanted in had to move to New York, LA or Nashville, pay their dues and hope to work their way up until they could call the shots.

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You can find the rest of this article at my new home, Jason Hirschhorn’s Media REDEF. Click here to go straight to the article. No registration required and no ads.