This profile in Sunday’s NYTimes exclaims Holy Cash Cow, Batman! Content Is Back at Time Warner. I’m not really sure that anyone believes that content isn’t what it’s all about, but it’s also clear that the role of distribution remains problematic as firms try, on the one hand, to take advantage of the opportunities of new distribution avenues while, on the other hand, continue to assume that the rest of the game doesn’t have to change to accommodate the realities of these new channels:
What is clear is that Mr. Bewkes is tethering his fortunes to companies that are juggernauts in their respective industries and are sprawling, global brands. They also represent the antithesis of the notion that content for the masses is passé, and that popular culture has devolved into narrow niches and user-generated fare like video clips of bulldogs riding skateboards.
Get ready then, says Mr. Bewkes, for global fireworks.
“Around the world, the consumption of entertainment products is growing rapidly,” he says. “The question is how do you offer it, and how do you get paid for it?”
[...] For Mr. Bewkes and his team, the core of the strategy is a wager that the media pendulum will swing away from distribution and back toward content.
“The last number of years, all you have heard about is new and better ways to distribute content,” says Mr. Meyer, sitting in his office on Warner’s lot in Burbank, Calif. “At some point, I think distribution gets commoditized,” leaving, he says, content as the more valuable component.
He points at a television screen in his office. “At the end of it all,” he says, “it’s just a blank screen.”
[...] A few years ago, Mr. Bewkes, along with other media executives, attended a session at the Museum of Television and Radio in Los Angeles, during which a group of computer hackers demonstrated how easy it was to find first-run movies on the Internet.
When the assemblage went to lunch, Mr. Bewkes stayed behind to chat with the hackers.
“They said they didn’t feel bad about piracy because of all the money studios make,” Mr. Bewkes recalls. “I said, ‘Let me tell you what we make.’ And I said, ‘Here’s the percentage.’ They said, ‘We’ll pay for movies if you give it to us the right way.’ ”
In the future, the “right way” is likely to mean making movies available on every platform — theater, DVD, V.O.D. and on the Internet — either at the same time or with a smaller window following a theatrical release.
But until technology forces Hollywood’s hand — Mr. Bewkes suggested that it would take three to five more years before high-definition videos are delivered conveniently over the Internet — the industry will retain its grip on sequential windows of release.
See also All of Us, the Arbiters of News (a discussion of Tape Delay by NBC Faces End Run by Online Fans)
Emerging technologies that threaten to destroy the current paradigm can have precisely the opposite effect. Remember when VCRs and then DVDs were going to lay waste to the movie industry and ended up saving it instead? The Web leaks of entertainment that NBC bought and paid for served as a kind of trailer for the real thing.
There is a lesson there for rest of the media, most specifically The Philadelphia Inquirer, where the managing editor, Michael Leary, issued a memo last week suggesting that all of the paper’s good stuff — “signature investigative reporting, enterprise, trend stories, news features and reviews” — would not appear online until they first appear in print.
“For our bloggers, especially, this may require a bit of an adjustment,” Mr. Leary informed the staff. “Some of you like to try out ideas that end up as subjects of stories or columns in print first. If in doubt, consult your editor.”
Even to the eye of this reporter — to use a hack newspaper term — The Inquirer seems to be making a mistake. If the future of our business is online, then why set up a firewall, delaying the best content to protect a legacy product? And more adept reporters are beginning to realize that the Web is not just a way to broadcast news, it is a great way to assemble it as well.