John McCann

Archive for the ‘Content business’ Category

I write it; you own it; that’s not right

In Content business on February 23, 2007 at 1:33 pm

A recent post by Terry Heaton delves into the issues behind the attempts by Google to convince the TV networks, and other copyright holders, to put their content on YouTube. According to Heaton, this situation is part of a bigger cultural and legal issue.

“There is more at stake in this battle than meets the eye, for the very nature of contemporary copyright law is what’s being challenged. It’s a touchpoint between the controlled distribution of modernism and the shared distribution of postmodernism, and I don’t think anybody really knows where it’s all heading.

I do know that the whole concept of copyright needs to be reexamined by lawmakers, because the public interest is not served by current law. Content creators aren’t served by it either, only the copyright holders — the elite and tightly-controlled world of music, film, video, print and artistic publishers — is benefited, and this artificial government only has itself to blame for its current conundrum.”

The concept of “shared distribution of postmoderism” refers to the distribution of content by multiple parties, not just the party who owns the content’s copyright. On one level, shared distribution does not seem to be the correct process unless the copyright holder agrees. That is clearly the way it has worked in most countries for a long time. As the record companies often say, without controlled distribution the artists will not get paid.

Heaton’s second point deals with this position; the content authors (the artists, writers, etc.) do not own the copyrights and thus may not benefit from distribution controlled by the copyright holder.

I am very supportive of this position because of my previous experiences. I wrote my first academic article while I was a PhD student at Purdue University and was elated when the article was accepted for publication by the leading journal in my field. My elation was reduced when I read the form that I had to sign; it required me to assign the article’s copyright to the journal. I had to give up all rights to the article, and even had to get the journal’s permission to hand out copies of the article to my students. This infuriated me because I had worked for over a year on the article and the journal had done nothing, absolutely nothing, to create the content.

I was told by my colleagues that I had no option. If I wanted to succeed in the academic world, I had to publish articles in leading journals, all of which required me to give up the copyright. I learned that it was even worse in some academic fields in which it was common practice for the author of the paper to pay the journal to publish it. Every time that I published an article or a book, I cringed when the dreaded copyright form arrived.

IMHO … no, make that IMAO (In My Angry Opinion), the content business is broken and needs fixing. So I applaud attempts by Google and others to design and implement a better model.


Teens participating

In Content business, Content workers on August 1, 2006 at 7:34 pm

Judy McGrath, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks, gave a keynote address at the 2006 CTAM Summit, which was a conference of cable and media folks. Lostremote provided a synopsis of her remarks. The aspect that interests me the most is her remark about the role that teens are playing in MTV’s media efforts:

  • MTV research shows that 57% teens create content for web; spend 3 hours on the web every day; and 9 out of 10 use the web for homework.
  • “Our audience wants to participate and wants to leave their mark on the media landscape.”
  • These teens are content workers. Even though they work for free, they are still content workers. They are in the content business in the sense that they are creating content. Firms such as MTV provide the tools and the context for their creation. Just a couple of years ago, such content did not have a suitable distribution channel. Today, sites such as YouTube provide the conduit, one that is getting filled with content. The result: serving 100 million videos a day.

    This is just one more piece of evidence that the Participation Age is in full bloom.

    Participation Age examples

    In Content business, Internet, Long Tail, Media involvement, Video on May 15, 2006 at 11:34 pm

    I read five articles (including one advertisement) on May 15, 2006, that point to the rise of various aspects of the Participation Age and the associated diminishing of aspects of the mass culture age.

    1. An advertisement in the Life section of today's USA Today invited young people to use video to tell short stories: "What matters to you? Film it. Send it. Tell us. 30 to 60 seconds. Choose an issue. Open to all residents 18 to 26. Deadline May 21, 2006. Visit to find out more." This is one of several recent efforts to tap into the creativity of amateurs at the expense of professionals.
    2. The Money section of the same paper contained the following headline: "Most older teens can't ID the networks." The article provides some statistics: "Almost 80% of 16-to 18-year-olds can't name the four top TV broadcasters ….. Just 33% of the total audience — which ranged in age from 16 to 34 — correctly said NBC, ABC, CBS or Fox …" These two articles indicate that the Participation Age is indeed rising as the older Passive Age slips away. Young people are just not as tuned into traditional media as their counterparts were in previous times.
    3. A blog post by Dion Hinchcliffe discusses the challenges that Microsoft faces as the World Wide Web goes through a transformation to what some call Web2.0. He first writes about the change in Microsoft's focus from a software company to a media company and says it is yet another example of the "fundamental changes imposed on many corporates by the increasing pre-eminence of just about anything on the Web. … Microsoft thinks the action (i.e., value) is moving to content and the eyeballs (people) attached to it." He goes on to explain this shift: "attracting users with the most compelling content (including, or even especially, each other in the form of online social communities) is now considerably more valuable than punching out code in a world where non-connected software is becoming relentless commoditized and growth-constrained." The key aspect of this statement is the phrase "each other" by which he means that the content provided by "users" is of prime importance. This statement agrees with item #1 above. In this view, it is traditional software that you install on your computer (e.g., Microsoft's Office software) that is diminishing in value.
    4. Doc Searls, one of the bloggers that I read daily, writes about the rise of independent media, and the associated demise of traditional media. He starts his article by posing a couple of questions: "What would happen if anybody could produce radio or TV programming as easily as they consume it? What would happen if the natural limits to broadcasting went away?" After explaining, in some depth, the natural limits of radio and television broadcasting, Searls explains why those limitations are becoming mute points: "Today, if I want to put a show on the radio, I don't bother with radio at all. I record an .mp3 file, put it on a website and 'enclose' a pointer in an RSS feed. Anybody who picks up the feed or downloads the file can get the recording, anywhere on the Net. Which is anywhere with a Net connection, anywhere in the world. This is why radio as we know it is doomed. Same with TV. AM and FM stations have a future as long as manufacturers ship cars with radios. But that future will be increasingly restricted by a growing assortment of other sources of what we've come to call 'content'." He then writes about attempts to simply move the traditional TV model of passive viewers to the Internet, and he says that such approaches miss the point. "What all this misses, however, is the evolution of consumers to producers, and the obsolescence of 'media' as a one-way construct. … the result will be the end of media as we knew it — as scarce, expensive and restricted ways for a few producers to reach millions of consumers."
    5. As I explained in my initial posting about the content business, content is created via conversations, whether those conversations are recorded or simply pass away when the conversation is over. It is easy to generate such content when people are in the same room. And we can use phones, instant messaging, and other technologies to hold conversations among several people. But it is difficult to generate conversation-based content with a larger group of people who are distributed around the globe. We now have a new tool, Skypecast, that promises to solve this problem. An "early preview" on the Skype (a form of telephony that uses the Internet instead of the traditonal telephone network) website describes this new tool: "Skypecasts are live, moderated conversations allowing groups of up to 100 people from anywhere in the world to talk to one another. Skypecasts enable people to discuss shared interests — anything from classic cars and cooking, to home design and computer support. Skypecasts are moderated by the ‘host’ who is able to mute, eject or pass the virtual microphone to participants when they wish to speak. Hosting or participating in a Skypecast is completely free."

    These five stories point to one common theme: new ways are emerging for people to participate in activities that were previously restricted to professionals in the "content businesses" and people are using those tools in different ways.

    Don’t disparage the youth!

    In Content business, Content workers, Early Predictions, Globalization on May 9, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    In his keynote address at Telcom 95 in Geneva, Switzerland, Andy Grove, then the CEO of Intel, talked about one of his favorite topics: the Strategic Inflection Point (SIP). He said that all organizations, sooner or later, will face a Strategic Inflection Point because of technology, deregulation and competition. Here is my depiction of a chart that he used in his address:


    The blue curve denotes the organization's growth, which is rapid at first, then slows and eventually plateau's at its SIP when it encounters the three forces of digital technologies, deregulation and competition. Depending upon its actions, it will either enter a new growth path or go into decline.

    He talked about the "mother of all Strategic Inflection Points" that firms were facing in 1995:

    "In the future, with a medium of hundreds of millions pushing onto a billion connected computers available for commerce as well as for other tasks. Transactions, business will be connected not face to face but stream to stream. And I think this will be the mother of all strategic inflection points because it's going to change the way those of us in the information technology industry do our business but even more importantly, it is going to change the way everybody in commerce does their daily business. As with strategic inflection points there are two paths. There's a path of ascent and a path to descent. And which path you are going to be ending up on depends on the decisions and the plans and the implementation of those plans that begin at the time of that inflection point which I submit to you is today."

    A couple of years later, Lou Gerstner, then the IBM CEO, appeared on the PBS Nightly Business Report in a segment titled Net Effects. He had this to say about the nature of the coming business world.

    “The network world is going to change the world the way man flight changed the world, the way the electric light changed the world. It is going to fundamentally alter every institution in our society and it will change the way we work, the way we communicate, and the way we relate to each other. It will have implications for the nation-state, for the way we organize around the world. It is a powerful force and it evolve over the next two decades into something that we will look back and say that was a quaint world in the 1980s. I’m talking about a revolution that I think will take several decades in terms of its impacts on all of society. But every single quarter some other industry will see its basic competitive landscape change because of this network.”

    When I started this blog, I had been using these remarks (along with hundreds of others that I collected in the 1990s) to help me explain the nature of the networked world and why it was so important. Only in the last few weeks have I been able to recognize that one implication of the trends is that a large fraction of the workers in the developed world are content workers.

    Each of us (if you are reading this blog post, you are surely a content worker) is in the content business. And as I explained in my piece on globalization, we operate in a world of real time relationships among dispersed individuals and organizations. We use and distribute content to all corners of the globe through our conversations, emails, web pages, blogs, etc.

    Both content workers of the digital age and factory workers of the industrial age have faced or will face their Strategic Inflection Point as their livelihood is impacted by digital technologies, competition and deregulation. Those impacts are associated with many words and phrases that have come into vogue in the past two decades: lay-offs, downsizing, right sizing, out sourcing, home sourcing, etc.

    These words represent the consequences of organizations responding to their SIPs. They find new ways to participate in their industries via new strategies and/or structures aimed at reducing their costs and/or expanding their revenue streams. More often than not, these changes involved new uses of digital technologies to improve individual, group and organizational productivity.

    That is what organizations do. Too often, individuals in those organizations are the last to recognize that they are about to face their own SIPs. They may not be ready to operate in the new world, the one into which their organization is transitioning. They need to learn how to operate in a world of real time relationships among dispersed individuals and organizations.

    But where do they turn for guidance? Where can they find a role model when most of their peers are in a similar situation? Just who does know how to operate in a world of real time relationships among dispersed individuals and organizations? Who are those people and where can they be found?

    My answer: they are all around us. They may be in our own homes or next door at our neighbor's house. They may mow our grass, or drive around our neighborhood with music blasting from their cars. They may saunter around the mall in groups. They are today's youth.

    What are they doing that is so important to us? They are playing multi-player online games, creating Facebook and MySpace profiles, blogging, sending short messages from their mobile phones, sharing digital pictures on Flickr & other photo services, walking around with their mobile phones glued to their ears, conversing in a half-dozen Instant Messaging (IM) windows on their computers at the same time, etc. They use those technologies and services to stay in continual contact with their friends, acquaintances, teachers, etc.

    That is, they are managing real time relationships among dispersed individuals. They are global!! Being content workers is second nature to them.

    We, the adults of the world, have to be careful when we advise them about their use of technologies. We may be too eager to focus on the articles about the negative consequences of the use of digital technologies. We need to recognize that they are global, and most of us are not. They grew up participating in real time relationships among dispersed individuals in ways that are far more advanced than our ways of relating to others.

    We need to recognize that their work endeavors will be in an environment that is different from the ones in which we operate. We may be far more adept at operating in an organization that has not faced its SIP. They may be far more adept at operating in a post-SIP global organization because they were raised in the networked world.

    Keep in mind what Gerstner said about that world: "It is going to fundamentally alter every institution in our society and it will change the way we work, the way we communicate, and the way we relate to each other." Perhaps we should each seek out a member of this generation and get him or her to mentor us on relating to other people through digital technologies.

    But too many of us are not thinking this way. Too often we disparage their use of technology. We do not recognize that their behaviors are ones that we might want to emulate. We are very good at establishing and nurturing relationships with individuals we work along side. We have a lot to teach the youth about work ethics and social behaviors in our workplaces.

    Those same youth are very good at establishing and nurturing relationships among dispersed individuals. I imagine they have a lot to teach us about how to operate in their world, which is much closer to the global business environment than most of our work environments.

    Last winter, I taught a class titled "Technology and Life" at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Duke. During several of the class sessions, one person in the class would ask the same question: Aren't you worried about what the young people are doing? My answer was always "No, that does not worry me."

    If I were asked that question today, I would say, "Yes, I do worry. But not about what the youth are doing with digital technologies. I worry about what adults are not doing with them."

    Participation Age up close

    In Content business on May 1, 2006 at 10:49 pm

    My wife and I went to Merlefest, a music festival held in honor of Merle Watson, the deceased musician and son of Doc Watson. It was a great festival and we had a wonderful time. We also saw, up close and personal, what Michael Malone called the Digital Photography Revolution.

    There were a dozen or so venues throughout the Wilkes Community College campus. The largest venue, the Watson Stage, has thousands of seats with room for many, many more in a grassy area in the back. There must have been tens of thousands of people in the audience during performances of some of the stars, such as Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Nickel Creek, etc.

    As shown on the seating chart, there are two main aisles that lead to the area in front of the stage. We had seats on the end of the fourth row, next to Aisle 4. No only did we have a great view of the stage, we witnessed a parade of photographers, both professional and amateur, coming down to take pictures of the performers. Police and volunteer ushers made sure that people had time to take a few pictures, and then encouraged them to go back to their seats. As a result, we saw hundreds of people clamoring to take pictures with digital cameras of all shapes, sizes and prices.

    When you snap a picture, you create content. In order to participate in a larger community, you need to share the picture so that others can enjoy it. A "Merlefest" search on the Flickr picture sharing site returned 242 photos, such as this picture of Gillian Welch, which appears to have been taken near where I was standing during her performance on Saturday on the Creekside stage. I imagine there will be many more posted on Flickr and similar sites as people get around to transferring their pictures from their cameras.

    Whether simply taking pictures, taking and sharing them, photographers at Merlefest brought the Participation Age into my lap as they jostled at times to get close to the stage. It was quite an experience!

    Kevin Sites’ success

    In Content business, Television, Video on April 26, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    Clearly, the Internet is the current vehicle that is enabling people to participate via new approaches to content development and distribution. Pete Johnson's recent Media Mix column in USA Today contains two stories that provide some data about how an individual can succeed in such a new venture when done at a professional level with the support of a large organization, in this case Yahoo.

    The column's first story is about Kevin Sites, a field reporter who first became famous while reporting from Iraq for NBC. He left that position and signed up with Yahoo to pioneer a new approach.

    "Since September, Sites has been a "sojo" — solo journalist — reporting on trouble zones such as Somalia, Colombia, Lebanon and the Sudan for His site ( now draws more than 2 million hits a week."

    We can put this 2 million hits a week into perspective with some data from the column's second story about Tim Russert's success as host of NBC's Meet the Press.

    "Sunday, his program was expected to notch its fifth straight year as the most-watched public affairs program on television at 4 million viewers, compared with 3.1 million for CBS' Face The Nation, 2.6 million for ABC's This Week and 1.5 million for Fox News Sunday."

    The Participation Age has reached the point where new Internet-based approaches can rival the traditional content on the traditional media. But it is important to note and remember that Sites' success is based upon being part of a large Internet organization. He is not a lone-wolf roaming the world with a camera and a notebook computer. Johnson provides some insight into how he works with Yahoo.

    "Now on the road pretty much 24/7, Sites produces a story each day, illustrated with pictures and a short video using equipment that he carries with him. At the end of each week, the video expands into a longer piece with help from three Yahoo colleagues back in Los Angeles. By this fall, Sites hopes to have filed from more than 20 countries. … 'This is online journalism,' Sites says. 'My pieces are vetted. There are other people involved.'"

    I find his pieces to be quite professional when I watch them on my computer. And I have read his blog on an irregular basis for the past several years. His work clearly illustrates how a traditional journalist can adapt and succeed in the Participation Age.

    You are in the content business!

    In Content business, Content workers on April 4, 2006 at 11:51 am

    An article in USA Today reports that Hollywood is starting to offer downloads of its newer movies at the same time that it makes them available on DVD. The article ends with a quote about what this represents on a larger scale:

    "The smartest people in Hollywood realize that they are not in the movie business; they are in the content business," says Shelly Palmer, author of Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV.

    Looking at a business in a broader context is now a standard way for executives to begin to understand how they can expand and/or break out of their normal way of doing business. Once the studios recognize they are in the content business, they can move beyond the structures and strategies of the movie business.

    When I read this article I was struck by the question: Who else is in the content business? This question led me to a line of thought that produced insights that surprised me.

    • If a movie is content, then so is a television show and a music recording. In fact, all recorded entertainment is content.
    • If the movie "My Fair Lady" is content, is the theater production of "My Fair Lady" also content? Does something have to be recorded onto some medium in order to be content? No, a live performance is also content.
    • So entertainment in all forms and formats is content, including concerts, plays, nightclub performances, etc.
    • Newspaper and magazine stories are content.
    • All written communications are content, including letters, instant messages, and memoranda.
    • Radio programs are content, as are podcasts.
    • All spoken words are content, including telephone calls, sermons, conversations, college lectures and corporate presentations.
    • Software is content, including entertainment software (games, etc.), business software (Microsoft Office, etc.), and web pages.
    • Content includes all expressions of knowledge.
    • Most content is private to the individual, family, group or organization.
    • All white collar workers are content producers and/or managers. They produce content by their daily work and they manage the content that they and others produce.
    • Content is located, combined, created, refined, stored, protected, communicated and displayed.

    The most surprising insight, at least surprising to me, is that all white collar workers are Content Workers in the sense that they work with content in their daily jobs. Their organizations may not be in the content business, but they are when they talk on the phone, participate in meetings, prepare and deliver a presentation, find content produced by others, send an email message, write a memorandum, etc.

    I now see that I was a Content Worker (CW) when I designed and tested new products as an engineer, prepared and taught college courses, did research and wrote papers, consulted with corporations, etc.

    This insight allows me to see the Participation Age through a new lens, and I will be writing about what I see in future posts.