The continuing impact of media consolidation was debated at the Summit 2000 held in Toronto last month. Speakers pointed to dwindling government support in tandem with increased merger-induced media concentration as a double-whammy for independent producers, resulting in a diversity vacuum in the kids TV landscape. In the licensing report this issue, KidScreen explores the current climate for content owners without the resources of AOL/Time Warner or Disney. Smaller players comment on the strategies they are employing to compete with the congloms that have built-in broadcast and other outlets for their properties. ‘Beyond Merger Mania’ (page 85) demonstrates that being a little fish requires either major creativity to get the requisite eyeballs on a property or the wherewithal to align with companies that can provide services that the property owner cannot. Increasingly and strategically, these companies are following the vertical integration model on a smaller scale, such as buying publishing companies that share common goals.
However, in a landscape where Disney claims to be an underdog in light of the AOL/Time Warner union, things are fairly desperate for the littler guys. Some companies have secured broadcast platforms for their TV properties by foregoing upfront profit with the hopes of success with merchandise further down the road. Other mid-sized players are trying to keep ahead of the conglomerates by jumping on the technology bandwagon and attempting to harness the Internet. No wonder content owners are looking hopefully to the on-line realm as a platform without gatekeepers, and to whatever openness convergence may bring.
This month’s Licensing 2000 show puts a focus on the Web as a new licensing player. Despite some breakthroughs by early and high-profile contenders (see ‘Easymoney.com?,’ page 102), the majority of indie content owners trying to launch characters on-line or carve profitable sites are registering underwhelming returns.
The reason that dot.com revenue is becoming increasingly elusive for smaller players can be seen in the parallel fate of Web-only e-tailers versus existing catalog companies’ on-line experience. A recent survey for industry group Shop.org found that the catalog set spent around US$11 per head last year to attract clientele, while the e-tail-only crowd doled out US$82 per cybershopper. The kid equivalent of the catalog biz would be having a network or an already-hot property in your back pocket. Without a pre-exisiting on-line beacon, short of sinking millions into attracting traffic to your site, the odds of cybersuccess are getting slimmer.
Ironically, with the sophistication of on-line content driving new media delivery into the older media (satellite and cable TV) camp, and with advertiser interest directed to thriving portals, for the many nosing around the Web looking for a way to launch new properties, it’s pretty much back to a gated community scenario, as yet another platform becomes virtually absorbed by the vertically integrated few. As rapidly as end-user capability advances, companies have been jumping all over the strategic alliance opportunities new media affords them to add volume to their core biz. Witness the ongoing wired announcements-with News Corp.’s Platco seen as the next enterprise to join the horizontal platform-spinning ilk of Disney and Viacom. However, truly engaging use of the medium’s interactivity has not kept pace. TV has been dubbed a lean-back medium and the Internet deemed a lean-forward activity, and yet a lot of lean-back content is being piped into the Internet without compelling lean-forward hooks.
So while the the digital world offers the majors another platform to dominate, there is still room to steal a scene or two by coming up with content that demands leaning-into. If Dancing Hampster (sic) can capture clicks, surely others can get their toe in the door as well. After all, supplying innovative content has kept indies in the media games thus far.