Challenging the & content is king & mindset

The world is flat, the earth is at the center of the universe…and CONTENT IS KING.

Or is it?

We humans have ways of drawing conclusions based on what we see with our eyes, only to be proven wrong when someone comes along with better observational tools.

Columbus saw things differently. He journied to the edge of the earth, but didn’t fall off because he was correct, the earth is a sphere, not flat as prevailing wisdom held.

Likewise, Galileo had a fresh perspective. He confirmed Coepernicus’ hypothesis and proved (thanks to his newly invented telescope) that the sun is at the center of our universe, not the earth as conventional wisdom maintained.

In both of these scenarios, the way people thought – the prevailing belief system – dictated the way most people behaved. Actions flow from beliefs. Believing the earth is flat and that it is at the center of the universe caused society to make many wrong decisions about the future. Correcting these false assumptions was very difficult, but ultimately lead to unparalleled advances in science and commerce alike.

Correcting our thinking becomes the turning point

A similar crossroads may be at hand today as the Internet forces us to rethink the media landscape. Thanks to newly visible data, we’re learning the real power of word of mouth, which always existed, but wasn’t quantifiable until now. We’re learning more and more about connectivity, one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many. As ideas flow faster and faster over the Internet, and as people are connecting with eachother, we are realizing the power of the individual and the power of community are much greater than we had come to believe.

Yet even as new data emerges, the big media companies and content creators are still spouting the same old axiom, “content is king.” This assumption is so widely accepted that few would question its veracity. This assumption is either correct, or it isn’t, and to some extent depends on how you look at it.

Check out the Wikinomics Blog for deep research on the Web’s shift from “presentation platform to community platform.” Given all the things that are changing around us, and the rise of social networks in particular, I think it’s time the NFL questioned it.

Content is king

Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.– Bill Gates essay, “Content is King,” Microsoft 1996.

Content is not king

Content has never been king, it is not king now, and is unlikely to ever be king. The Internet has done quite well without content, and can continue to flourish without it. Content will have a place on the Internet, possibly a substantial place. However, its place will likely be subordinate to that of business and personal communication. – From “Content is Not King,” by Andrew Odlyzko, Head of the Mathematics and Cryptography Research Departments at AT&T Labs. (First Monday, volume 6, number 2 (February 2001)).

Point – counter point

So who’s right?

It’s pretty tough to differ with Bill Gates, who is after all the richest man in the world. But hold up a second. His quote is from 10 years ago. A lot has changed since then. If you read the Gates essay you’ll note that at the time he wrote it he included software, Microsoft’s main product, as proprietary content, i.e. a thing to be packaged, delivered and consumed for a fee.

More recently, Microsoft has changed its tune significantly. While it still sells its software (in shrink wrapped boxes or as digital downloads) products to millions of people and businesses worldwide, it is showing signs of a shift in its thinking. Over the past few years, Microsoft has been opening up to open source and even plans to embrace the “free” spirit of the Internet by giving away Web based versions of some applications in an ad supported distribution scheme.

Microsoft’s changing business model might indicate a paradigm shift. Perhaps the software giant is rethinking its business in light of new data. If you read the “content is NOT king” essay, which itself is a few years old, you may start to see things differently too.

The main point I want to make today is that community, or more specifically COMMUNICATION is the driving force of the Internet and World Wide Web; and whereas old media companies see the Internet as little more than a distribution network for content (and therefore view content as king), the people who populate the Internet are voting with their feet. They say that communication and community are the things they value most. And they’re willing to pay.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot of money in the content business, and I believe the NFL should continue to pursue content deals as it has in the past; but I think we should begin to make on-online community and communication into strategic priorities. Given the fast paced nature of the on-line world, the league should act immediately to build a social networking platorm that enables fans to communicate and form community around NFL content or whatever they like. If we don’t do this then somone else will.

Must we wait for a “Steve Jobs” to come along?

Sometimes we get so close to a problem that we cannot see it. When this happens, a third party, someone from outside our “industry” has the opportunity to come along and insert himself into the ecosystem. Steve Jobs is a great example. He saw how much trouble the music biz was having with people illegally downloading music, and he lead Apple to invent the iPod and iTunes to give companies and customers a channel for authorized transactions and a device to play it with.

In my opinion, we should pay attention to Steve Jobs and we should pay attention to guys like Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist, who credits his companies success to a fresh belief system: they DON’T BELIEVE IN COMPETITION. Steve is all about the money, Jeff is all about his customers. We should borrow from both and seek to achieve achieve the best of both.

Meet the new king: community

The NFL (and other sports properties) face a similar challenges. How do we allow fans to take our content – and do with it what they will – and make money at the same time? Also, how do we make money from user generated content?

The long tail is bigger than the head.

The most valuable content we “create” is our TV product, live games; and while the value of the games is huge, I’m beginning to think there may be an even bigger opportunity beyond the game. Beyond the stadium. Beyond TV. Our next frontier is everything BUT the game. It’s the conversation ABOUT the game. It’s the lives of people who care about the game. It’s a lifestyle. NFL lifestyle. It’s the brand that more people want to feel closer to than any other. The Internet gives us the means to connect directly with our customers without a media middle man. We can join our customers in community. If we can create this community, we will tap a major vein. If we don’t, we will have missed a major opportunity.

All we have to do is change our minds

In order to succeed, we need to stop thinking like the NFL. We need to stop thinking like the major media powerhouse that we have become. We need to start acting like we care about fans and sponsors – caring about more than just their money – and start meeting their needs. We need to worry less about the content we create and more about the community we create.

Walled garden vs. open source – what’s NFL’s strategy?

If content is not king, then the “walled garden” strategy is not ALL right. It’s not All wrong, but it’s not ALL right. Forcing people to subscribe to a service to gain access to exclusive content can make money (e.g. DirecTV, season tickets); but I believe there’s even more money to be made in facilitating the conversation between fans.

If you think about it, the market for conversation and community is much bigger than the market for controlled content. Avid fans are the ones who buy the content, but avid fans make up just 30% of the total NFL an base. What are we going to sell to the other 70% of our fans?

Much as Jeff Bezos started Amazon with books and expanded to include EVERYTHING, I think the NFL has a chance to start with its live games and grow well beyond the sport itself. In order to do this, we need to see ourselves as more than a sport or an entertainment product. We need to see ourselves as a uniying force. As an emotional thread that connects people at home and at work, all day, every day.

Once we see ourselves as a lifestyle, we need to realize that we’re playing catchup in this arena. We need to realize that this new business is not like the old business. It is less about command and control and much more about chaos. We need to get hip to the facts of on-line life. We need to develop our “interactive imagination.”

So, since time is running short (it’s 6:45 am and my kids are starting to stir, and it’s about time for me to jump in the shower and get my rear to work), I’ll pose the following questions as starting points to our community and communication business:

What’s our myspace strategy? How will we compete / cooperate with large social networks?

When a community like Myspace has 80 million participants you have to pay attention. Do we try to compete? Do we partner? And what do we do with Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL and the other behemoths?

1. What’s our on-line sponsorship strategy?

2. What’s our widget / add-on strategy?

3. What’s our “second life” strategy?

4. What’s our social news / bookmarking strategy?

5. What’s our photo sharing strategy?

6. What’s our video sharing strategy?

7. What’s our startpage strategy?

8. What’s our calendar / venue / event strategy

9. What’s our music strategy?

10. What’s our mobile strategy (

11. What’s our “niche” strategy?

12. What’s our “points” strategy?

I realize this may seem scatterbrained, but there’s a pony here somewhere

Notice I haven’t even mentioned the pure sports social nets. We should not be thinking like a vertical, or a niche. We should be thinking like a lifestyle. What is our promise?

Can we move fluidly enough to ride this wave? I seriously doubt it unless we put someone in charge of re-thinking our business model and giv him or her the freedom to pursue it.

Much as Columbus got sponsored by Queen Isabella, someone needs to get in a boat and sail to the edge of this content centric world in order to slay the dragaons who live there.

What business are we in?

Thats the age old question. Remember the horse and buggy salesmen? He missed the boat by not realizing he was in the transportation business. Could that be happening to us?

The NFL is most assuredly in the content busines today. I would assert that we should continue to develop that business, AND we should assign a person or a team to pursue the communication business as well. After all, the Internet is not an oligarchy. It’s pure democracy. We should organize ourselves around the laws of this new land.