For the Future of the Media Industry,Look in the App Store
Media scarcity is dead. In the future my son will have a flash drive that he will pay $29 for that will have the capacity to hold all movies and music ever released by a major label, studio or tv/cable network. It will take 30 seconds to clone the data over the network to a friend who will pay $14.99 for a device with double capacity a year later. How does the media industry survive such a coming disruption?
For many of us that have been in this game for a while, the word "convergence" harbors some shameful vibes. It conjures up many false hopes, dashed dreams and misfires. Nevertheless, I would contend that convergence is upon us and it has arrived from an unexpected delivery man: Steve Jobs. Apple has created a media consumption experience that has reduced friction to such a point that soon the consumer will not know if he is buying music, a movie or a game. The notion of App is changing. The lines between these different forms of media are quickly blurring and soon will be completely artificial. Already these distinctions are merely fossilized conventions that stem from consumers' discovery habits. As those evolve, like learning that it is easier to go to Amazon and search to find a product than going to aisle 9 at the store. The coming confusion of the consumption experience where a user won't care or know if what they are buying is a movie, a game or a music track presents vast opportunity.
The prospects for the old media industry appear bleak, as the rest of the media industry follows the music industry into decline. Indeed in my discussions it is apparent that the smart money in Hollywood already sees the writing on the wall. While the trend will take longer, it is clear which direction the wind is blowing. The main lesson to learn is that the market will punish you if you don't deliver the goods.
But the entertainment industry has a vested interest in the success of this new type of convergence, as within it lies the secret to its continuing prosperity. The only way to block the incredible ease of pirating any content a media company can generate is to couple said experiences with extensions that live in the cloud and enhance that experience for consumers. Not just for some fancy DRM but for real value creation. They must begin to create a product that is not simply a static digital file that can be easily copied and distributed, but rather view media as a dynamic "application" with extensions via the web. This howl is the future evolution of the media industry. It has arrived from a company that is delivering the goods. Apple has made it painless for consumers to spend money and get the media they want where they want it, proving that consumers are happy to pay for media if delivered in ways that make it easy and blissful to consume. For all the criticism Apple draws on the walled garden nature of its business, it has even come around to stripping DRM and allowing users to download mp3 files.
Even today if you look in the iTunes App Store you will see a myriad range of "Apps" that are just evolved ways to package media. While the traditional part of iTunes still mirrors the product taxonomy of a Tower Records, the App Store is creating a folksonomy of media products. It is where new ideas evolve, thrive and go instinctively based on market power. The App Store is where the action is. This is where evolution is unfolding as direct consumer spending spurs media development.
In preparing this post, Erick asked me, "Is Apple a media company?" I thought about that and the answer is really that Apple is what media companies are missing. The missing part of the puzzle is what made media conglomerates such juggernauts in the past. Namely, distribution. The internet is stripping them of their control over the how their products are distributed. Media companies used to be able to create scarcity merely by delaying the distribution of their products across different channels—theaters, pay-per-view, DVD, cable channels, network TV, and so on. The internet disrupts this ability to create media scarcity. It is such a huge disruption, in fact, that it threatens the fundamental profit engine of the media business.
Both during my time interacting with senior management at Time Warner (where I worked at AOL after it acquired the company I founded, Relegence) and with some of my current portfolio companies that are working with the film and music industries, it is clear to me that many of the smart people running these media companies understand which way the wind is blowing. The music industry, as the one that has suffered most of the carnage, is ripest for change. Executives there are receptive to new ideas and move forward quickly, leaving me somewhat optimistic. It is also clear to me that it is hard for the industries which have not endured their level of pain to flee the golden cage of media's past. But for those firms which rise to the occasion, there will be vast rewards. People's hunger for good content will not subside. It will continue to grow, but so shall the unbearable ease of pirating it. The premise of extending the media experience to the cloud is a core necessity for the survival and growth of the media industry. It is the only way to for media companies to weather the coming tsunami of increased bandwidth and the ever open web. Hybrid media packaging with both files and an application layer in the cloud is core to a lucrative future.
For a great example of how change is happening see what Britney did today at @BritneySpears. It was, I believe, the first time a major artist premiered a music video on Twitter. This drives people to Amazon or iTunes to buy the track but in the not too distant future it could be the start of much more than that. A complete experience will unfold that will be interactive and convert to new revenue streams. Not just a purchase of a track but of an app that pulls consumers into an experience and further promotes user engagement and virality. Media becomes a platform with a funnel of traffic and conversions to alternative revenue streams. All boosted by the frictionless billing that Apple has created in the App Store. Media executives will have realtime metrics for their success as it maps to revenue and in turn this will accelerate innovation and help redefine media.
If you are a media exec and you look at your product and at the end of the day it's a digital file that can be copied, then you have a serious problem with your format. Think of your product like a pie chart of the value you are giving the consumer. If 100% of the value is in that file, it is not a sound approach for defending the future of your business. However, if a portion of the experience is derived thorough an integration with a Web component that will yield additional value in functionality or social elements, then it will be more sustainable. There are many such examples emerging in the app store (I am T-Pain, TapTap and many more). Applications that let consumers interact with the media. Create things and share them with their friends. These will not only make the consumer the one who markets your product, but also create an unprecedented level of engagement. That level of engagement will directly map to reduction in piracy as consumers will pay for this experience and wont be able to copy it. Sell access and experiences, not media files.