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Is This the End of Network TV?

Steve Rosenbaum
Is This the End of Network TV? Steve Rosenbaum

When I say the phrase 'network president,' what comes to mind? Think quickly. Is it Jeff Zucker, or Les Moonves or Bob Iger? Sure, you get points for those answers. But what about DC Smitty? Or Jessica Wells? Or Sean Knight? Ah, got you there, didn't I?


DC Smitty runs YouSurfTubes.com. Jessica is the proud president of The New York Hamster House and Sean Knight runs MadeInVT.TV


Hamsters. Surfing. Maple Syrup. This is the future of 'network' television.


This requires you to think about the word 'network' in a whole new way. It used to be that a network was a series of connected local stations-- a hub and spoke delivery system that made it possible to spend significant money on national television programs supplied to local stations. But that's all turned upside down now, and delightfully so.


Today, content is often driven by the passion, enthusiasm and deep knowledge of the members of a given interest group-- like surfers or hamster enthusiasts. The economics are topsy turvy as well. So surfers with high-quality DV cameras and access to a broadband connection are turning their passions into video-based content, with DC Smitty organizing and aggregating this collective knowledge into a network for both viewing and distribution. The economics of these new 'curated' networks revolve around sharing, not owning either content or audience. So DC Smitty owns the inventory on his pages, and video sources own the ad inventory in their video feeds. Sites like Revver share revenue with both content creators and site owners, and its expected that other video sites will over revenue shares as well. But the power is shifting from content pipe to contextual.


So the future of TV is no longer about content creation, though there will be plenty of that. It is instead about content discovery-- finding media nuggets that are site-specific and user-friendly. Video discovery is at the heart of TV 2.0.


So, should Jeff, Les, or Bob be worried about their jobs? Actually, the answer is kind of yes because the media model that they manage is all about the economies of scale. Large networks deliver large audiences, which commands large dollar amounts. But the internet is about identifying, aggregating and monetizing small (but targetable) niches, and there's little in the top-down media business that serves that purpose.


DC Smitty is building a self-sustaining community with members that are both content creators and content consumers-- they swing both ways. And as such, they create a community of like minded individuals who can be approached with marketing-- but only if the marketing is respectful of their community, their interests and their values.


I suspect that a few of my media-buying friends just snapped their slide rules in half. But the truth is the media world has been hungry for more contextual and targetable advertising environments for years. Digital cable wasn't able to provide enough metrics (pay per click, message targeting, et cetera) to pay off on that promise. But the new user-generated TV network ecosystem will close the loop. Advertisers will have a safe place to talk to contextually appropriate consumers, and consumer/creators will be welcomed into the media making mix.


So,  what can entertainment marketers do to embrace this evolution and turn it into a useful part of their marketing toolkit? First, stop trying to wish user-generated content away-it's here to stay. Second, don't buy the argument that by using A-list bloggers in a media plan you've reinvented marketing. Instead, embrace the voice of customers-- and get used to the idea that honesty, rather than iron-fisted control, is likely to get you more traction with bloggers and curated network sites. And perhaps most interestingly, consider creating your own spaces for consumer-created content and invite submissions. Most folks may want to participate, even create content around your property-- but that doesn't mean they expect free reign. Oh, one last thing: no cash prizes. No fans need or want to be paid to make media about their favorite star, series or upcoming film. They'd take tickets, backstage passes, signed script copies or other swag. But cash isn't cool.


It's a great time to be a surfer, a fan of Vermont Cheddar or a hamster owner. But only if you can discover videos that fit your quest for adventure, your hunger or your passion. And if you sell surfboards, cedar shavings or Vermont travel videos, it could be your day.


Steve Rosenbaum is founder and CEO of Magnify.net.

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