Late last night, Sony revealed that it would pull The Interview from its release schedule. This decision was made in response to the step taken by the major theater chains, all agreeing that they would not screen the movie on its release day. The unprecedented decision is causing consternation among entertainment media types who feel that Sony has put the right of free speech in jeopardy. That's a conversation worth having, and I'm glad it's happening. But there is an entirely new question that this situation brings into dramatic relief, one that didn't exist before and one that our premeditations won't help us resolve. The question is this:
Can companies participate in cyber war?
Up until now, companies have prepared to defend themselves against cyber attacks as one-off nuisances. Such attacks are now so common that they no longer make the news. Even massive breaches where millions of customer data points are compromised tend to give us pause for only a few moments, perhaps a few days, and then we move on. But what Sony experienced was not just a security breach. This hack was a declaration of cyber war intended to bring Sony to its digital knees: a low-cost digitally effective cyber war that puts none of the hackers' assets in harm's way. And given yesterday's announcement, it appears to have worked.
A spate of events this month argues that the industry that revolves around video entertainment and advertising (I no longer call it the "television" industry!) has entered a period where long-delayed change will burst out:
Video ad networks/technologies YuMe and TremorVideo both went public. While neither was blockbuster, these IPOs signal that investors have enough confidence in the future of digital video that they'll put some chips on the table. They see advertisers using online video to extend their TV campaigns and this sector growing at rates far higher than the advertising market as a whole.
Two $400 million + deals for cross-device video ad technologies. The much-hyped AOL/Adap.tv deal and the quieter Extreme Reach/DG deal reflect different corporate strategies, but both are rooted in the idea that the distinctions between TV and digital video will continue to diminish. Marketers increasingly realize they must put their sight/sound/motion messages on every device if they hope to achieve the reach that TV alone used to deliver.
CBS/Time-Warner dispute. The mutual benefit of carriage fees has made the programmer/distributor relationship cozy for years. Now this relationship is fraying, and outright wars that include blackout of stations like the current CBS/Time-Warner fight have become increasingly common in the past couple of years. The lure to programmers of streaming their programs online increases in direct proportion to how contentious this relationship becomes.