The hype machine is in full swing if the recent interest in new media by big business is any indication. At the Milken Institute conference Wednesday, Forbes managing editor Dennis Kneale moderated a discussion with News Corp. COO Peter Chernin, former AOL CEO Jonathan Miller, Yahoo CEO Terry Semel and Michael Lynton of Sony Pictures. The topic? “Predicting the Future in a Fractured Media World.”
According to Variety, Chernin said that News Corp.’s revenue from digital offerings could increase to 30% in 10 years, while Lynton suggested Sony could be getting half its revenue via web distribution in the same time frame.
Is it ironic or simply scary that such hype is coming from an event hosted by Michael “Junk Bond King” Milken? And that it comes on the heels of a Forbes special report from last week focusing on ‘Networks.’ Maybe I’m still smarting from the dot-bomb, but the interest from big business in new media is starting to make me nervous.
The Forbes report featured essays by leading business lights such as YouTube’s Chad Hurley, MySpace’ Chris DeWolfe and even the dark lord himself, Rupert Murdoch. Needless to say, they’re uniformly bullish about their own products and prospects.
“YouTube represents the first time media has become truly democratic for both the audience and the content creators,” Hurley wrote in his piece, noting how Lisa Donovan (AKA LisaNova) leveraged her YouTube fame into a role on television. But at no point did Donovan earn a thin dime from her 11.4 million viewers on YouTube, while Hurley was busy cashing in on the popularity of users like her by selling out to Google.
But as The Daily Reel’s Anthony Kaufman points out, “assigning these folks to write stories about their own achievements gets a little old and self-promoting.” Even a jaded fellow hack like P.J. O’Rourke seems to have caught the infectuous optimism echoed by the titans of industry, suggesting that Adam “Invisible Hand” Smith would love the internet, as it represents the apotheosis of free market evolution.
A telling statement from Miller at Wednesday’s panel regarding small companies versus mega-corporations could also be applied to the co-opting of Donovan, and is indicative of just how the big guys feel about this whole distributed, disintermediated, democratic web thing. “Sometimes the specialists win,” Variety quotes Miller as saying. “They can do a terrific job with one tenth of the resources (of larger companies), but over time, they are going to end up integrated. It’s just a fact.”
In other words, if you can’t win, the best you can hope for is getting bought. As long as the music keeps playing.