Over the past century, technological advancements have massively reduced the cost and time needed to create and circulate content. Though this has liberated artists, consumers are now drowning in a virtually infinite supply of things to watch, listen to and read. The answer to a world where attention is the key constraint, not capital or distribution, isn’t Big Media – it’s the Influencer Curator. ... the next evolution in the media value chain will be the rise of decentralized curation – with individual tastemakers building up mass followings and driving enormous consumption by recommending various articles, videos, shows, films, albums, exhibits and so on. While there’s no way to effectively do this at scale today, the transition is long in development.
Inside the studio where ESPN is betting billions on the future of sports ... Under president John Skipper and the Disney umbrella, ESPN has spent the last decade amassing an untouchably large amount of live sports programming. The network’s empire extends from football and basketball; to auto sports and the X-Games; to ultimate frisbee, poker, and bowling. It broadcasts the World Cup and the Masters, Monday Night Football and the NBA Playoffs. By any measure – it’s the most popular cable channel by a mile; it commands a per-subscriber fee from cable companies equal to the next five most expensive combined; it’s valued at more than $50 billion, 13 times as much as Disney-owned ABC — ESPN is the country’s most powerful media company. The calculus is as simple as it is devastatingly effective: sports is practically the only TV that millions of people still insist on watching live, and ESPN owns almost all the sports. ... The new SportsCenter set is the crown jewel of the building: 9,700 square feet of space that will be used to broadcast the show on ESPN’s mass of channels. The revamped set was designed to make SportsCenter more personal, to show anchors moving around and interacting, but also to help the show move at the speed of the internet. ESPN has long been criticized for allowing news to break overnight while it ran repeats of the previous day’s shows; now the premier show in sports can update and broadcast in real time.
The company that got its start delivering loaner DVDs in the mail is now positioning itself to be first truly global content network, and its original shows—especially marquee titles like Daredevil—are key to that ambition. ... perhaps the even bigger deal is that sending a new show worldwide felt like no big deal at all; the Netflix war room was less Dr. Strangelove than late-night potluck. Champagne was poured, a countdown ended, the show began, and that was that. Absent the dim lighting and the bubbly and a gaggle of international journalists, it felt like just another day at the office. ... That seeming ease of execution belies the time, money, and effort Netflix has sweated in the years leading up to now. From building up its global IT infrastructure to harnessing a world’s worth of data to creating content with global appeal, Netflix has been focusing its corporate energy on this exact moment. ... For Netflix, becoming a truly global network presents a path for steady growth over the next decade and beyond. It has 75 million subscribers today; there are seven billion more out there. For the world, Netflix’s aspiration could mean much more: the first glimpse at what happens when every part of an online entertainment empire, from interface to content to delivery, is engineered to be everything to everyone, all of the time.
Comcast has installed tens of millions of cable boxes, Wi-Fi routers, and other hardware in American homes over the years. These devices have been forgettable at best. Stirling hopes that’s about to change. Later this year, the company will begin rolling out a family of slimmed-down internet, TV, and home-security gadgets. The devices are designed according to a radical concept that’s largely gone untested in more than a half-century of cable-TV history—that hardware doesn’t have to be hideous. ... The new devices are designed to work in concert with X1—the software at the heart of Comcast’s strategy to keep its 22.4 million cable subscribers from cutting the cord and defecting to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Think of X1 as the company’s own Android or iOS—a technological platform upon which an empire of software, hardware, and services can be built. ... Instead of just throwing every channel into a linear grid accessed by clicking up and down with a remote, X1 aggregates programming from hundreds of TV networks and online sources and arranges everything by genre. ... Unlike most cable companies, Comcast has actually been gaining TV subscribers.
For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week, and ultimately corralling a team that curated the web every 20 minutes during peak hours. Each morning began with a full immersion in the stream of internet consciousness and news, jumping from site to site, tweet to tweet, breaking news story to hottest take, scanning countless images and videos, catching up with multiple memes. Throughout the day, I’d cough up an insight or an argument or a joke about what had just occurred or what was happening right now. And at times, as events took over, I’d spend weeks manically grabbing every tiny scrap of a developing story in order to fuse them into a narrative in real time. I was in an unending dialogue with readers who were caviling, praising, booing, correcting. My brain had never been so occupied so insistently by so many different subjects and in so public a way for so long. ... I was, in other words, a very early adopter of what we might now call living-in-the-web. And as the years went by, I realized I was no longer alone. Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience. More and more people got a smartphone — connecting them instantly to a deluge of febrile content, forcing them to cull and absorb and assimilate the online torrent as relentlessly as I had once. ... Then the apps descended, like the rain, to inundate what was left of our free time. It was ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, this always-updating. ... the insanity was now banality ... e almost forget that ten years ago, there were no smartphones, and as recently as 2011, only a third of Americans owned one. Now nearly two-thirds do. That figure reaches 85 percent when you’re only counting young adults. And 46 percent of Americans told Pew surveyors last year a simple but remarkable thing: They could not live without one. ... By rapidly substituting virtual reality for reality, we are diminishing the scope of this interaction even as we multiply the number of people with whom we interact.
But a disastrous 2015—including the flubbed launch of a new camera—punctured that enthusiasm. Revenue for the first quarter of 2016 was down year over year, and a much-anticipated drone release was delayed. When Woodman arrives at the GoPro Games, the company’s stock is flirting with all-time lows, down almost 90% from its peak. ... It’s a ride that could make even the most seasoned extreme-sports enthusiast dizzy. Woodman takes a seat on an off-duty ski lift, the high Rocky Mountain sun behind him. And then he dives into his plan for reviving the company he loves. He says that a trio of new products being released this fall—including that delayed drone, called the Karma—will help win over a swarm of fresh consumers. New software will make video editing easier and content even more shareable. He is relentlessly optimistic. ... Woodman sees GoPro as a sort of mini Apple, a hardware company that is evolving into a software platform with social networking features. Its business model will even include monthly subscription fees alongside steady hardware upgrades.
There are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of influencers making a living this way. Some make a lot more than a living. The most successful demand $10,000 and up for a single Instagram shot. Long-term endorsement deals with well-known Instagrammers, such as Kristina Bazan, who signed with L’Oréal last year, can be worth $1 million or more. Big retailers use influencers, as do fashion brands, food and beverage companies, and media conglomerates. Condé Nast, publisher of the New Yorker and Vogue, recently announced that it would ask IBM’s artificial intelligence service, Watson, to take a break from finding cancer treatments to identify potential influencers. ... The ultimate goal: to persuade someone, somewhere, to pay me cash money for my influence. ... “You sell part of your soul. Because no matter what beautiful moment you enjoy in your life, you’re going to want to take a photo and share it. Distinguishing between when is it my life and when am I creating content is a really big burden.” ... Instagram doesn’t explicitly ban bots, but its terms of service do prohibit sending spam, which, when viewed in a certain light, is exactly what I was doing. On the other hand, except for a single user who somehow had me pegged and accused me of being a bot, nobody with whom I interacted seemed to mind the extra likes or comments. ... I was already verging into “micro-influencer” territory, a hot new field within influencer marketing where, rather than hiring one or two big-time influencers, an ad agency will simply give out free merchandise to 50 small-timers.
For decades, Globo has had a near monopoly in Brazilian living rooms. Its channels control the broadcasting rights to many of the nation’s most popular sporting events, including the World Cup, the Olympics, and the top Brazilian soccer league. Every night about 42 million people watch Globo’s newscast. ... For the past several years, Netflix has been pouring money into Brazil. Local audiences at first met the company with skepticism, bafflement, or indifference. Over time, Netflix started to gain a following, particularly among affluent, young urbanites ... For Netflix, this Brazilian invasion is just the start. The company wants the attention of the world’s well-off cosmopolitan consumers, and is investing billions of dollars in a multifront effort to create a lingua franca of original programming, while also upgrading the world’s video streaming structure. It’s like a worldwide Marshall Plan for premium home entertainment.
The brothers oversee an enviable collection of businesses — a movie studio, cable channels and a publishing house worth a combined $62bn. But that does not mean they have nothing to worry about. Their newspapers have been walloped by an industry-wide collapse in print advertising, while Fox’s television networks are grappling with the “cord-cutting” phenomenon — the cancellation of pricey cable subscriptions by a generation that prefers binge-watching on demand. For owners of channels such as Fox that means fewer viewers and pressure on advertising. ... The competition is also beefing up. Time Warner, one of Fox’s main rivals and the owner of HBO, CNN and Warner Bros, has agreed a blockbuster $85.4bn sale to AT&T, which will create a giant that dwarfs Fox. If it is cleared by regulators, the combined company will be able to deliver Time Warner movies and TV programming direct to more than 160 million AT&T customers around the US — something Fox is currently unable to do. ... Add these challenges to the scrutiny and opposition that their Sky deal will generate and the younger Murdochs find themselves in a challenging environment. Their father overcame considerable obstacles to become the world’s most influential media mogul, battling political establishments on both sides of the Atlantic and making risky bets along the way, buying The Sun, launching Sky and Fox News, to name but three. The question now facing James and Lachlan is this: do they have what it takes to fill his shoes?
Marvel, which has ramped up production to be able to make three movies a year, is proving that, if done correctly, these character universes can resemble successful technology platforms—ecosystems that enable both creative risk taking and significant growth and profits. But too often, other companies look at the winning result without appreciating the forethought that produced it. Look no further than Marvel’s arch nemesis, DC Entertainment, which, in conjunction with Warner Bros. (its parent company), has tried to catch up to Marvel by launching its own “extended universe” of characters. ... Marvel’s approach, then, has been easy to replicate but challenging to duplicate. What is the true essence of Marvel’s success?
A well-regarded hollywood insider recently suggested that sequels can represent “a sort of creative bankruptcy.” He was discussing Pixar, the legendary animation studio, and its avowed distaste for cheap spin-offs. More pointedly, he argued that if Pixar were only to make sequels, it would “wither and die.” Now, all kinds of industry experts say all kinds of things. But it is surely relevant that these observations were made by Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar, in his best-selling 2014 business-leadership book. ... The painful verdict is all but indisputable: The golden era of Pixar is over. It was a 15-year run of unmatched commercial and creative excellence ... The theme that the studio mined with greatest success during its first decade and a half was parenthood, whether real (Finding Nemo, The Incredibles) or implicit (Monsters, Inc., Up). ... The Disney merger seems to have brought with it new imperatives. Pixar has always been very good at making money, but historically it did so largely on its own terms.
The takeaway: Gaming may be mainstream entertainment, but game companies are hit-driven—and none has successfully expanded beyond videogames. ... Activision Blizzard hopes to be the first. It’s not just dragon-centric TV shows that are being spun out of its massive vault of proprietary characters ... There are multiple movies under development, loosely based on the bestselling war-game franchise Call of Duty. There’s a newly launched consumer products division, tasked with developing everything from comic books to apparel based on Activision Blizzard’s intellectual property. ... And most notably, there is an “e-sports” empire in the works—a major foray into the booming world of competitive videogaming. That genre, once merely a niche, is reaching a tipping point. About 385 million people worldwide are expected to view e-sports events in 2017—mostly online, but increasingly on cable television and at live competitions. ... It might be more accurate if ESPN not only distributed football games but also owned the National Football League—and made all the footballs in the world as well.
Amid a slow growth in royalty payouts, Spotify is investing in a range of projects aimed at keeping artists happy, mostly by leveraging the company’s huge goldmine of listener data. The effort includes new metrics tools for musicians, steadily improving fan targeting, and a range of curated and algorithmic playlists to help artists reach new listeners. ... Spotify’s artist-focused initiatives aren’t sheer acts of generosity, of course: They also have a direct bearing on the company’s future success as a business. The Stockholm-based firm, last valued at $8 billion in 2015, boasts 50 million paying subscribers but steep losses ever since it was founded a decade ago. And the competition, which increasingly comes from tech giants like Apple, Google, and Amazon, is fierce. ... The more indispensable Spotify becomes to creatives, the stronger its leverage in negotiations with record labels. The company is currently in the long-awaited process of renegotiating deals with labels and rights holders, who are anxious for better terms. But like every other streaming platform, it’s eager to shift the basic math of the new music economy further in its own favor
Located in Hunt Valley, Md., little-known Sinclair is the nation’s largest owner of broadcast TV stations. It has 173 of them, mostly in small markets (Sioux City, Iowa; Fresno, Calif.; Little Rock), but with several in larger metropolitan areas as well (Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Washington). Whatever a particular station’s network affiliation—ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, or NBC—Sinclair viewers get a steady dose of conservative political commentary. Lately, Executive Chairman David Smith has begun assembling a kind of junior varsity squad of commentators and making unspecific murmurings about competing head-to-head with the senior lettermen and women at Fox News. To left-leaning viewers only just becoming aware of the company’s reach, Sinclair is positioned to flip a switch and turn those 173 stations’ newscasts—currently delivering bulletins on weather, school closings, and local affairs—into a cohesive network that pushes a Fox News-esque worldview of outrage and conflict into individual cities, counties, and towns. ... In May the company announced it was buying Tribune Media Co. for $3.9 billion. Among other assets, Sinclair would add 42 TV stations—including major ones in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago—if the deal is approved by regulators.