Why Digital Video Is the Ultimate Equalizer Among All Media

But whoever makes the best content wins

The popular media industry narrative has always revolved around a war between worlds. Television and video duking it out for primacy, especially around the NewFronts and upfronts season. Mobile and PC have long been pitted against each other, in spite of their complementary nature. Before that, it was print versus the internet, broadcast versus cable, and going back even further, radio versus print.

Randall Rothenberg Illustration: Alex Fine

But video is making this new versus old storyline antiquated and simplistic. Video is bringing all media together, unified behind digitally driven consumer behaviors, to compete in one giant, consumer-centric marketplace. The best part? Whoever produces the best content wins.

The lineup of the 2016 Digital Content NewFronts, which kicks off this morning, Monday, May 2, provides a clear example of this shift. This year, print media companies like The Economist and traditional television firms like CNN will all present their digital video offerings alongside digital media natives like AOL and Machinima. It is one marketplace with brands from all walks of media.

But this trend isn't evident only at the NewFronts. Across the spectrum of programming, distribution and advertising, TV is becoming more like video, and video more like TV.

Digital video was the first medium to empower audiences to watch whatever they wanted, when they wanted to and wherever on Earth they were—whether on the couch or on an airplane. Now the same goes for TV, which is increasingly accessible on-demand and online across devices. Video introduced consumers to the indulgent leisure of binge-viewing, and TV has followed suit by investing in serialized storylines and releasing entire seasons at once.

Video, on the other hand, is now readily available on television sets, due not only to connected TVs, but also because of casting technology from a device nearly everyone already owns, a smartphone. And digital video is taking on consumers' favorite qualities of television—exceptionally high-quality content. Digital natives can boast Emmy-winning original content, Hollywood virtuosos like J.J. Abrams in the producer's seat, and live programming so popular it's no different than appointment television.

This brings us to the evolution of social networks into live broadcasts. The historic deal to stream NFL games on Twitter and BuzzFeed's groundbreaking exploding watermelon video—which attracted 800,000 viewers to Facebook Live, an audience comparable to some cable networks—advance livestreaming video from the domain of early adopters to all of America. Video literally brings TV, print and even social media together to the same arena.

This merging of forms, businesses and marketplaces, however, does not mean the uniqueness of media types is dissolving. Video isn't replacing social networks. Video is not replacing TV and its heartbeat of 30-minute increments. Print brands now have digital video properties, but this doesn't foretell the death of print.

This shift also doesn't mean that only video's share of the metaphorical pie is getting bigger—though it is getting bigger—or that there are simply more parties to tear apart existing slivers. Video content, in all of its diversity, is becoming our weekend plans, our evening leisure activity and a driver for our communication with friends. As writer Molly Young notes in The New York Times, staying at home is becoming the default weekend activity versus going out, in part because so much content is instantly available without putting on shoes and risking $15 on a movie.

More media, more sight, sound, and motion, are being consumed than ever before. Even narrowly defined target audiences bring in meaningful income. AOL, for example, is breaking up its NewFronts presentations into different experiences for buyers of different audiences. Time Warner Cable, meanwhile, is presenting at the NewFronts to sell more targetable and measurable television. It's easy to imagine the classic one presentation/one audience format of upfronts will go the way of the NewFronts and be replaced by more targeted, personalized and meaningful events.

But perhaps the best part of this video-driven blurring of lines is the dominant role of consumer choice. Winners in this larger and unified marketplace are not positioned for power by spectrum availability or other limitations of choice, such as the availability of broadband. Consumers today have unlimited access. Finally, content itself and content alone defines the winners and the losers.

The best entertainment, the best information wins—for digital media, for all media, this is an achievement to celebrate.

Randall Rothenberg (@r2rothenberg) is president and CEO, Interactive Advertising Bureau, and likes to take photographs of sharks, blennies and nudibranchs on coral reefs with his Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera in a Nauticam housing.

This story first appeared in the May 2, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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