December 27, 2005
2006: the "Unbundled Awakening"?

Terry Heaton over at Donata Communications argues that 2006 will be the year that online video takes off, both in the form of TV shows downloaded from iTunes and video blogs like Rocketboom (now available through TiVo). Quoth Heaton:

It's a very dangerous time for any broadcaster to be making assumptions based on history.

But the biggest problem for broadcasters is their crumbling core competency and the shrinking value propositions they offer to both viewers and advertisers. The natural ability of the Internet to distribute unbundled media is disrupting broadcasting's basic business, and that will accelerate in 2006. Most broadcast companies have responded to the disruption by forcing their mass marketing value propositions into the situation (it's what they know), but most are finding that such a response-- while creating some revenue opportunities-- doesn't produce the kind of scale necessary to make up for the kinds of losses to their core business that they're facing.

He also notes that:

Unbundled media is clearly what people want, and when that kind of energy bubbles up from the bottom, media companies of all sorts have no choice but to respond. This is currently happening in the worlds of entertainment, education and information and one day will be realized in every institution of our culture.

While Heaton definitely has a point, I suspect he might be underestimating the inertia and resistance of the big media conglomerates. If experience is any guide, existing interests within the media industry will fight change because it threatens their understanding and mastery of the existing system (as well as their job security). Heck, people fought against the adoption of the modern TV advertisement system for over half a decade in the 1950s.

My (extremely conservative) prediction: 2006 will see a rapid expansion of unbundled content, as well as continued resistance to the full exploitation of its possibilities by the majors on the basis of "protecting intellectual property". The fight over which evaluation metric for product placement becomes the industry standard will continue, although the real challenge (getting advertisers to switch to-- and understand-- product placement) will be a long, slow slog. Since 2006 is an election year and has the winter Olympics, real systemic changes in broadcast media won't occur just yet, although the groundwork for future changes will be laid.

I should note that I'd be happy to be proved wrong on most of these points. But periods of transition from the dominance of one media form to another usually take a lot longer than the boosters of the revolutionary media form suggest they will.