Media Bands vs. Media Brands
Having looked at the kind of content businesses that exist and the different ways they are financed, I will now go into more details on the way the content is generated, in this final entry about the three dimensions of media.
For most of media history, the creation of a full media package has had to involve many professional people. Whether it was a book (or other forms of printed content), a recording (or other forms of audio content) or a movie (or other forms of video content), the production of media goods have traditionally involved multiple people, starting with the basic creator, continuing with his or her editors, and ending with the packagers who put finishing ancillary touches to the product.
Over the years, many such structures crystallized, providing gainful employment to all those involved in the content creation chain. This portion of media creation was then followed by a supply chain surrounding the complete packaging, marketing, sales, and distribution (and not always in that order) of media pieces.
In the early 1990s, with the rise of the Internet and development of web based media, many outfits started emulating the traditional models surrounding media creation, focusing only on the fact that distribution costs were lower than they were for traditional media. So people talked about online magazines, online TV shows, etc… attempting to replicate the old business templates on this new world.
In each case, an interesting phenomenon developed: the packaged output became the brands that were known, with the vast majority of the people who created that media brand being largely unknown. For example, a publication like Time magazine or Business Week would be recognized as a popular media brand but few of the people who wrote, edited, and generally packaged it were as well known. With the rise of television and movies, some sub-brands started emerging, with actors and directors getting more recognized and becoming more important as brands that the studios or channels that were carrying their latest offerings. As such, individual talent started getting some level of recognition, and it became possible to build brands around an an individual.
With the rise of the web and the lowering in the cost of media production and distribution, whether it is for printed media (blogs), video (YouTube), or audio (MySpace, LastFM, Pandora), it became possible to establish virtual teams that quickly banded for an individual effort and disbanded once that effort was completed. So individuals started getting more noticed, with certain blogs being single-man or single-woman operations and building new brands around that person (in this context, TNL.net qualifies as my own personal brand but could be considered as a sub-brand of Tristan Louis, which is spread across a wider audience).
Meanwhile, certain forms of media brands emerged organically because of the input of thousands or millions of individuals who contributed their effort for free. Think, for example, of the mostly anonymous contributors that wrote and edited most of wikipedia. I would call this category of people bands. The name on top (Wikipedia) can continue to exist with or without the current contributors as new contributors can come in to replace the ones who have left.
In a way, the people who have not established themselves as individual brands run the risk of being forced in an out from under other brands. A writer for Bloomberg today can easily be a writer for Business Week or Fortune tomorrow (this is precisely why Bloomberg became a content creation powerhouse by surprise as no one paid attention to who was creating the content).
Depending on the side you are on, new issues are about to arise. On the media band side, the contest for supply and demand is going to get worth. Non-internet media brands are generally packed with tens or hundreds of people producing a very glossy, very professional package most of the time. By contrast, internet media is produced in an unfinished form, updating stories as they go along with feedback from other sources as well as from the people who read or view the content. In the battle between individual contributors, an equilibrium eventually arises, sorting the truth out thanks to the balance of input from different parties. This means that the process of editing is no longer in the hands of editors but it becomes a collaborative effort from everyone touching the media product at hand.
On the other side of the spectrum, the media brands now have to compete with a larger set of brands. As distribution costs move close to zero and the established structure of media creation can be replaced by a participatory model where the brand is mainly involved in the business of curating input from its consumer/producer, the rise of individual curators as individual brands is reshaping the competitive landscape. When a single individual can reach hundreds of thousands of people on a regular basis merely by writing and sharing in public, the economics of brand stardom start falling apart.
With content creation and content curation now getting so close to each other that they will soon embrace and form a new model of media, created in a much cheaper fashion, in partnership between the media initiator and his/her audience-communicators, traditional media organizations will have to get focused on creating media that is not only to be consumed but that cannot exist without active participation from its consumers/creators.
Shows like “America’s Idol” or “Britain’s Got Talent” are starting to present this media band approach, while wikipedia has already demonstrated it works in new gathering and efforts around user-generated content in journalism, whether it is of an entertainment nature (eg. Gawker) or investigative one (eg. the undoing of George Allen or the Walter Reade Hospital scandals being covered by bloggers until mainstream kicked in).
And now, I will turn it to you, my media band, to help me build on this scaffolding of a concept.