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Media firms work to stay ahead of online consumers

Posted by iTech - 2006-04-29

Big media companies must keep finding ways to reach on-the-go users and make money doing it to stay relevant in an online marketplace that values convenience and novelty, the leaders of three of the largest U.S. media and tech companies said on Wednesday.
In a wide-ranging discussion on tech trends at the Milken Institute's 9th Annual Global Conference, Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger, News Corp Inc. President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin and AOL Chairman and Chief Executive Jonathan Miller agreed; standing still while users find ways -- legal or not -- to obtain the content they want is not an option.

"I think anyone who loses is anyone who tries to protect their traditional business. I think you've got a bad 10-15 years ahead of you if you try to do that," Chernin told conference-goers.

Chernin said the U.S. government should help facilitate the spread of broadband technology to bring "very backward" U.S. broadband adoption into line with Asia.

"We should have a government policy that addresses it," Chernin said. "You're already seeing certain products in certain areas (in Asia) that are much more advanced than we are.

I think you will see products come out of those areas that are really innovative that should be coming out of the U.S."

While consumers' desire for home-grown content and social networking has grown with the rise of sites like MySpace.com and YouTube.com, so has their demand for branded content, Iger and Chernin said.

"What's both exciting and frightening is the pent-up demand for video products," Chernin said. "We did a survey and more than 90 percent of (users') favorite material on (video sharing site) YouTube.com is copyrighted material (from studios)."

Iger noted that consumers' appetite for user-generated content like ABC's "America's Funniest Home Videos," which debuted while he was running the network more than a decade ago, has only grown.

"I don't know how many times you can watch a pet bite someone in the crotch but somehow this is interesting to people," Iger said. "I'm not sure it's necessarily bad for the traditional industry because we are living in a world where people are consuming more (media content)."

Miller predicted that overall media consumption would continue to rise, along with the importance of online social networks to help users find the content in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

Miller said AOL plans "to make a very significant move in that area very shortly."

AOL was considering an online model that made content, such as television reruns from Time Warner sister company Warner Bros, available for an extended period to let the audience accumulate.

"If it gains an audience that grows over time that's fine," Miller said. "You don't have to sell it day and date."

Chernin said there was no longer a "first mover advantage" to finding an online distribution business model that works.

"I think the best possible thing is all the experiments that are going on," Chernin said. "I would be thrilled if Bob (Iger) stumbles on the right economic formula before I do because I'll turn around and steal it from him and vice versa."

Disney's partnership with Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music stores has produced "upwards of 7 million downloads" of Disney television shows and movies, Iger said.

Chernin said News Corp's Fox television network, which now allows viewers to buy episodes from DirecTV of "The Shield" and "Rescue Me" ahead of their broadcast air dates for $4, was considering offering the same deal for wireless devices.

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