Yes, I like the virtual pipe (thanks, Bertram, for the pointing me to Andy Kessler). But, uhm, what exactly is a virtual pipe? As opposed to a real pipe, virtual pipes try to emulate a lock-in situation. To understand what he’s talking about, we have to remind ourselves that Andy is a) American and b) a VC. His real media pipe looks like a typical cable walled garden to me. Here’s the media, there’s the pipe, that’s your home. In the US, it’s a billion Dollar market. Break up this lock in situation, and you’ll be offering what VCs are looking for.
A virtual pipe is just trying to emulate this lock-in situation. His prime example is convincing. The business model of console games is about a technologywise totally closed shop, built upon the razor model. The more boxes you sell (in the beginning even at a loss), the bigger your reach. And if everything goes well, you make a killing from the software licenses. BTW, brought into perfection by Microsoft. Not with Xbox, but yer olde Windows. As they outsourced the risk of shipping hardware, just keeping the increasing returns business of peddling software.
As it happens, it’s one of the oldest business ecosystems, in regards of media and technology. Edison and Berliner sold their hardware (OK, I doubt the grammophone was ever a loss leader). And started successful software subsidiaries, whose leftovers are now known as the music industry majors.
Apple’s iTunes takes this model topsy-turvy. The software a.k.a. music is the bait (a loss leader? I doubt that. Maybe micro business). The hardware is the game, and usability, design, and branding the driving forces. The virtual lock-in into the iPodsphere by DRM is actually pretty much non-existent. You won’t see too many poeple filling up their umpteen Gig hard drives with music bought in the iTunes store (S. Jobs could afford that. But could you?). And even then: you still have your desktop application which allows you to unlock the DRMed file. It’s a minor hurdle. But if you bought into the Applespace because of superior usabilty and convenience, this might be the virtual virtual lock in.
Let’s take another step back. Media is a software business. Traditionally, the content is tied to a physical thingy. The model behind is milking a scarce ressource. Spectrum (if you’re a broadcaster), right of way (if you do cable), advertising (hold on – now it’s getting mushy).
Because for some strange reason, capital puts the telco, media, and, entertainment eggs into a single basket. Which only makes sense, if you never worked with a telco AND a media company. Telcos think infrastructure, decadelong depreciations. TV is about yesterdays ratings. And even if there’s sometimes a symbiosis going on, they are as much related to each other as a lactobazillus to my family. Can’t live without both of them, but that doesn’t make me the grand uncle of little acidophilus.
Of course, sometimes the strategic interests of telco and/or hardware companies led them to gobbling up some media properties (what’s content, compared to cash flow?). And, with the notable exception of Time Warner, you won’t see too many fully integrated telco-media-companies. Usually, the telcos wield the stick (Vodafones EBIT dwarfes the combined revenues of the whole music industry). John Malone used to play hardball with his media “partners”, or, remember the Japanes-led invasion of Hollywood? Ted Turner might have been the only media player, who successfully quenched his telco partners for the monies he needed.
In this concert, media plays the second fiddle. And content is as much king as the Green Giant the duke of Broccoli.
Yer olde media equation looks like this:
– raise lots of capital
– hook up with a large entity which controls a scarce ressource (governement, if it’s spectrum or just a license you need, a telco, if it’s cable bandwith, a game console company, if … and so on)
– aggregate/produce and distribute content
– make some money by either selling eyeballs or selling the goods (discs, cable subscriptions, paper …)
With networked media and entertainment, this equation starts to change. The gridlock onto scarce ressources is weakening. Anybody gets global distribution by pressing an upload button. Which might make life kinda complicated for traditional media outfits. But, on the other hand: obviusoly, this new environment seems to serve new media companies Google pretty well.
And so we’re coming back to last posts final question: Is content now really king? Looking out of the window leads to the following idea. Olde media used to pay for content. Google’s positions itself more like an intelligent remote control (at least you do not have to pay for integration, like in the yellow pages). To Google, all content is created equal and just piece of data store in the indices of Google’s server farms. (The YouTube-deal might chance this comfortable postion; suddenyl, it’s all about licensing and copyrights.)
Does this mean, content will be demoted fiscally from lackey to lactobacillus? OK, this might be the logical path from the intern-executed media production style of the early 21st century. But, fair enough. More likely, that’s what happens if you look out of the window and outside everything’s greyish, wet and fall.
Mostly, the de-piping of media means:
– As abundance replaces scarcity as a driving factor, media’s distributional power is reduced to the power of being a brand. Which, in an environment of abundance, ain’t that bad a position.
– Network neutrality assumed, the media’s gatekeeper position won’t be taken over by the telcos. Or, at least, you’ll have a choice which gated (or open) commuinty you’re going to visit today.
– Meta-media like plain search engines, dedicated search engines plus hosting (ASPs like YouTube, Flickr), social networks et al drives the audience to the content. Old media mostly picks up what’s already on their screens.
But what’s the effect on content? The medium is the package. Which, by it’s commercial needs and restrictions, defines the content. TV shows are produced around commercial breaks. A pop album is defined by the capacity of vinyl records and CDs. Which, after this little excuriosn, leads us back again to last next stop: the content value chain ….