It’s Berlin, Circa 1989, and the Media Industries Are East Germany

Allow me to add my voice to the chorus of those applauding the fall of the Berlin wall twenty years ago this month. It was this event that taught me firsthand why revolution is simultaneously impossible as well as inevitable. In 1986 I sat with other students from around the globe just blocks from the wall and debated whether it would ever come down. The naïve among us insisted freedom was imperative: It was inevitable. The others asked if we had stopped to think about the massive relocation of people, economic resources, and government structures that such a revolution would require: It was impossible.

Until it happened, just three years later.

 

Brandenburg tor eastside

The author, pictured left, photographed in front of the Brandenburg
Gate from what was then the East German side

 

Such is the content industry’s less political but equally momentous dilemma. Walls are crumbling on every side: First the CD and now the DVD. Traditional structures that held entire industries together like little Warsaw Pacts are under threat. Media companies that deal in any flavor of print, audio, or video are under siege from the economic effects of content digitization, forever altering how content is created, packaged, and distributed.

At Forrester we call this the Media Meltdown and though we’ve been documenting its slow dissolve for some time, it’s high time we declare that 1989 is upon us – it’s time to actively tear the wall down rather than watch value continue to trickle out around the edges. We must rebuild the media industries anew: goodbye analog inefficiency, hello digital economics.We recently published a report called How To Rebuild The Media Industries, in which we issue this call. We’re no Reagan, but we issue the call with the same clarity: Stop building value on your supposed content and distribution monopolies because digital economics have forever reduced barriers to competitive entry. Publishers and producers, someone else can make that content for less money. Networks and distributors, someone else can package and bundle the content more efficiently. And movie theaters, retailers, cable networks – anyone who delivers content – there are new alternatives to you popping up every day. How? Because the analog assets and processes you built your empires on will soon hang around your necks like dead weights wile new digital competitors enter unencumbered. Some will dispense with analog assets in one fell swoop as Conde Nast did with Gourmet, others will whittle assets down to the bone like Disney did to Miramax, while some will cut as much internal fat as possible while keeping up external appearances as Newsweek has done.

And that’s just the internal wrangling over budgets. When you serve external customers, you’ll change what, how, and when you distribute content. Sony Pictures will stream Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs to owners of Sony Bravia connected TVs before it’s available on DVD. This is just one example of how to seize the economic advantage that comes from serving consumers at a new, digital, level of convenience. You’ll have to embrace the devic consumers embrace – connected TVs, smartphones, and eReaders – offering content as a service that spans multiple platforms, and charging for the convenience of easy access to what you provide.

In the last two months I have been on the road presenting our view to dozens of clients and to others in larger, less private settings. Some chirp that this is all obvious and inevitable, why do we even bother to write about it? Others squawk that we can’t possibly be serious – have we never stopped to consider how impossible such a massive relocation of labor, assets, and economic value is? To the former, I applaud your naiveté and welcome your bold moves in the market. To the latter, I encourage you to learn your history lesson. Those who rebuild now will still be here to discuss the finer points of the digital transition ten years from now. Those who do not, will not.

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Note: a version of this post was also published on Paidcontent.org, though without the attractive retro photo