Economic diversity is the future of media

A new research report suggests what television adoption in the 1950s taught us still applies today. It's true, but not entirely true.
Written by Mitch Ratcliffe, Contributor

Advertising Age today reports on a research study by Frank N. Magid Associates, saying Apple would benefit from placing ad-sponsored programs on iTunes, because people would buy a lot more iPods to get the free content.

I agree, because there's absolutely nothing provocative about the idea. HistoryThe content marketplace today is a whirlwind full of niche markets. shows that free content sells devices. After all, how much more slowly would television have been adopted if the only viewing option available to 1950s households was based on the HBO paid-television model? I can just see my grandfather asking increduously why he would want to pay to watch Milton Berle in women's clothing. But give it to him free....

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson adds his two cents: "Sure a paid model will work.  But its a niche business. The mass market wants free and ad supported content, the way they get it on TV today." 

No, not exactly. The "mass market," if there is still such a thing, has shown it will pay for content that advertisers aren't comfortable supporting, it will even pay for the same content without ads, as demonstrated by the widespread purchases of archival television on DVD.

The content marketplace today demands a much wider range of models, not a repetion of the ad-supported television of the 1950s.  It's a market of niche markets, many of them willing to pay a premium to be served at all. Just as the rise of niche publishing followed the introduction of desktop publishing technology, the podcast/vidcast market will see a content environment so diverse that no individual market will be massified in the way Wilson uses the phrase "mass market."

Instead, some programming will drive a lot of revenue, but paid or advertising or some other model will not become the dominant distribution channel that characterizes a mass market.

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