Nice To See How Content Creators Have More Power Over Middlemen
from the it's-not-about-the-middlemen dept
We’ve talked a lot about how the role of middlemen is changing quite a bit these days. In the past, it was about them being gatekeepers. If you wanted to be a successful musician you had to sign a deal with one of a tiny number of big record labels. If you wanted to be a filmmaker you had to get a big studio to help you out. If you wanted to be an author, you had to sign a deal with a big publisher. And, since those middlemen acted as the only paths to success, they were able to dictate absolutely ridiculous terms. Just take, for example, the typical record label contract, which wasn’t just a “loan” or an “investment,” but them basically buying all of your copyrights and you still have to pay all of the money back from your earnings… but you don’t get the copyrights back after you do so. These were amazingly one-sided deals that totally put the middlemen in the power position.
What’s fascinating (and wonderful) to see today is how the changing marketplace means that the actual content creators are in control. This doesn’t mean the death of middlemen — not by a long shot. There’s still a huge role for middlemen to play — but it’s as enablers, not gatekeepers. In a world with enablers, the content creators are still the ones in control. The middlemen become supporting players. This is why I always find it funny when those who support the old system claim that they’re the ones “helping” creative types. But that’s clearly not the case. What they’re helping are the gatekeeper middlemen, who have done everything possible to pressure content creators into bad deals because they had no other choice. These days, thanks to the wider choices enabled by the internet, content creators are able to restack the pyramid and put themselves in control, with middlemen actually helping, rather than capturing all of the value.
We already wrote about Conan O’Brien’s embrace of social media in Fortune’s article about Conan 2.0, but there was another part of the article that I wanted to highlight in this post. And that’s the fact that the deal O’Brien signed with TBS is quite different than the traditional TV deal, in that it’s not TBS’s show that O’Brien appears on, but it’s O’Brien’s show… with TBS as a distribution partner. But O’Brien and his company really have all the control — including over the digital side of things. Even the video clips from his show don’t come from TBS or use a TBS video player. They’re all Team Coco.
O’Brien is in control of all the on-air creative and, just as important, all the digital use of his content. He and his production company Conaco own the show…. It’s the opposite of O’Brien’s setup at NBC, says Ross, a partner in the company. “Conaco owns the show, and TBS is a participant. At Tonight, NBC owned the show, and we were participants.” And ownership makes all the difference for O’Brien and his team.
Team Coco, not TBS, chooses which clips to use, edits them, and posts them. Preview clips from each night’s taping go up an hour before the show’s East Coast broadcast; within an hour after the show’s West Coast broadcast more than a half-dozen clips from that night’s show are posted on its site and Facebook, and linked to via Twitter; and the full show is viewable online the next day at 11 a.m. Eastern time. Last year at The Tonight Show Bleyaert had tried to get pre-show clips posted, but even that seemingly simple idea was difficult to execute because NBC.com ran the show’s site, and putting up such clips wasn’t part of its normal workflow process. “After the experience that we had at NBC, we wanted to be in control,” says O’Brien’s agent, Rosen. “We wanted the freedom to exploit our content.”
This reminds me of another story from a few years back about a band that announced a label had signed with them, rather than them signing with a label. It’s happening slowly, but the power positions are shifting and the fact that the gatekeeper role is less and less important, and the enabler role is more and more important, also means that the content creators themselves have more power. They no longer need to sign soul-crushing, abusively one-sided deals. Instead, they can sign deals that put them in control, where the middlemen are truly middlemen helping the content creator, rather than owning the content creator.
We’re really not there yet, for most content creators however. The old types of deals are still being signed. But I think we’re starting to see signs of that changing. It’ll take more time, but the good news is that the content creators are getting more leverage, just as the old middlemen are starting to lose their leverage. And the end result should be a lot better in the long run. The middlemen still have their role in the middle, rather than at the top of the pyramid.