Out of The Races, Onto the Tracks


Remember a few years ago when everyone was panicking about the future of newspapers? Remember the apocryphal headlines like 'Newspaper Death Spiral Continues"? Remember when words like aggregation, and curation inspired vitriolic spite in the hearts of dyed in the wool capital, 'J' journalists?

The view from the here in the future is much different, companies like Newsy, which pioneered the multisource video news analysis model, are beating established brands for major awards. The news still exists, newspapers still exist, 'Journalism' still exists, we just get it in different way. 

It's the oldest story: tradition v. change - and that fight has made its way to broadcast television. It began when Time Warner released an iPad app that allows users to watch a number of broadcast cable television shows on their mobile devices. Thus the licensing wars breached a new front.

WSJ's Sam Schechner reports, "At issue are interpretations of provisions within the tightly negotiated -- and lengthy -- agreements between media companies and cable operators. Several TV executives say their contracts specifically delineate rights for "cable television."

So what's more important here, the content or where people watch it? What makes cable television 'cable television'?  Is it where you watch it or who distributes it? The Times' Brian Stetler describes how the Time Warner app works; "The iPad app only works inside the home, and only for customers who receive both television and Internet from the operator." To me this seems like simply adding another television to your home and hooking it up to your cable, but to content providers this raises issues about licensing revenue.

I suppose it's more complicated than that when you think about web/mobile providers like Hulu, which hosts shows from a number of networks much like Time Warner offers a number of channels. Or if you consider that one could simply get a 'Viacom App' to watch Comedy Central shows on, or even just download 'The Daily Show' app and circumvent Time Warner and Hulu alike.

Ultimately, I think the market has room for all of these options, once content providers realize that they need to have a framework in place to navigate the digital space. Just like I have the Newsy app on my iPhone and iPad, I could very easily envision myself watching The Daily Show on the Hulu Plus app AND downloading the show specific app for its added features. Diversity of content and diversity of distribution channels have worked for the print industry so there is no reason why the same can't be true of broadcast video.

The key is to anticipate, and prepare for change and to remember that, everyone can still make money, using roughly the same means.  Not to prognosticate but in my opinion, it's not about what device will 'win, it's about how well your content works and fits on all devices. It's not about picking a horse, it's about hopping on the saddle when you know the race is starting.