the medium is the message

In the past week I found it interesting how there were two separate initiatives taken by companies that were better known for the distribution of content into the area of content creation. First up was the announcement by YouTube of its NextUp program:

Today we’re announcing YouTube Next’s second initiative, designed exclusively for up-and-coming YouTube Partners: YouTube NextUp. YouTube NextUp is about accelerating the growth of the next big YouTube stars. Up to 25 Partners from around the United States will be selected for the development program, which offers:

  • $35,000 in funding to produce a new project, purchase new tools or advance their overall YouTube careers
  • A spot at a four-day YouTube Creator Camp in which they’ll benefit from 1:1 mentoring and learn an array of production techniques from leading industry and YouTube experts
  • Promotion of their final work and channel
  • The opportunity to become better connected with a special community of aspiring and talented content creators from around the world

Second was an announcement from Netflix that they are, in a way, “funding” the production of an original TV show. Here`s how they describe it:

In all of these cases, the shows are produced before we bring them to Netflix. “House of Cards” represents a slightly more risky approach; while we aren’t producing the show and don’t own it, we are agreeing to license it before it is successfully produced.

TechCrunch has a piece on the Netflix announcement which is, shall we say, rather enthusiastic about the announcement (one of the hints being the title – “Netflix Original Content Is Much More Than A Strategy Shift — It Could Shift An Industry“):

But with House of Cards, the game changes. For the first time, they’re going to get people signing up to Netflix to get first access to content. And if it’s as good as the talent behind it suggests, they might get a lot of people signing up for that very reason.

And if that’s the case, they’ll be doing a lot more of these deals. And that would effectively make them a premium cable television channel — like HBO or Showtime. But they’ll be one with thousands more pieces of content for a lower monthly price. And they’ll be one not burdened by any artificial show times. Most importantly, they’ll be one not burdened by the cable television model — at all.

If Netflix’s new gamble here works, this is the absolutely the future. In three years, we won’t be paying $75 a month to a giant cable conglomerate. We’ll be paying $8 to Netflix and other players that pop up — like HBO (by themselves), perhaps. Sure, there will still be the monthly fee for Internet. But most of us are already paying that. We’d just be removing the ridiculous $75 cable television fee that gives us thousands of channels with content only on at a certain time — and most of which we don’t want.

It’s interesting that TC mentions HBO. If memory serves they also used to be purely a distribution channel until they started getting into content production.

To some extent, I agree with the TC piece (though perhaps not as enthusiastically). I think watching TV on cable (especially with a DVR) is a rather horrific nightmare as compared to watching streamed, on-demand content through the internet. Why flips through pages and pages of schedules or programming grids on digital tuners to figure out what you want to watch and when you can watch it, rather than looking for the show you want to watch, when you want to watch it, and clicking? I really do think the latter form of delivery will become more and more prevalent over time.

On the other hand, I don’t think either Netflix or YouTube venturing into somewhat more direct participation in content creation (and to be clear, in neither case are they actually producing the content) is all that much of a sea change itself. Vertical integration, whether in the entertainment industry or elsewhere isn’t all that new, nor has it necessarily changed the experience of end users. Would I care whether I could watch the show on demand whenever I wanted through the internet, wherever there is a browser, rather than having to figure out when it would be broadcast and either buying a DVR or making sure I’m am home? Yes, definitely. Would I care if, instead getting first crack at the show through Netflix, that I paid David Fincher’s production company (or anyone else for that matter) directly for the privilege of watching it first streamed through his website? Not so much.

Will this really shake up the cable industry and/or kill it? I guess that depends in part on what pipe you’re using to connect to the internet to view your content.