Context is King

In the late 90’s, an explosion of new print, cable and online media channels created a relative scarcity of quality content to fill those channels. Pundits coined the term “Content is King,” which has since become conventional wisdom.

The rise of consumer generated media didn’t seem to change much, in large part because Star Wars Kid never seemed much of a threat to Star Wars. The YouTube lawsuit and strange bedfellows of recent days might just mark the start of a new era in the media business though, one in which the battle over the platform consumers use to acquire media becomes as heated as the struggle to own the best content. In this new era, it might just be that Context is King.

The reason Viacom is looking the YouTube gift horse in the mouth is that while YouTube might help them better monetize the channels they have today, contributing to YouTube’s emergence as THE portal for video content online is hardly in Viacom’s long term interests. In that future Viacom will develop a value-sharing relationship with YouTube much like the one it has with it’s cable distribution “partners” today, a more or less zero-sum negotiation over the division of advertiser and subscriber access fee pies.

The future Viacom wants instead is one where it controls both it’s content and the context in which it is consumed. To realize that future, they’re hard at work on individual video portals based on each of their content brands. Kids are learning from on-air promo that they need to go to to watch Spongebob online, meanwhile 18-24 men are being directed to as the only online source for streaming Daily Show clips.

The big media companies want to solve the long tail problem by creating specialized online destinations targeted at specific niche markets, namely those built up around their cable properties. Then they can leverage their on-air promo to drive traffic to those destination sites, and monetize that traffic by extending their existing advertiser relationships to the Web. This is smart.

YouTube represents the opposite vision – of a single destination where viewers can get everything. YouTube owns the viewer in YouTube’s model; Viacom does in Viacom’s. I expect the other content companies will take the same approach, or at least evaluate it against the baseline of YouTube emerging as the online equivalent of a cable provider.

The problem with Viacom’s strategy, though, is that it makes life harder on the viewer. My 9-year old needs not only to know to go to for Fairly Oddparents and El Tigre, but also to for Hanna Montana and That’s So Raven, and to for Batman Beyond.

What they need is a way to help individual users consolidate all of the video content of interest to them, WITHOUT giving up ownership of that direct user relationship…. Something that would alert an individual user of the availability of content suited to their interests and tastes, THEN drive them to the appropriate branded video portal to actually view that content.

That’s one way to think about matchmine, and part of what makes our strategy unique.


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