Amid the blockbuster drought of last summer, music took over much of the entertainment spotlight. That’s when Tom Petty, along with his new album, "Hypnotic Eye," stormed to No. 1 on the charts for the first time ever.
How’s that for a 63-year-old rocker who hasn’t been on Billboard’s Top 200 list of albums in 37 years? Despite mostly sold-out concerts and festivals this year and the continued mainstreaming of the EDM music genre, it was still tough to find fresh content amid tired music formulas, including that of the infamous Beyoncé and Jay Z.
As everyone from brands to artists have learned (the hard way), consumers across all industries are barraged with content that often falls short of their increasingly high standards for innovation. More than ever before, content is the driving force behind every aspect of consumer decision making.
However, on the other end of the content spectrum, 2014 has been a year like no other for redefining the meaning and value of content--and what business will pay for it. In the traditional sense, “content” just means words, even words on paper or screen. Analog or digital books, magazines, and newspapers qualify, too, but sites focused on specific interests can easily be boxed in with how most now define content today.
Google came up with its own definition that evolves constantly, one that has further legitimized and accelerated the growth of new content businesses. Given how crucial this is for quality score calculations and particularly for natural search and SEO, it makes sense that the entire food chain has expanded to the point where content has become the equivalent of DNA, existing in everything.
But instead of looking vertically at industries or delivery mechanisms, consider how the consumer values it and what businesses are willing to pay for it, especially content that entertains.
From unvarnished to the highly produced, people are devouring traditional and new forms of content in unprecedented fashion. Mobile devices certainly have been a lightning rod, but so too is the seemingly insatiable human need to be entertained.
Netflix ended the unofficial summer season with an announcement revealing that it will pay $2 million per episode for James Spader’s "BlackList" and $1.75 million for a new show, "Gotham." This manner of content valuation is showing up across industries--from Mr. Murdoch’s almost-deal for cable domination with its $80 billion rejected offer for TW Cable to celebrity tweet payments. (It’s rumored that Kim Kardashian gets $15,000-plus post-baby.) And then there's the more nuanced instances like college football salaries in which coaches' incomes now have TV viewership revenue and overall team enterprise value factored in.
YouTubers like gamer Pewdiepie pulls in nearly $1.6 million a month, while Forbes reported DJ Skrillex brought in a mighty $16 million in 2013. When Red Bull invests millions in sponsorship behind DJs, festivals, and video gamers, you know the dissemination of valued content is real.
Additionally, Twitter recently announced that it will now include a Buy button buried within 140-character tweets, further propelling content leading commerce to break open new frontiers. What advertisers will pay for and audiences will watch from those that create, perform, and produce it is changing the rules.
This widespread ideation of changing rules is what’s inside of the recent buzzworthy media deals. Of course, a digital platform that scales is a required ingredient now. Scale is where the ultimate value is, though, unless it is so niched and rare that value is created only by markets. Think eBay for a signed poster you’ve been craving from the upcoming Kings band reunion. Or StubHub for a rink-side seat for the Rangers and Kings hockey final game or Giselle or Kate Upton’s latest tweet about Tory Burch’s new fragrance.
Content rules. It always has. It just changes form and value. In a music industry magazine some years ago, Mick Jagger of Rolling Stones fame said about the impact of the Internet on music: “...then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone. We’re back to being traveling minstrels.”
From a consumption perspective, marketers have made us all very smart about how content gets paid for and distributed. Millennials have cut cords to their phones and TVs, but so have the older Boomers.
In fact, 30 percent of Boomers regularly stream television content. The increasing cross-generational affinity for streaming content will continue to mean that those who have captured and can reach a growing audience, win. Audience willingness to transition to streamlined delivery platforms and devices will continue to force those that distribute content to chase technology. It is the technological curiosity on the part of the viewer that is also driving content value and the new definitions.
Many years ago, New York Magazine published an article about the consolidation of power among the companies that create and distribute content. The cover illustration depicted a brain to show how people actually had less choice because of acquisitions and consolidation. That was then, 15 years ago. It surely hasn’t gone down.
The bigs are getting bigger and control more, but has the balance of power tipped? User-generated content is now the rage online and is radically reshaping the balance of power again.
People still want high quality, production-value content, but now they want it everywhere--in their homes through mobile devices, TVs, workstations, laptops, on handheld devices, and in their cars.
At the end of the day, it’s the consumer's world, and control has shifted. How far, we’ll have to watch for, but I’m betting that those that create and innovate and the people who crave it will be doing the driving. Content needs to meet increasingly higher expectations that offer consumers either convenience, intrigue, customization--or all of the above.