Is Content King Again?

Which is a better business to be in right now: content creation or distribution? The New York Times alluded to this question in a piece about Warner Bros. this weekend. From the article:

For Mr. Bewkes and his team, the core of the strategy is a wager that the media pendulum will swing away from distribution and back toward content.

“The last number of years, all you have heard about is new and better ways to distribute content,” says Mr. Meyer, sitting in his office on Warner’s lot in Burbank, Calif. “At some point, I think distribution gets commoditized,” leaving, he says, content as the more valuable component.

The Times is quick to point out that Apple has benefited more from the digital music revolution than the record labels. But is that an exact parallel? Music settled (for now) on a paid model and Apple quickly set the benchmark price. Even though iTunes and Amazon charge for video content, when it comes to short-form vids and TV shows, there is no price differentiator in the market because everything is free.

Plus, super-distribution is already ingrained into web video. Putting a video up on many outlets (YouTube, Veoh, MySpace, etc.) is part and parcel for any distribution strategy — even NBC, Fox and CBS put their content up elsewhere. And for the most part, all of the experiences for the viewer are the same: a small video player, decent playback quality (that’s getting better), the ability to comment and share.

How we watch is all the same. What we choose to watch, however, is a different story.

While there is a flood of video, and new series pop up online all the time, they are not all created equally. Dr. Horrible is much more enjoyable than Carpet Bros. whether I watch them on Hulu or on iTunes.

As we move towards an all-HD-all-the-time world, the picture will always be pretty, so there won’t be a visual difference between distributors, and assuming the ad model holds, price won’t be a factor. As a result, we’ll just go with whomever can get us the content when we want it. However, with so many shows to choose from, we won’t watch something just because it’s on, we’ll want to watch something because it’s good.

Related links from today’s news: