the best ones will bubble to the top, while the worst will sink away to be forgotten forever. If the 21st century has taught us anything, it’s that the best ideas don’t bubble to the top. Ideas don’t exist independently of the person fighting for them. All of us have a movie, series,
VERY FEWPEOPLEWORKING AT PRODUCING CONTENT FEEL KINGLY. MOST OF THEMDON’T EVEN FEEL LIKE SERVANTS TO KINGS
album or artist who – despite being utterly brilliant – have been shoved aside by a more lucrative, inferior alternative. We see this as an unfortunate injustice (as well as a nice ego boost – only WE really understand quality). But what if it’s not an anomaly? What if that’s exactly the way content is supposed to work in the 21st century? What if the quality of content is, in the biggest picture, irrelevant? What if, as Bart Simpson said, “quality, schmality”? When Redstone and Gates talked about content, they were describing a commodity. The next proposed generation of media businesses producing this good were like refineries or cattle ranches, delivering a commodity to become a resource, that can then be leveraged in different ways: 1. The commodity can be sold directly
first use to the second. The first, where content is sold directly, has been the strategy for most of the history of books, paintings, films and live events. The content is sold directly to the spectator, or to distributors who will then sell it on to the spectator. Electronic media like radio and TV introduced a free access model, which began to make content an engine for advertising revenue, rather than an experience to be bought and sold. Content then began its progression towards becoming supply chain fuel. CONTENT AS FUEL In the age of the internet, the paradigm of ‘content as fuel’ has been supercharged. The main purpose of content now is not to be turned directly into money, but to keep people stationary, so that advertising and brand messaging can be put in front of them – which is the real source of revenue. Content doesn’t have to be of high quality to drive engagements, induce clicks and renew subscriptions. It just has to be ‘compelling,’ ‘engaging,’ ‘watchable’ or ‘bingeworthy.’ The king doesn’t need to be a good or wise monarch; it just needs to sit on the throne and look interesting. In the age of democracy – and to mix metaphors – we would say the king needs to be electable. The quality of content is essentially judged by its efficiency rating – again, like a fuel. How many views does Content X get? What is the value of those views? What accelerants (eg, algorithms) can be employed to boost various parameters? Should we swap this rare, high-quality fuel for a cheaper, equally efficient substitute? Among today’s media industrialists are billionaires that make 1996 Bill Gates look pathetic (Gates was only worth about $19 billion in 1996 – ha, lightweight!). And media holdings are usually only tiny parts of much bigger empires – see Amazon, Apple, AT&T. Is content king? Very few people working at producing content feel kingly. Most of them don’t even feel like servants to kings. Usually they feel like conscripted peasants in the service of local warlords, who are well aware that there is no ruler. No, content is not king. Content is fuel, fuel for empires – the kings were deposed long ago.
– in the way grain or coal is. 2. Used to fuel other parts of the supply chain that actually produce the revenue. The history of content in the 20th century has been an accelerating transition from the
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