Years ago Marshall McLuhan uttered the famous phrase, "The medium is the message." He said this long before the World Wide Web. If he were alive today, he might have said something else: "He who controls the distribution method, controls the money." When you look at the Web's influence on media companies over the last 15 years, it's clear, whether we are talking about news, music or television programs, as the distribution channel has shifted to the web, these media companies have struggled mightily to adapt.


Newspapers as I've written in past have been notoriously bad at this. When I interviewed Scott Karp, who runs Publishing 2.0 last spring, he pointed out to me that newspapers lost control of the distribution channel when the business began to shift from the web. He argued that the newspaper's core business wasn't producing news or selling ads, and certainly not selling subscriptions which even in the heyday of newspapers only accounted for a fraction of its revenue.

No, he said, newspapers were in the business of getting that newspaper onto your front step every morning. They controlled the distribution channel back then. The web changed everything, and they basically watched while Google (and other search engines) took control of web content distribution.


The music's industry's response to the internet has been clear. Send out the lawyers and try to litigate their way to success. But much like the papers who ceded their business to Google, the music industry has ceded its power to Apple and the iTunes Store.

Apple was smart enough to create the device to play the music and a place to distribute the songs legally and cheaply. There was nothing to prevent the music industry from doing this, but they didn't take the channel shift seriously. Steve Jobs, on the other hand saw the future and he pounced.


In a Mashable post this week, Ben Parr points to a Guardian story in which Microsoft’s Director of Consumer and Online in the UK, Ashley Highfield, predicts that the television industry is headed down a similar path, as once again, the distribution channel shifts from the TV to the computer. But Parr points out there is a bit of a flaw in the logic because for the music industry, the song is the product. TV, on the other hand, is selling the advertising around the show, something they should be able to continue to do on the Web (and indeed are doing on Hulu).

Whatever the medium, whatever the message, big media companies can only make big money and stay big if they control the distribution channel. So long as they continue to look at the web as an enemy, or cede the medium to others, they are doomed to fail. Instead of trying desperately to hold onto the old distribution method, they should be doing everything to understand and conquer the new one. Highfield is understands this, but television should adapt better than its media siblings, so long as they don't allow others to take the lead.

Well written article, I agree with this. Whomever controls the way people communicate controls the people. That's why some governments go to great means to filter internet content.

On the subject of TV, though, I wonder if the age of commercials is nearing an end with the web. I know as an internet user, I will do anything I possibly can to avoid having an advertisement interfere with my productivity or my desire to view some content, including shifting to another website that offers an adless view of the same material. That's one big reason why people tend to prefer google over other search engines, because they are not drowned in "noise" (such as ads, sponsored links, useless information, etc).

The web is a true market, and I believe strongly as you predicted in your article that it will change the way we view TV and advertisements forever. People may become more willing to pay monthly "subscriptions" to the shows they want to watch so long as they are ad free. The question is how much is your time worth to you and how much do you waste watching advertisements? Set top boxes delivering content on demand for TV's are becoming far more ubiquitous. I wonder if it's just a matter of time before TV dies and is replaced by media distribution giants such as iTunes. I think it will take at least a generation until everyone buys into the idea that content should be legally purchased, and the distribution agents of that content realize that content should also be cheap. I doubt the "commercial" form of delivering advertisements today will ever truly die, but I wonder how it will (how it must) change to survive the next decade of cultural shift.



All good points. I agree with your assertion about avoiding ads, but I also know from experience watching TV on the PC that I will put up with them to watch a show I like. My wife and I use the ABC player frequently and they drop in short ads throughout the show. You put up with it just as you do on TV because you want to watch the show. If you think about it, we are really trained to deal with ads in this way (even if we may ignore them and move onto something else).

That said, I like your idea of subscription and on demand pricing to avoid commercials and you may be right about this. This may very well be the future of TV watching, but there are still many, many people who don't use a DVR, On-Demand or any of the services you cite and these people are still watching commercials, so it could end up being some combination of the two.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment and for reading.