Monday, April 25, 2016

Game Of Platforms

When I started in the media business 25 years ago, things were much easier.  Consumers had little influence over the content they were served.  The most disruptive and fastest growing sector of the industry at the time was cable television, an entertainment oligopoly controlled by a handful of cable operators who blessed a handful of programming companies channel slots - the equivalent of  permanent shelf space in the only supermarket in town. Consumers, with no other options were force-fed a lot of dreck as the nascent cable channels, many of who went on to become great brands, were given years to find their stride.

Today, things have changed dramatically. (Although there is still plenty of dreck.) The development and maturation of the Open Web has given consumers influence over what is produced and power to anyone and everyone to be a content creator, curator and programmer.  But what hasn't changed is the enormous strength of a handful of platforms, who, like the cable operators in their day, hold the upper hand.

The extraordinary opportunities the Open Web has provided along with inevitable consolidation of power in the hands of a few players was highlighted in a recent TechCrunch piece:

I, too, am a believer in the open web — a platform that anyone can hack on powered by standards (http) and great technology (servers, devices, browsers). It delivers on the promise of the Internet: a world in which everyone is connected, and you can command as much attention as your content deserves (no matter your budget or connections).   
But .... it is threatened by dominant technology companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple who have an economic interest in creating their own “walled gardens” of Internet content that they control and monetize.

But others think the platforms can empower publishers, and much like CNN, ESPN and HBO grew and thrived on the back of a dominant distribution platform, new media brands like Buzzfeed, Vice and Vox can thrive as the new platforms have to serve their massive subscriber base with higher quality content.  This from Today's NY Times:

I think platforms, or marketplaces, make it a lot easier for, say, the content providers or app developers that are very, very good to rise to the top, and pretty much commoditize everyone else. So if you’re average, it’s definitely going to be very bad. Life is going to be worse on a platform, because you’re exposed to more competition. If you’re very good, life on a platform is a lot better.
YouTube Red, Facebook Instant Articles and Snapchat Discover are the most exciting examples of social networks and publishers exploring their ongoing mutual dependence.  And just today,Vox announced a new brand that will publish exclusively on Facebook.  

But as I have opined many times, the platforms will always hold the upper hand, as they own the relationship with the audience.  How media companies build and maintain direct relationships with their own audience in a platform-centric media world is the ongoing challenge.