A definitive answer should soon be available on the greatest debate
since angels started dancing on pinheads. Is content king, or not?
Disney boss Michael Eisner was in town last week to promote his
autobiography, Work in Progress, and had no doubts, which is hardly
surprising as he controls billions of dollars worth of content.
Unfortunately, he’s not nearly so smart as he looks. The great man
turned down the chance to appear on some crazy radio programme where you
get a chance to choose records and a luxury you would like on a desert
Luckily Disney seems to promote their film content a bit better than
their executive autobiographies.
Culture secretary Chris Smith and assorted media luminaries such as
Charles Allen of Granada also seem to think content is important as they
traipse around China this week trying to reduce CD piracy and persuade
the Chinese to buy more UK television programmes than The Bill and the
best games of Crystal Palace.
How come, then, that telephone companies are worth trillions when they
have no content at all worth speaking about except the amateur variety
that we all make up ourselves.
In business terms, everyone in the media would be better to just forget
it and invest as quickly as possible in telephone companies before the
prices become totally impossible. Then they can say they are planning to
be an internet service provider and add further billions to their
When you hear of AT&T of the US offering dollars 58bn (pounds 36bn) for
MediaOne, whose UK interests include 30% of cable company Telewest, you
wonder how on earth Carlton and Granada could summon up the energy to
bother launching ONdigital. How heads of advertising agencies can get
out of bed in the morning for the paltry sums of money they handle is an
Open, or British Interactive Broadcasting as it used to be known two
chief executives ago, is at least starting to get the hang of it. Before
it opens its doors the City has placed a pounds 1.4bn value on the
The great thing now would be to sell it before it runs the risk of
It is the word interactive that clearly does the trick, even though
there’s a long way to go to match AT&T. If only ITV could somehow change
its name to Interactive TV it might have a more promising business.
When faced with the advance of telephone companies the claim that
content is king is just a pauper’s joke. If further evidence is needed
just look at the big brother of ONdigital’s Stephen Grabiner.
Mike Grabiner runs Energis, a proper company that strung a few telephone
cables from electricity pylons and is now worth an absolute fortune.
What hasn’t been fully appreciated yet is just how powerful telephone
companies such as AT&T could be if they discovered proper content and
became integrated communication companies. Most of them could buy
Carlton out of petty cash - not to mention Manchester United.