Exploding TV

Rafat “Scoop” Ali reports that Viacom is looking to buy iFilm, the online broadband content site.

This is a media-changing moment.

When I talk about how the big networks are bound to shrink and the distributed network will prevail, I always use the example of Jon Stewart on CNN’s Crossfire: When he eviscerated the arguers there, the segment got about 150,000 viewers. And then it disappeared into big-network ether.

But as of today, that same segment has received 3.24 million views on iFilm — and countless millions more on BitTorrent and other untracked video sharing services.

So, I ask with my PowerPoint behind me, what’s more powerful: The network the CNN and Time Warner own or the network that no one owns? Obviously, it’s the network of the people, not the networks of the moguls, that wins.

Now in a way, Viacom’s purchase is silly: It is the kneepcap reflex of a content company that is still thinking it has to own content and own distribution. No more.

If CNN and Viacom were smart, they would use the exploded network, the distributed world, to get their stuff around. CNN should have tacked an ad on that Stewart-Crossfire segment and put it up on BitTorrent itself. Instead, everybody else did it for them.

Viacom should take MTV videos and VH1 shows and put them out for all the world to distribute. And if control-freak cable systems and agents and talent won’t let them do that, they should find ways to create — or better yet, merely find — content elsewhere and gather it together and then distribute it via the audience.

But Viacom is looking to buy iFilm because it recognizes that the old distribution channels — the networks — are no longer the only game in town and no longer all-powerful. Viacom wants to be part of the next network. This purchase annoints online as the next network.

  • All of this freakish efficiency is no doubt good culturally but what is the economy going to look like in ten years when the media business is dead. The standards emerging as the software industry matures are just as detrimental to the media business as the rise of the internet but they impact the entire economy and not just media.

    I guess being unemployed won’t be so bad if everything is free though I’m second guessing real estate as a sound investment.

  • Len W.

    Hey, if Viacom…read CBS had any brains would they have defended Dan Rather or claimed that a show like “60 Minutes” was impartial when the last show that was critical of a Democrat was done in 1998?

    They are VERY behind the times. Stewart gets watched because he is funny and at least some people believe him.

    We need more points of view. Why not let ABC stand for Al-Qaeda Broacasting Company, won’t have to change much. Then CBS could stay essentially as a 527 group of the Democratic Party.
    Of course, that would force NBC to change, but they could claim to represent the “moderate wing of the Democratic Party” and they could all point to the fact that their stories reflect different points of view even if no one can really tell one from the other.

  • Marina Architect

    I’ll never forget this meeting I went to during the dot com days where during the height of IPO lunacy, someone at the conference table boldy stated the contrarian viewpoint that streaming video has no future. This re-visiting of streaming or archived video is another money play and advertiser fake out. Same old monetizing X and building brand Y. It’s not Web 2.0.

    Does the consumer get an enduring experience that they can’t live without. That’s the new benchmark. Can I live without this service? In summary, there’s money to be made and shifted from one holding group to another via veneer of opportunity (you know the game) but this is not a can’t live without service.

    Keep it current and you have me more interested. I’d like to see relevant video clips integrated into blogs along with commentary and community discussion. Streaming video has no future, I was the one that said that. Everyone thought I was mad when I said that. I also said short the market in 2001. Cheers.

  • Derek

    Of course, Jeff’s John Stewart example fails to include a critical piece of the puzzle: Stewart was arguing two figures who were huge because of MSM, as is Stewart himself. Granted CNN had a small original viewership. But the other 3 plus million plus internet viewers signed on to watch MSM lions go at each other on a MSM venue. If the exchange had taken place among three bloggers on bitstream no one would have cared. Without MSM there would have been no event to watch.

    The MSM is wounded (and no complaints here about that). But reports of its death are greatly exaggerated. Beware a wounded lion….

  • mm

    “media-changing moment”?? nah – viacom just wants the eye-balls at ifilm to sell more online advertising. plain and simple.

  • Unfortunately, these conversations always gets relegated to binary logic. “Video over the internet has no future as a mainstream media” OR “The network of the people will trample the networks of the moguls.”

    The reality, as I see it, is it’s one great big AND. Broadcast media is likely to be a faster follower in Web 2.0 than they were in Web 1.0 when it comes to distribution of their video content AND wholly new forms of video programs targeted at the “Long Tail” will find their place on enough peoples TVs, PCs, video pods and mobile devices to really matter economically.

    From what I have seen, the moguls, having basically ceded all sorts of high value real estate to the Yahoo’s, Apples and Googles of the world, are getting smarter, which is as much a by-product of a changing of the guard and generational shifts as it is getting tired of sticking their heads in the ground and getting sand kicked in their faces.

    News Corp. provides a particularly good example of a mogul embracing the AND side of the equation. Once we get beyond zero sum, all sorts of interesting innovations and business models become possible.

  • Excellent point, Derek. And Mark Sigal – you’ve got a very good chance of being completely correct. The generational change effect is a solidinsight. If paradigm shift (in the original sense of scientific paradigms) depends on an older generation of scientists dying off or losing control, we should expect the same thing in other knowledge industries like media.

    And again, we should expect the layering of new media on top of old media, just as Einstein didn’t replace Newton. Radio didn’t replace newspapers, television didn’t eliminate radio, and New Media (man, that term is getting stale) won’t replace any of them.

    Marina, I’d disagree. Digital streaming actually delivers a huge part of current television content via digital cable. The only real question in my mind is will it be IP based, or continue to develop on dedicated networks with relatively centralized controls.

  • Marina Architect

    Just to expand: here’s my case against streaming video, with some exceptions.

    It comes down to this: do you want a passive experience? Do you want a kick back television-like experience on your computer? That’s the problem, I use my notebook for signal: for getting want I need and for working. I also support and find value in collaborative dialogue on Blogs with people I don’t physically have in my social loop including Friendster, linkedIn etc.

    For a good example of a potentially successful video site (here: http://crooksandliars.com/ ) not from an interface or aesthetic perpective. I’m a designer and I’m sensitive to design and this is not my aesthetic but on the notion of aggregating video that feeds your core base: it’s on the money.

    Finding and servicing your base and not wide appeal is where streaming video works. In fact, as I ripen into my mid 30’s, I’m realizing this concept is the key to success. Growing revenue, growing your base (the MBA or Harvard Business School fallacy) is misguided in my view. Double down on your base yields higher return.

    At least until we solve the last mile dillema.

  • Brian J

    “CNN should have tacked an ad on that Stewart-Crossfire segment and put it up on BitTorrent itself. Instead, everybody else did it for them.”

    That wouldn’t make sense from an advertising perspective, unless CNN was displaying a house ad. CNN can’t track or manipulate ads embedded into content that’s delivered into a free-flowing environment like BitTorrent. That means (a) they can’t count the number of streams the commercial is getting and (b) they couldn’t pull the ad after the particular campaign the commercial is for has ended. Now, like I said, CNN could put house ads in there, but basically the entire segment is a house ad. Regardless of whether it’s on iFilm or on CNN, the company is putting its brand in front of an audience, and that’s basically all it can do.

    “Viacom should take MTV videos and VH1 shows and put them out for all the world to distribute.”

    Again, for certain lower-profile shows they could do that simply to try to build an audience, but it just doesn’t make sense for a media company to give up control of its programming and release it to file-sharing services. MTV and VH1 make money off commercials, and as I pointed out above, embedding commercials into video content and sending it into a BitTorrent-like environment isn’t realistic from a marketing and advertising perspective.

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