CONTENT IS NO LONGER KING – Words by Neal Romanek
Are we living in a post-content world? IF IT EVER WAS
ontent is king! That’s what we say. We repeat it over and over. We say it reflexively. It is proclaimed so often, it’s starting to sound like someone whistling through a graveyard, or trying to ward off evil with a magical incantation. We sound
‘Content is king’ was given another billionaire-boost by Bill Gates in a 1996 blog post on the Microsoft website. This was in the wake of the newly minted Microsoft-NBC partnership, which Microsoft broke from in 2005. Gates’ post described the burgeoning internet as a place where content would be the key moneymaker. “The television revolution that began half a century ago spawned a number of industries, including the manufacturing of TV sets, but the long-term winners were those who used the medium to deliver information and entertainment,” he wrote. “When it comes to an interactive network such as the internet, the definition of ‘content’ becomes very wide. For example, computer software is a form of content – an extremely important one, and the one that for Microsoft will remain by far the most important. But the broad opportunities for most companies involve supplying information or entertainment. No company is too small to participate.” Gates’ conclusion, with its nineties ‘history is over/technology will save us’ idealism, now sounds cringingly naive: “Those who succeed will propel the internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences and products – a marketplace of content.” QUALITY, SCHMALITY The ‘marketplace of ideas’ is one of our biggest free- market fantasies – just pour out all of the ideas and
like Rogue One ’s Chirrut Îmwe: “I am one with The Force, and The Force is with me”, chanting our litany as we stride out into the media war zone, until we are finally shot down by the blaster-bolts of reality. What do we really mean when we say ‘content is king’? Or what do we think we mean by it? Usually it denotes: you can’t have a successful media business unless you are offering great content. But does that check out in reality? Sumner Redstone, who turned natural brilliance, a Harvard education, a family business and an iron will into the ViacomCBS media empire, is credited for bringing ‘content is king’ into the mainstream. In 1974, in the trade publication Magazine Editing and Production , Redstone was quoted as saying: “Content is king. It is the meaning that counts. Form and technical considerations, though important, cannot substitute for content.” Redstone’s media career started when he took over his father ’s cinema chain, National Amusements. By the end of it, huge swathes of the entertainment industry were under his control. Interestingly, in his long, extraordinary life, Redstone is not known to have created any content himself – excluding his autobiography, co-written by ghostwriter extraordinaire Peter Knobler.
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