In a recent article , I wrote about how media must—and is—beginning to change. In a nutshell, the combination of a rapid shift in people’s viewing habits and technological advances is forcing the issue. To state the obvious: Gone are the days when NBC’s Friends anchored Thursday night’s “Must See TV” line up and determined viewer tastes and successes. We no longer need or want to rely on the networks and cable providers to tell us when, where, or what to watch. We want to control our own viewing patterns, choosing from a more flexible, more innovative, and more personalized menu of options.
For those who are wed to traditional media’s offerings, fear not. There will always be demand for high-quality Hollywood programming and cable bundles, particularly among the affluent, 40-plus-year-old set. But for younger consumers, a bevy of new, technology-centric media platforms is emerging that combine powerful, cutting-edge innovations with creative, relatively inexpensive, and smartly curated content. Still in their infancies, they will offer unbounded distribution channels populated by programming from a virtually limitless array of sources. Beyond that, they will help creators produce, manage, distribute, monetize, and track their content.
The once formidable oligopoly that controlled media distribution and ultimately content creation over air, cable, and satellite is already breaking down, giving way to outlets ranging from U-verse to Hulu to You Tube to Facebook (FB) to Snapchat and many, many more that are either already in the market or will be soon. These players can handle a slew of new media and digital formats because they don’t care how you view video. Content, of course, is already available in many forms and in many places. But figuring out how to create, distribute, and make money off of a hodgepodge of interconnected options is a complex problem. Luckily, technology is good at solving complex problems.
The next generation of media networks will have core media technology platforms as their backbone infrastructure. Technology will be used to identify topical areas of interest and trending topics by analyzing social media feeds like Twitter and Facebook. For instance, the Golden State Warriors are currently the hottest team in basketball and information about it or its biggest star, Stephen Curry, is as coveted as front row seats to the NBA finals. So imagine programming around what it might be like to travel with the team during the playoffs, or sit in on a practice session, or see the team eating together at a private dinner.
Technology can also be used to assist or automate the creation of this kind of programming, managing the content assets through production, and then in the final production. Once it is produced, it can be published in all appropriate channels, tracked, revenue and audience optimized, and then accounted for. It’s a cradle-to-grave approach that allows creators to spend the majority of their time concocting compelling and entertaining programming and less on improving efficiencies and the essential back-end operations.
Perhaps more importantly, it can alleviate some of the inherent financial risk associated with producing quality content. Experts estimate that new technologies and equipment enable some content creation to be done for roughly 1/10th of traditional costs. Startups like Awesomeness, Vice, Machinima and Tastemade (my firm is an investor in Machinima and Tastemade) are embracing this attractive economic model, producing digital media relatively cheaply and then editing it in a variety of ways so it can be sold and packaged for multiple, different mediums. Business models range from subscriptions to sponsorships to licensing to traditional advertising. Tastemade, for instance, a company in which I am an investor, produces digital videos about food and lifestyle that can be viewed at any time on any device. It also creates a show licensed by the Food Network.
To be sure, these 21st century technology platforms will never replace the creative process or make bad content good. Nor will they push the boundaries of emotion or touch the human spirit. But, they can make the process easier, more productive, and more profitable for those creating the content while providing consumers with more of what they want. The world is infinitely more complex than it was 20 years ago. Shouldn’t the next generation of media companies reflect that complexity?
After all, I’m not writing this on parchment paper with feathers dipped in a well of ink, am I?
Geoff Yang is a founding partner at Redpoint, which has invested in media companies, such as Tivo, MySpace, Netflix, Tastemade, and Machinima.