Friday, January 20, 2006

Notes from WOMMA:

Bob Garfield gave the keynote presentation this morning at WOMMA, and it was rad. I've heard him twice now, and he certainly is one of the best speakers around, especially at framing up the situation that marketing finds itself in.

I had to ask him a question, on a particular point he made. He was discussing the high production costs of popular television shows such as Desperate Housewives. Under current network-television-thinking (and budgetting), the large amounts of cash needed come from The Upfront, that annual festival where advertisers buy ads--in advance--spots in the coming season's programs. Bob predicts, for a number of reasons, that the Upfront is going the way of the Dinosaurs, and I believe he's correct.

So, then, how will the nets pay for content development? Clearly they're going to have to move to a more speculative model. Too bad for them. But really, how is this much different from the way many other businesses (such as movie studios) operate? I wonder if the Upfront was really an aspect of the old, one-time only, broadcast model of program distribution? There would only be one :30 spot shown during the first set of ads of the Friends season premier. So, it made sense to buy that in advance, for a significant amount of money. When the episode airs, its already been paid for.

But not with movies (or books, or games or any other type of entertainment, really). So maybe television will be able to move toward a more speculative financial situation, where the revenue they are going to get is going to come either from pay-per-view charges or ads inserted just-in-time to a viewer who opts in to watch them.

Do the financial officers think about this? I'm sure they do. The DVD sales of television series, coupled with early results from Deparate Housewives on iTunes must begin to provide them with the seeds for a business model. So, maybe content won't go away (it can't possibly), but it will be financed in a very different way: speculation.

Which brings up another interesting, WOM topic: the counterpart to speculation is data. Meausuring WOM is clearly a way to get a better sense of what types of content has the best chance of success. I would look to less lagging indicators (ie: ratings) and more leading indicators driving the understanding of content success.
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