‘Hollyweird’ About Digital Video

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Online and off, Content still rules.

But that doesn’t necessarily translate into a universal happiness in the media business, especially in a content town like Hollywood.

The problem, as some content owners see it, is that there are now slews of tiny content kingdoms since the rise of digital media. And tiny content kingdoms don’t have big power over consumers like the media powers of yore.

Back when there were only a handful of TV channels controlling the content feed, consumers watched whatever was on offer. These days, if the serfs don’t like the content from one of a million kingdoms of content, they can head off to another kingdom, or even create their own content.

During the Digital Hollywood conference here this week, media players of all stripes tossed their take into the discussion about the millions of digital content kingdoms, distribution platforms and the pace of change buffeting the content creation industry.

Lined up for a panel about online video: Jason Hirschhorn, President, Sling Media Entertainment Group; Dmitri Ponomarev, Vice President, On Demand, TV Guide Network; Jonathan Heller, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, FreeWheel; Mark Dawson, Vice President, Programming Services, ActiveVideo Networks; and Alki David, Chairman & CEO, Filmon.com made up the panel with Mariana Danilovic, Managing Director, Hollywood Portfolio as moderator.

Panelists agreed that the biggest trend in recent years — the shift in distribution power with the rise of the Web and other interactive media — is still dominating the media industry. In the entertainment world, that value is now tied to the distribution platform rather than content provider. Panelists also contend that the availability of content across so many platforms is confusing consumers.

Whether this has any merit beyond media boardrooms, one thing is clear. The constellation of content choices these days is making some advertisers cranky.

“The advertising issue is a huge barrier for us,” said On Demand’s Dmitri Ponomarev. “We syndicate a lot of video to a dozen or so portals and each one has different rules about what kinds of ads it will run, how often you can see an ad, and so on. Plus metrics reporting is different on each portal. You get reports every quarter or month that you need a PhD to read. Ad agencies have very little stamina for that level of detail.”

The entertainment business was simply not created to support the model of complete global availability, said Sling Media’s Jason Hirschhorn.

“The industry functions well when you have walls up all over the place. It is all about defining borders. And now exclusivity isn’t dead, but it’s on a respirator. To scale in any significant fashion, you have to distribute your content[on other’s] networks,” said Hirschhorn.

Panelists also discussed whether technologies that have become standard online could be successfully ported to offline television.

What people can get online and want on television, according to ActiveVideo Networks’s Mark Dawson, is hyperlocal news and information as well as games and personalized delivery of content based on preferences — think social networks on TV.

“If you could subscribe to other users and watch what they’re watching, or subscribe to specific shows that can be delivered to you, or see suggestions based on your preferences — this would revolutionize television and how people find the shows they want to see,” said Freewheel’s Jonathan Heller.

Panelists agreed that traditional providers and owners of content still have a chance to survive and thrive, but they need to move fast.

“Only Comcast and Dish have a real digital strategy. Most aren’t doing multi-platform. If you are in the service business, you have to deliver content to wherever people are,” said Sling’s Jason Hirschhorn. “Companies like Hulu and Sling we wouldn’t exist if the incumbents had been doing their job. We build our business on their sloth.”

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