The New Scarcity

Most of my career has been spent, in one way or another, explaining to people that the way we all consume media is changing, and that if they listen to me I might be able to help them navigate the change successfully.  I got paid a reasonable amount of money to do that, because what I had to say was a relatively scarce commodity in a marketplace filled with old-media types scoffing at the idea of real change.  The short-sightedness of those folks provided me with a fantastic way to make a living, for a while.  Nothing good lasts forever though, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what information will be scarce in the months and years ahead.  As a researcher, marketer, and consultant, change is the rocket fuel of my career.  To stay relevant, I need to figure out what the next big change will be that nobody saw coming, and then figure out what to do about it before it even occurs to anyone else to worry.  I think I can do this, but I’d like to take a moment to reflect.  Think of me like the guy on the corner holding the sign “the aliens are coming!” the day after the aliens actually came.  I was right, but what to do now?
Watching old media stalwarts blunder their way into new media mistakes over the past few years (i.e., CNN and anything to do with Twitter) was like watching your grandpa get into hip-hop. Watching Ashton

Ashton Kucher posing on his Katalyst Facebook page

Kutcher try to leapfrog existing media companies with his company, Katalyst Films, I first had a sense that maybe the universe was starting to catch on (though Katalyst seems to have gone dormant since 2009).

Lately, it’s become common to see the ideas I’ve been advocating come to life.  One example of this is that I’ve been pushing for years for the idea that online video ad servers should automatically match the length of ads to the length of content viewed in order to create an equitable exchange of content for ad viewing time.  Back when my idea was still new, every video, whether a fifteen second clip or a two hour movie had a 30 second ad spot in front of it, or nothing at all. Just recently, I’ve noticed that Hulu’s ad servers have finally gotten smart enough to give less advertising for short clips, and more advertising to long-form content, and even more ads to heavy consumers watching many shows in a row.  I have no idea if they read my book on video marketing, and am guessing the smart people at Hulu probably came up with the idea independently. But, the conclusion is the same; many of my radical ideas from the past are becoming the normal, business-as-usual present.  Suddenly, we’re all used to the aliens among us.

All of this really struck home this last Saturday night when I went to see Conan O’Brien, Patton Oswalt, and Andy Richter speak (and drink an amazing amount of wine) at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco.  They were predictably fun and funny, but the thing that struck me was how much Conan and Patton talked about the internet, and Twitter, and the economics of media.  Conan reiterated multiple times that the machine of media is broken, and at one point looked out at the crowd and said “It would not surprise me if three years from now one of you sitting out there is running the media, and it is totally different than it is today.”

Now, perhaps this is selfish or narcissistic, but I have to ask, if Conan O’Brien is now the guy standing up in front of Google employees and talking about how media is changing, how the heck am I supposed to compete with that?  I guess I can’t.  Conan, as much as I love you, you’re putting me out of a job.  Please get back to hosting TV soon.  Until then, I’m admitting defeat.  I am, instead, now seeking the new scarcity.  I’m setting out to uncover whatever it is that is so new that it still has the capacity to blow people’s minds.  I’ve got some ideas.  I’ve been kicking around a few concepts.  But I’m sure not going to write about them here…yet.  For all I know, Conan or Ashton are reading my blog (I’m just going to push this narcissism thing to the limit now that I’ve started it).  But seriously:

(fast-forward to 15:22 if you’re short on time)