A few thoughts from Digital Hollywood

April 2, 2006

My report on this year’s Digital Hollywood could easily be entitled: Content is Still King. Lots of people there were saying it. Most of us walked around repeating it. Everyone seems to believe it. The problem is, we’re all wrong. The real king is viewers. They like good content; sometimes they even like bad content. But mostly they like being able to pick whatever content interests them. It’s time we content producers, advertisers, broadcasters, writers, producers, technology people, and anyone else involved in the business of entertainment acknowledge their power.

My panel was called: DTV, Broadband, Set-Top and Interactive Content and Advertising Experience – Enabling Entertainment Choice via Interactive Guides and Gateways (this year’s “catchall of all catchalls” title winner). While I hadn’t heard of most of my co-panelists before our little moment in the sun together, I walked away from the experience with newfound respect and genuine interest in learning more about their fields. In particular, take a minute to check out a company called Visible World. Their founder, Seth Haberman, gave a fascinating glimpse into the future of personalized advertising. During the presentation his backend technology built an ad for me on-the-fly based on my age, my son’s age, what airline I use and what my leisure time interests are. Very cool stuff. Seth knows who’s king – the viewer. 

Pardon the rest of us who are still lagging behind. But we do have history on our side. Content is in our blood, especially for the marketing and film majors among us. Before there was “sales”, there was storytelling. Before movies, there was storytelling. Kings and Queens had their professional raconteurs. The rest of us had drunks and liars. But, content was king regardless of the venue.

As more and more people learned the art of writing, letters became a form of entertainment. People wrote letters. People read letters, often over and over again. Content was King.

The printing press gave rise to newspapers and books. Newspapers informed and entertained us. Books educated and entertained us. Radio was born, and families were brought together to listen as they were entertained.  Content was King.

Enter the era of television and the onset of choice. Families gathered around their sets and surveyed the content choices brought to them by entertainment networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. Partnerships emerged wherein the networks created content, which was passed through local broadcasters to viewers. The network content was paired with local news, weather and sports. Content was King, eventually in living color. 

When cable came around, viewers migrated to it so they wouldn’t have to bother with an antenna any longer. CNN introduced the notion of 24/7 news and subsequently helped launch the 500 channel universe. Echostar and DirecTV gave viewers an alternative to cable – an all-digital alternative – so roughly 25% of us migrated to that. Viewer choice was beginning to nose-out content as the king of the television realm.

Then, in the mid- to late- 90’s the biggest, baddest content provider ever invaded the land. It was called the Internet. It started innocently enough with E-mail, which quickly wiped letter-writing, then phone-call-making as primary modes of interpersonal communication. Then, we learned how to put content, all kinds it, on the web and “surfing the net” became the number one pastime for all mankind. Today the only thing more ubiquitous than the Internet is Oprah (her show is carried in every market). TiVo blasted onto the scene during this time as did faster-and-faster Internet connections. Choice was our lord and master; content, a mere court jester.

But this isn’t the end of the story. This past fall Apple announced a deal to distribute previously aired episodes of LOST and Desperate Housewives through iTunes in addition to their endless music library. Broadband has collided with the radio and network television. Broadband has collided with cable and satellite. Content is available on any device at any time. Choice has become a Deity.  So what are we? Depends on how well we serve viewers and their taste for choice. The companies that focus on relevancy when it comes to viewers, whether they are advertisers or content providers, will win. Entertainment is rapidly becoming a personal experience. Our shows will be personal to us. The ads we see will be personal to us. Seth gets it. I get it. Hail to choice, hail to Viewers.