Last Friday, PK took a field trip out to the Digital Media Conference in McLean, Virginia, to catch up on the latest happenings in, um, Digital Media. The morning sessions opened with “Industry Roundtable: Perspectives from Leading Associations and Interest Groups,” featuring representatives from the content industry (MPAA, RIAA, DiMA, ESA) and device manufacturers (CEA). As you can see, the panel was a little stacked. At past panels, moderator Gary Arlen (check out his account of the day) wore a referee's jersey to keep things under control, but this time opted for an equally effective sports-themed tie. Congratulations to CEA's Michael Petricone for his spirited defense of consumers' rights.
What was striking about the panel was not the content industry's legislative agenda (the usual: analog hole, broadcast flag, and opposing DMCA reform), but the disconnect from the rest of the conference. The room was mostly empty, while the room next door–a panel focusing on “the Battle for the Digital Consumer” –was packed. The consensus in that room, and really of the conference, was that the winners of the digital media game would be those who could give consumers what they wanted when they wanted it.
The question left unasked and unanswered by the content industry reps was the long term viability of a business that is openly antagonistic to the desires of its customers . . .
And yet, content matters! One of the recurring themes of Friday's conference was that the companies best positioned to take advantage of the new market were those who owned their own content. Why? Because then you don't need to deal with the licensing battles that hinder any innovation in content delivery. While the big industry associations are using litigation, legislation and even international treaties to lock down content, some people are getting out there, distributing their content, and making money.
People like the Discovery Channel. In the first keynote of the day, Dawn McCall of the Discovery Networks International described the over 100 unique outlets her company uses to get their content to consumers. A fleet of cable networks, but also podcasts, webcasts, mobile devices, iTunes downloads, HD, even tours of national parks on Google Earth. You name it, they do it. She credited her company's explosive growth to the decision to own their own content, and a deliberate effort to be platform neutral.
Changing the content to fit the platform, rather than forcing the platform to fit the content. Interesting idea, but one you won't hear much around Washington these days.