Column: Who Rules New-Media Economy?

Jan 25, 2009  •  Post A Comment

In the media business it’s often said that content is king, but perhaps that old bromide needs to be reframed in our iTunes-Amazon-Netflix-Comcast-YouTube-Veoh-Google world.
In today’s far-flung universe of portals and sites and RSS feeds, could distribution be king, too?
I’m kind of thinking it might be, especially after my experience researching this column. The first thing I did was Google “Content is king,” a search that yielded a range of articles citing the familiar adage. But what I really was looking for was who said it in the first place.
Rather than dig deep and click on page after page of results, I did what nearly all well-trained journalists do: I turned to Wikipedia.

“Content is king” doesn’t have its own Wikipedia entry. But the very fact that I immediately resorted to Wikipedia—the easiest if not always the most reliable solution—illustrates my point perfectly. We don’t always want the best answer; sometimes we just want the fastest answer. Wikipedia often gives us the fastest answer because Wikipedia is everywhere.
Except what about that teensy little problem of Wikipedia’s inconsistent accuracy?
“It doesn’t matter because Wikipedia has the best access,” said Ran Harnevo, CEO of how-to video syndication service 5min.com. He’s in the distribution-is-king camp. “There’s a huge difference between the way people consumed TV when the ‘Content is king’ phrase was invented and there were six or seven main channels. Then content was king. Now, when it comes to the Web and you have zillions and zillions of Web sites and there is so much good content, you often aren’t aware of it because it can’t all get traction,” he said.
Distribution then becomes more important, especially for videos. “If you want to know how to make sushi, you’ll usually click on the first few videos that show up,” Mr. Harnevo said. “If someone wins at distribution and has average content, you would still spend time there.”
He’s not alone in identifying this shift. Bill Tancer, the author of Internet-behavior book “Click,” said his analysis of early-adopter behavior online also suggests that distribution might now be rubbing shoulders on the throne with content.
“Distribution has new value-add amidst the explosion of online video content,” said Mr. Tancer, general manager of global research at Hitwise. “At this point there is so much available that relying on popularity or featured content is no longer an efficient tool to surface the most relevant videos.”
On the flipside, let’s remember that content owners still earn the lion’s share of the ad revenue from Web distribution deals, often anywhere from 70% to 90%, while the distributor must carve up the remaining third.
Content owners also have more choices on where to release their shows, and good content will be in demand, said Anthony Soohoo, senior VP, entertainment and lifestyle, CBS Interactive.
So what if neither distribution nor content is king? What if there’s a new monarch in town?
“The audience is king and there are many ways to get that audience,” Mr. Soohoo said.
Who’s in charge around here? Is it the programmer? The distributor? Or the audience? Vote in our poll.
In the meantime, it’s always a good idea to hedge your bets and get your content everywhere, Mr. Harnevo said. “Content creators should join hands with any distribution partner that gives them real revenue, otherwise someone else will give audiences the content they want.”
As for me, I just want to know who said, “Content is king.”


  1. Barry Diller.

  2. I believe that Sumner Redstone first coined the phrase in the early 80s. I know that Ted Turner also used the phrase often. The issue at the time was who what going to be more valuable — cable networks or cable operators. Redstone sold his cable operations and kept the cable networks. 25+ years later it remains to be seen who won the argument. John Malone’s then TCI dominated media, but ESPN would have the opposing argument. I guess that you could say that content is king if you have the right content. For Ted Turner, CNN was not enough nor the MGM film library.

  3. Isn’t this sort of a “Chicken or the Egg” question.
    I’m not sure if there is an answer to it either.
    Yes, it is important to have good content, but if people can’t find it, what then?
    If you have great distribution, will people return to your site after they saw it once and it wasn’t very good?
    Hmmmmm…I’m confusing myself.
    What do you think, Daisy?

  4. It certainly was used in the ’80s. A slogan with no father or mother.

  5. Not to be mean, but this column offers little in the way of any insight on the question. How about some statistics, such as unique user numbers for new-media aggregators such as Hulu versus that of standalone media outlets such as Comedycentral.com? Or breakdowns from producers such as the percentage of viewership being derived from third-party sites or distributors such as MobiTV versus that of the producer’s standalone site?
    Again, Daisy, when are you going to do some actual reporting and not do a lazy-Mary Google search followed by interviews with a few folks? Please step up your game.

  6. ”Again, Daisy, when are you going to do some actual reporting and not do a lazy-Mary Google search followed by interviews with a few folks? Please step up your game.”
    …and yet you keep coming back.

  7. Sure distribution is important but you don’t watch a computer screen, a cellphone screen, a tv screen or an ipod screen, you watch what’s on it. But that doesn’t mean all content is king. Compelling, relevant and highly targetted content is king.

  8. Yup. It was Sumner Redstone. It’s in his biography.
    His point then was as true as it is now: 3 channels, 30, 300, or 300,000, none of it matters if there’s no good content. And good content rises to the top regardless of the medium.

  9. “Content is king” was first proclaimed in the year 935 when the herald for King Rufus of Edwa announced the king’s death and the ascension of Prince Content to the throne.

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)