Break free of the bonds of media

On PaidContent, Staci reports:

Wish I had a $100 — heck, make that $1,000 — for every time “multi-platform” was used during the q-and-a with Tom Freston, co-COO of the current Viacom and CEO in waiting of the new Viacom that could debut in January. (Maybe the slogan could be “Viacom, the new, the proud, the multi-platform.”)

I’ll take it one step further: You don’t want to be multiplatform. You want to be unplatform. This isn’t just a nerdy view — being the Unix or Java of open-source entertainment that enables anyone to create anything anywhere and distribute it anywhere… though that’s not a bad start.

No, this is about giving up the notion that your business is about controlling distribution deals or content creation — all very restrictive relationships that keep you from doing things because the other party wants control, too. That is why it’s so damned hard to take what you put on TV and put it on the internet and on phones and serve the people wherever they want to be served. Right?

So imagine what life looks like in a world where you give up control and avoid the control freaks, where you see all kinds of great content being created everywhere and no end of people who want to find the good stuff. In the old 1.0 days, you would have asked — you are probably asking — how you can “get in the middle” of that and cause friction and take your cut. In the 2.0 days, I’d advise instead that you follow the advice of my friend Craig Newmark and just get out of the way. Oh, sure, Craig’s not running a business the size of the newspaper classified industry. But he’s growing and they’re not.

So what if you help people create and distribute? What if you provide content to remix and some of the tools and know-now to do it? What if you share promotion and, yes, ad revenue? What if you don’t try to own 100 pieces of content but recognize your value in contributing to the success of 10,000 pieces? What’s your real value then? Owning? Or enabling? Restrictions? Or reputation?

Is that all a bunch of future-shock bull? Of course, it is. And you don’t want to do anything to upset the cash cow. But I am hearing media folks realizing that the old structures and strategies won’t work in the post-scarcity, post-control world. So maybe the way to come up with new strategies is not to coddle the cash cow but to shoot the bull. Think unplatform.

  • Marina Architect

    What you are missing is how available capital and veneer of opportunity changes everything. VC’s and M&A Advisers don’t care about platforms. That’s not to say they are not well versed in the language. It’s all amortization of cash flows, net present value and internal rate of return.

    What happens is that decisions revolve upon forecasting. Forecasting is where everything is lost. I’ve been to meetings wired on espresso where I’ve seen presentations based on faulty forecasting models. All the forecasting models are based on reach, audience income and platform migration of existing brand awareness.

    Failed platform migration, inflated valuations and decay occur form the forecasting errors.

    Content is content on TV, Notebook PC/Mac, Handheld or Mobile Phone. They are indeed all discrete platforms provided by in-house editorial or user-provided is immaterial.

    This is why I’m in Grad School for my Masters in Architecture: I had to leave behind the abstract forecasting noise of the dot com years. It was a nasty mid-life crisis at age 30. Ah, it’s good to deal in the tangible.

  • The notion of platform shouldn’t be restricted to the media itself (be it paper, radio waves, web pages, etc)… What Craig is doing… the structure of what’s happening on Craigslist may be seen as a platform… some cluster of social practices.

    I’m saying this because in the context of my own work at AidPage (, we call platform the thing that we want to enable (“people aid people”)… and not the web media by which we would enable it. Social practices can be seen as platforms in themselves… on top of which… individuals live… so to say.

    So, in this sense, what would be a definition of a platform for traditional media like newspapers, or TV…? Any thoughts Jeff… aren’t you doing exactly this type of thinking right now for The New York Times Company…

  • Roger

    Funny that you picked Craig as poster boy here considering that hanging onto control, staying in the middle, imposing friction, etc. is precisely what he’s done.

    Have you forgotten:

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