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Content is still king

But does streaming bring regime change?

If you watch or provide streaming or TV services, you’ll have heard the expression “content is king”.

The phrase comes from an essay written by Bill Gates in 1996, in which he suggested that most of the money generated on the internet would come from content - few would dispute that.

The internet, with its streaming services, has indeed become the new frontier of television, the vehicle for video entertainment, and whilst content is still king the internet is also challenging who wears the crown.

Ownership vs. distribution: the great shift

The key here is that the definition of content is itself changing.

Whereas Bill Gates in his essay foresaw a world in which content production and sharing was for everyone, until recently the reality has been that the kings of content became not the content owners, but the mega-powerful content distributors– those who held the rights to the content, not those who originated it.

Your content was only valuable if you could get it to an audience, so big-name distributors like Sky achieved content dominance by aggressively gaining the rights to content that draws a crowd (e.g. football). They are king of relatively little of their own, yet they preside over an immensely magnetic content empire.

But things move on and the internet and streaming have democratised distribution. Whether this change results in a shift in who actually wears the crown is important and material, don’t get me wrong, but the fact that a musician, a film studio, football club, or a concert promoter can sell direct to the consumer, should they so desire, represents a seismic shift within the industry – and content is now arguably poised to swap one crown (that of the owner of the distribution rights) for another (that of the owner of the content at source) – with the advent of streaming.

The names who own the most compelling streaming content – the Premier Leagues, the NBAs, the Coldplays, and so on – no longer need a giant like Sky to provide the infrastructure that puts that content in front of audiences.

This new found power is not just in the option to distribute themselves - or indeed pay for it to be managed for them – and go D2C (direct to consumer), through providers like us here at Easel TV, it’s also in the power to negotiate better deals even if they maintain the status quo.

As foresaw a couple of years back, “Content is king like never before, and content creators and ownership have never been in higher demand because of it… Ownership drives new engagement possibilities. Ownership drives new monetisation opportunities.”

Make no mistake, content is still king – but very soon the traditional broadcast giants might no longer be the kingmakers.


Value-to-content ratio – a trigger for change?

The status quo is attractive – having a direct relationship with the consumer is not without its challenges and cost, “Uneasy is the head that wears the crown”, wrote Shakespeare, but the complexity and cost is eroding as everyday passes.

If you’re the Premier League, or a similar owner of content that has the capability to regularly and repeatedly captivate many millions of viewers, then today, much if not all of that content is distributed by a middleman that pays you handsomely for the rights to do so.

But economic reality is now such that with content value of that value, you could invest just a fraction of what it is worth (or would generate in return), and come out of it with a custom-built, global D2C streaming service on all devices.

In fact, as the barriers for you to release the value of your content to streaming audiences are dwindling by the day, it may not matter that you actually use it at all, it may only be important to have the option.


D2C – endgame or bargaining chip?

Does that mean, then, that we can expect the Premier League and others to start abandoning their broadcast deals in favour of D2C? Perhaps not overnight, but Disney is living testament to what happens when the switch is made.

The underlying point is that it is now very easy indeed for content owners to demonstrate to distributors, practically, that a D2C channel can be built and operational very quickly - as a viable alternative to the distribution model.

This is set to become a significant bargaining chip in rights negotiations, a game-changer in the wings waiting to go live and upset the distributors’ apple cart if the distribution deal isn’t sweet enough!


Got content? You rule!

It’s important to understand that making D2C viable doesn’t just benefit the Premier Leagues or Disneys of this world – it enables much smaller content owners to setup direct streaming services too.

And by aggregating these together into thematic hubs - for sport, festivals, theatres, cookery, or whatever audiences are specifically interested in - “going it alone” does not need to mean being a solitary voice in a wind tunnel.

Take a look, for example, at our collaboration with StagePlayer+, which has created a live streaming channel for many theatre and event organisers in one place, and connected it to the audiences it most appeals to.

In summary, if you own content, streaming is now a kingdom to be claimed.