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.