Scott Karp's post 'Is Content Still a Business?' (on Publishing2.0) poses a very logical question and one drawn from a series of trends anyone can spot.
These raise critical questions that content creators - should they wish to remain such - should ask themselves as they go forward in a granular content, rather than mass media, world.
Scott argues: "...the most striking consequence of digitizing media and distributing it online is that all content is now available in a discrete, granual form. Music file. Article page. Video clip. Podcast. Photo. There are very few places on the web that require you to buy a whole package in order to get one item.
"This is a radical transformation of the content business. Think about it.
"How many CDs have you bought for just one song? How many magazines have you bought just to read one article? How many cable channels do you subscribe to in order to watch just one show...?
"The media business has always been about selling you content that you don’t really want by stapling it (literally or figuratively) to the content that you do want. The digitization of media on the network has obliterated this model?"He concludes "...content platform and content aggregation businesses (think Google, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Digg) are the only real media businesses left.
"Oh well. If Google has its way, maybe the content business can transform itself into a direct marketing business."While this final line appears to be a bit of a throw away - it is exactly what some media businesses are attempting to do by moving themselves along the supply chain. But - as discussed previously - Google's cost-per-action model puts even this quite radical approach in jeopardy.
So what future for content creators in a granular context?
If you insist on mass producing media, you have to allow people to extract the one piece of content you've created that they want - eg I don't want Sky, but I do want to watch Lost.
Impact: Goodbye distributor/package creator (who needs Sky?). Hello content creator (I want your programme).
Isn't this the logical impact of IPTV? The end of impersonal scheduling also means you don't need the likes of Sky 'packaging up' the rest of the content for you. You go direct to the point of creation (and this is what we're seeing with social networking, citizen journalism etc. It's logical we'll see this with TV and other forms of media, too.
What future for Media Brands?
Currently you need a go-between to find each other - and as the web gets cleverer the networking becomes more natural and the fit between what you want and what you get gets closer.
Perhaps the best hope for a role for media brands is what Alan Moore is referring to when he considers 'curation' in this post
We bring together the best content that fits our brand - you know what the brand is about (and as part of its community contribute to what that brand is about and evolves into) and therefore look to us to offer you the right stuff and (critically) you choose to help co-create, rate and share the right stuff.
And you get to choose at a granular level exactly which article, which picture, which video, which service you want.
The community element of this is essential for the media brand to have any value.
Why? Google's returns are heavily weighted towards mass (lots of use, lots of links in) at the moment (which means there's a role for a bit of content curation and choice editing, at least in specialist markets) this ain't going to be the case for ever.
You can be sure Google has worked out that niche communities organised around shared interests will take over from mass - and their search mechanisms will strive to keep up (see the custom search engine on this blog, for an example).
And if the user can find exactly the granular element of content they want (from which ever content provider) they will be happy.
But I'd argue that if they do that in isolation, they will not be happy.
This is the lesson we learn from the return to 'we species' that the success of social networking has revealed. We want to be together...
Therefore the community aspects of what your media brand can offer becomes its primary function.
The community co-creates, rates, shapes the content, the content defines the brand.
The brand is the shared interests and values of that community. And community has a huge value for the future.
...and relax... pause for breath. That was a bit of a stream of consciousness. Please add your comments, pull it apart, whatever... below