Here in Silicon Valley, it has become a sport to beat up on traditional media companies for doing things like enforcing content copyrights. The argument you hear in these parts goes something like this: The way of the future is for content to be completely free, so media companies have to adapt to that or die. End of story. Meanwhile, Wall Street analysts are increasingly thinking the same thing.
The latest: Today, an analyst at investment bank Lehman Brothers, Anthony DiClemente, says that “Content may no longer be king in the content business.” Digital content distribution, audience fragmentation and file-sharing are likely to irrevocably eat away at movie and television company profits.
Just like people stopped buying CDs and newspapers earlier this decade, so too will they stop buying DVDs — a not-new idea that seems to just be hitting public markets via DiClemente. Instead, as he and many others posit, everyone will soon get their videos on Google’s YouTube or on any number of smaller video sites, as well as through file-sharing services and on Apple’s iTunes.
Of course, YouTube and iTunes aren’t the only huge new means of distribution out there. Others include social networks like Facebook, News Corps’s MySpace and others — not to mention mobile distribution services like online video site mywaves.
Meanwhile, YouTube has yet to nail its own revenue model, iTunes’ revenue is under attack from old media companies that want larger portions of its revenue — and the social networks are widely believed to not be worth the billions of dollars they’re valued at. What about old media-owned video sites, like Hulu, which goes as far as to offer entire movies online for free? It doesn’t seem it will ever be a multi-billion dollar business, according to one recent piece of analysis.
So, in sum, nobody these days has figured out how to make anywhere near the amount of money that has formerly been made from content.
Here in Silicon Valley, we can mock traditional media companies all we want for not buying into the way of the future, and instead doing things like suing copyright infringers. But who really can blame them, considering what that future seems to be? Nobody wants to die.