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Cable Dreams

By - June 27, 2006

A lot of dreaming lately by folks whose baggage is clearly lost somewhere over 1994. Latest is Leo Hindrey, a major cable player in the mid 90s, who claims that the Yahoo and Google’s of the world are temporary phenomena – and that soon all that will matter is distributors (the cable and telco guys, natch), and content (their pals at Disney, of course). Yahoo and Google, et al, will fold because they don’t own rights to content packages like movies, and they don’t control distribution, like cable companies and telcos.

This guy is deeply, hilariously wrong. TechDirt points out the first reason – he’s missing that folks don’t go online for content alone, in fact, they go online to communicate, converse, and to declare who they are in the world. Sure, they also expect content to be there, but increasingly, it ain’t Time Warner’s or Disney’s, it’s YouTube or blogs. And if the Disney’s of the world want to succeed on the Web, they best learn from the habits of the web natives, and not shove mid 1990s media models down their throats.

But Hindrey is also missing that the business model of controlling proprietary content due to massive capital outlays and control of distribution channels is, well, no longer the only game in town. There’s a new distribution sheriff in town, and his name is search. His deputy is the open Internet. Get used to it. It’s not going to go away.

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8 thoughts on “Cable Dreams

  1. Jason Murphy says:

    Disney was on the right course with their Go.com Guides for a while. I guess they felt that user created content wasn’t a worthwhile endeavor when they “released” all their volunteers.

  2. Keshava says:

    Actually, I heard the talk as well, and I think he said distributors would matter even less than the portals would. He was basically emphasizing a point that was made repeatedly over the day – that content was gaining more and more power in its dealings with distributors, be they portals or infrastructure.

  3. Adam Rice says:

    Once they get rid of that pesky Net Neutrality, though, Hendry might have a chance at being right.

  4. Having worked for Hindery’s old organization TCI, there were a lot of people that lost a lot of money by not understanding the importance — or complexity — of search. (Back in those days “search” was, of course, TVGuide.) You’re already seeing rights holders (TV networks, NFL, etc.) evolve their IP rights strategy to make certain content searchable to preferred providers for consideration. This might be why Amazon is, as of today, not as integrated in Google search results as they have been in the past. Whether the distributor is a facilities-based provider (like a cable operator), a virtual provider (an MVNO like Boost), or a portal like Google, all will have to manage the issue of escalating rights fees. That’s one reason why Monday Night Football migrated from free ABC to pay ESPN…and illustrates the coming costs of doing business in the world of search.

  5. Terry Smith says:

    With no Net Neutality and DRM coming on the hard drive itself, the big boys who let the internet fly in under the radar might just get it back yet.

  6. Tim says:

    This reminds me of a defunct dot-com I worked for in the late ’90s… they were called “Online Television”. The name was memorable, but it only took the most perfunctory reflection it to see how wrong the name was…

    The company designed websites, which should provide a deep, interactive user experience, WHICH IS THE OPPOSITE of Television!

  7. Francis Wu says:

    That’s the thing these people don’t get: Many of us are simply not that interested anymore. There are more and more choices, and the choice is ultimately ours. GO ARMY OF DAVIDS!

  8. dumbfounder says:

    I have a search company and I think that search is the most important tool on the internet… yet I still think you are wrong John.

    Content IS king. Yes, Google has built an amazingly powerful brand based on its search expertise. BUT, their greatest power is really in their advertiser network, not their ability to search. And I think of that as content. Their search can be duplicated, their brand can be tainted, but the ad network allows them to make money with other sites and serve ads everywhere, not just on Google.com. And, for these social networking sites, I think of their users as content. Anyone can duplicate their service, but users go to MySpace because of the other users. Because the users are the content. Youtube is just a freakish example, someone else could duplicate what they do tomorrow. Unless you can control and own content of some type, you can’t guarantee that someone won’t spring up tomorrow with something better and take away all your business.

    Search is definitely not going away, but there certainly isn’t a reason to stay at Google if someone else makes a better search engine tomorrow.

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