“Got kitesurfing on the mind, mixed with some search & classification tech, and a dab of political ranting”

Mainstream Media going the way of Retailers, ’bout time!

Posted by direwolff on November 16, 2006

In the Spring of 1994, I joined a new group at Reuters, where I was tasked with exploring the business opportunities for Reuters on the Internet. What a gig. This was my first job straight out of the MBA program I had just completed where I radically changed my career direction from being an systems analyst to hopping into the biz dev world. I couldn’t believe they’d pay someone to do this job. Heck, I would have done it for free or just lunch money if they had offerred it to me that way. While I have many memories of those days, the one feeling that stands out the most, was how incredulous it felt that so many large companies, whose products and services could be made more easily accessible over the Internet, were resisting it so.

Two categories of companies really surprised me the most. First it was the retailers. Here was a group that was already accustomed to having a catalog business running in parallel to their physical stores, and for some reason instead of running, they were crawling up to the starting line of (at the time) the Information Superhighway. To this day, I credit Amazon‘s success to the “wait & see” attitude of all of the big retailers. Even Barnes & Noble, who was the most obviously threatened by this new start-up’s foray, stayed on the sidelines for a while before finally jumping in. Just given B&N’s brand, they would have commanded significant attention and customers early in the going, but instead, they sat it out and Amazon ran away with the category. Sure, there were several other causes for Amazon’s success, but this benchwarming attitude by most retailers during the first year or two that retail start-ups came into being, really hurt them.

Mainstream Media had already been doing the dance with the online services like AOL, Compuserve, Prodigy, and a host of other smaller players. However, they kept the good stuff away, in part because of bandwidth issues and the limited broadband adoption, at least in the U.S. But as things opened up more, and broadband deployments increased they still withheld their content from being made accessible online. Video being the content that lots of people wanted to share and discuss contextually. When the water cooler discussions moved to the Net, discussions about what happened on the Jay Leno Show the previous night with people who might have missed it, really could use the context of the video. Well, with the advent of services like YouTube, only a couple of years in existence, it has been interesting to see how users have effectively forced the hand of media companies (through piracy of all things) to begin opening up the vaults and making that video content accessible, as text has over the past 8 to 10 years now.

While it seemed obvious to many of my new media (by the standards of the mid ’90s) peers, that media companies with video content should be making that more easily available as there are plenty of ways to monetize this, and people like Fred Wilson talked up the idea of microchunking as the way to go, it was YouTube that forced every one’s hand. And so today’s announcement from Comedy Central, that they plan to facilitate syndication of their own content is welcomed while also being one of those “I told you so” type of events that also makes you wonder, “why did it take you so long to do this?”. I guess all that matters is that they’ve done it, and for that we’re all grateful and hope this is the beginning of all video content companies open things up like this.

Next up, the wireless carriers opening up their platforms more completely (see every other country for examples of what this means). That’s one that’s way beyond its time.

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