The audience is the Queen, distribution is the king and the content is the joker
May 30, 2012
The Shift in Media Industry: Audience and Distribution Take Center Stage, Content Remains Crucial
An article by Ben Elowitz, CEO of Wetpaint, in All Things Digital, written a few weeks ago, dealt with a subject that is an eternal dilemma of the media industry - the doubt about whether content is king or not. The post must have had some political relevance within AllThingsD, as it remained highlighted for a few days. Elowitz argues that content is no longer king, but that it once was the most important element of the media equation. But now, the key factor is the audience, because it's what advertisers are looking for. Elowitz is Machiavellian in explicitly discussing a taboo subject - that companies only bet on what sells more. However, I disagree that the audience can be elevated to the status of "king," because it is susceptible only to what reaches it. The combination of distribution and content is still the deciding factor.
Elowitz's reasoning is very relevant regarding the difficulty of companies in realizing that there is a gray area that is still poorly explored - the interaction between content, distribution, and audience. Traditional companies still fully separate activities, like in the time when the printing staff did not talk to the journalists, who in turn, did not speak with the drivers of the vans that delivered the newspaper to the stand or to the newsboys. Today, because of this, they can't understand something that digital has revolutionized - that audiences don't change only according to the content, but also according to the distribution. In addition, the same content requires different treatments for different audiences and distributions. In other words, yes, things have become much more complex, with a kind of multi-formatting having to match with multi-distribution, resulting in numerous final products (which depend on the receiving device, audience, transmission, etc). Instead of three or four elements in the production line, there are now dozens of variables that need to communicate. Theoretically, this fragmentation suggests an increase in cost, and depending on the case, it can even be so, but it also allows reaching audiences that were sealed in niches that no one reached. Without someone responsible for this conversation, it's difficult to solve problems at any point, because it's necessary to see the problem from all points of view.
Metaphorically, if the audience is the queen that needs to be courted, distribution is the essential path to reach her. Companies that imagine that they will attract traffic forever because they were big one day are just measuring their own coffin. Knowing how to reach the customer is today, more important than the content itself. After that, comes the question of price (and that's why it's important for the industry to organize to prevent dumping. Then, only then, in a scenario where competitors are equivalent in distribution, price, the quality AND the correct formatting of the content for that audience in that channel (all of this together) serves as a deciding factor. The content is not the king, but the joker that can make a difference in the game.
This is the most difficult factor to convince old journalists, artists, and showmakers, because it messes with the pride that the category had in holding the monopoly on creating quality content. If anyone doubts, just see which content has the most audience in the almost absolute democracy of digital delivery. Nothing compares in sales to the most futile entertainment. This is a sad realization, because it's much deeper, having to do with real education level (not the rates provided by the government, where functional illiterates complete higher education), politicization, individualism, and other global variables.
Elowitz is not being sensationalist by placing the audience at the top of the companies' decisions. This is what already happens. I also don't see a complete disregard for the quality of content, since, when the industry reaches maturity (which was not reached before because the few media players abused their power because they had no competition), it will be the quality of the content that will make a difference. Digitized, the media has shown itself to be an immature market, just like an animal that did not evolve because it had no natural predator. With the entry of this predator, there is no longer a choice to be made: it's adapt or die.