Control? Give It Up, Already

NBC Digital Czar: Big Media Must Deal With the 'Small Media' Known as Consumers

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NEW YORK (Adage.com) -- NBC Universal digital czar Beth Comstock on surviving and thriving in the new media revolution: "Content is still king, but the monarchy has been overthrown. YouTube, MySpace, iTunes -- it's the invasion of the pronouns in a world all about me." But big media has a new place in the universe.
Beth Comstock, NBC Universal's president-digital media and market development: 'The consumer-led republic is replacing the monarchy of major media.'
Beth Comstock, NBC Universal's president-digital media and market development: 'The consumer-led republic is replacing the monarchy of major media.' Credit: NBC

Ms. Comstock's comments, delivered at Mipcom, an international programming tradeshow in Cannes, France, echoed those made last week at the Association of National Advertisers by Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley and Burger King Chief Marketing Officer Russ Klein, who spoke about the need for marketers to cede control to consumers.

'Consumer-led republic'
"The consumer-led republic is replacing the monarchy of major media. Consumers are in more control than ever," said Ms. Comstock, NBC Universal's president-digital media and market development. "What's changing is the very definition of the consumer. Increasingly, consumers might be called small media -- just about anyone can now create and deliver content."

Ms. Comstock described NBC Universal's five principles for handling the coup in the media landscape. She said NBC Universal needed to "create the best, most innovative content, get used to sharing control, tap the power of the community, develop a keen understanding of constantly changing consumer behavior and, finally get used to the idea that the media marketplace from now on is going to be full of contradictions and tensions."

One of those principles is a topic high on every media executives' agenda these days: consumer behavior. "When I took this job a year ago, I assumed that few people would go home at night, and curl up on the sofa with a portable video device to watch a 22-minute program. But then iTunes video entered the market. And we started doing research. We discovered that 68% of iPod video owners were using the device inside their home, not on the road."

NBC kept hearing about the guy who took his iPod to bed to watch his show while his wife watched the TV, or about the guy who watched basketball on the couch while his wife watched video clips on her cellphone.

Embracing tensions
Ms. Comstock said that NBC Universal had "embraced the tensions" by offering a three-copy download-to-own version of "King Kong" that could be played on either a PC, a portable media player or a DVD. She described that deal as a global first that NBC viewed as creating a new segment and new users.

IVillage, which NBC Universal acquired in May, will have a great role to play in shaping the face of the NBC network, and the community it brings together is something else that big media needs to understand. "There's a connection between control and community, the more you're willing to give up the first, the easier it is to develop the second."

She cited other ways NBC is tapping into communities, describing a "Biggest Loser" club that has 40,000 members who pay for dieting tips. The company also recently acquired Rotoworld.com, a fantasy sports site that works in conjunction with NBCSports.com. NBC Universal's Bravo cable channel also launched a website for the gay community called OutzoneTV.com and another for comedy enthusiasts called Dotcomedy.com.
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