Through the (New) Looking Glass

Content is not king, experience is

By Allen Nizi

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
I don’t much care where –
Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.

- Alice and The Cheshire Cat, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Alice was path-agnostic.

Alice didn’t have a goal destination in mind when she went down the rabbit hole — it was her unmatched curiosity that drove her decision making in Wonderland. She was equally interested in eating magic mushrooms, attending crazy tea parties, and playing croquet with the Queen of Hearts. And as she learned from the clever Cheshire Cat, the path to get where she ended up didn’t actually matter; because she was bound to encounter something entertaining in the different parts of Wonderland anyway. But if the path truly didn’t matter, then what did? What really inspired Alice to pick that particular looking glass to slip through over all the other available mirrors in her house?

Had Alice had this conversation with an executive from a media company instead of with the Cheshire Cat, she would have received the same advice: the path to a destination doesn’t matter because being entertained when you get there — the “content” of your experience — is always the most important thing.

For years this notion has dominated the mindset of the entire media industry. During my decade as a television producer, I took it as a given that “content is king.” In short, the thinking was that if you had the best content, customers would pick your channel/service over that of competitors and you would win mindshare. In practice, this mindset is what led to the ugly (and highly public) battles between networks to acquire top watched shows including Friends and Grey’s Anatomy. Such licensing agreements made the studios wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. And as recently as the early aughts, it meant that cable companies could charge customers hugely expensive fees, by today’s standards, to access a reasonable amount of channels and content — often setting a viewer back at least $100/month.

The “content is king” mindset is still prevalent in the media industry even though consumption patterns have changed dramatically, thanks to the introduction of subscription streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. Nowadays, for far less money and without needing to wait for a “must watch TV night,” many consumers can simply stream media content whenever and wherever they want. And until recently — since only a handful of subscription streaming services held the licenses to iconic TV brands and have also been producing high-value original content like House of Cards (Netflix) and Jack Ryan (Amazon) — people could spend as little as $20 or even $10 a month to watch most of what they might ever want to see.

But the landscape of media streaming is changing too. The pathways to entertainment are multiplying and becoming increasingly expensive once more.

Today, there is no shortage of perfectly crafted press releases from media companies about plans to launch their own streaming platform. These companies — including the likes of Disney, Apple, and Warner — are all on a crusade to reclaim control over content previously licensed to Netflix or Hulu. And customers are increasingly being required to obtain (and pay) for multiple subscriptions to watch their favorite shows, movies, and sports. These costs are starting to add up.

I suspect that media companies are banking on the hope that customers who were used to paying cable packages of $100/month will be willing to spend a similar amount of money subscribing to 6 different $15/month streaming services. Only time will tell if this is actually true, but I highly doubt it. Ever-discerning media consumers are not the same people as those in the early aughts; we’ve grown accustomed to inexpensive and convenient access to more content than we can possibly keep up with.

Also, we’re already seeing some deterioration in the quality of original content from streaming services. Did anyone watch Brad Pitt in “War Machine” or catch “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny”? That’s a rhetorical question, people.

Streaming services seem so convinced that they need to keep up with the perceived demand for original content that they appear to be slacking on production oversight. In my opinion, this obvious focus on the quantity of content over the caliber of options is a mistake — Netflix is losing its prestige and street cred. Because herein lies the rub: With all things being equal, once I can get a slate of NFL games on ESPN Watch or CBS All Access, and get my fix of TV binge-watching on Hulu Plus or HBO Now, what’s to prevent me from becoming brand agnostic? Simply put, what would entice me to choose between two sports networks since I’m obviously not going to subscribe to both?

In this brave new world saturated by a la carte media streaming services, I believe the race for mindshare from an audience with an ever-decreasing attention span will be determined by a factor other than content, cost, or branding. It will be the user experience.

With all paths leading to Destination Entertainment, it will be the journey itself — the “experience” rather than the “content” of the experience — that becomes the most important thing driving customer subscriptions today, and tomorrow.

I’m convinced that “experience will be king.” And what do I mean by that? Few consumers these days are still clicking through an RCA TV remote — we’re far more likely to be gliding our thumbs across the Apple remote touchpad, changing the app from Disney Plus to MLBTV.com. What I’m arguing is that the media industry winners of the future will be the brands and services that can deliver an experience that is immersive, thoughtful and satisfying for audiences. I want to experience content like never before, and in a way that is completely intuitive to how I consume media in my house, on my phone, or on an airplane.

So where should large broadcasters invest their immense resources? Media giants need to be going all-in on creating experiences for their customers; experiences that are strong enough to get us onboard and will keep us onboard. It is no longer innovative to announce the launch of a new streaming service that will provide their hit shows and movies.

I’m watching for media companies to announce investments in R&D on how to best design the user experience of tomorrow. What will be the next big thing in how users consume that stream? Which service will be the first to break away from the pack? Who is going to start beaming holograms into my living room? Which platform will let me smell the grass at Wimbledon? Wow me! I mean, really wow me!

After all, If I can watch Alice in Wonderland on three different streaming services, I’m going to do as Alice did and unquestionably choose the best-looking glass.

About the author

Allen Nizi is a Digital Innovation Leader at TribalScale. He has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands to solve business problems by building the “right” technology products that deliver everything clients need, and nothing they don’t. Before hopping on board the speed-train that is business & technology, Allen spent a decade working in media as a television producer. When not helping his clients build their capabilities, Allen can be found on the tennis court working on his very inconsistent first serve and off court helping his young kids build/scale their Lego.

TribalScale is a global innovation firm that helps enterprises adapt and thrive in the digital era. We transform teams and processes, build best-in-class digital products, and create disruptive startups. Learn more about us on our website. Connect with us on Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook!

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