Posted by: crudbasher | July 23, 2013

The Content Cartel

I was reading a New York Times article today about how Netflix has received a bunch of Emmy nominations for its new original content. (I watched House of Cards and enjoyed it.)

What struck me was this quote.

Netflix has earned its place in that future. It won some victories on the programming side by financing creators and staying out of their hair, an approach invented and perfected by HBO. Given that HBO pulled in 108 Emmy nominations last week, Netflix has a long way to go. But David Bianculli, a professor at Rowan University in New Jersey who blogs atTV Worth Watching, suggests another view.

“It took HBO 25 years to get its first Emmy nomination; it took Netflix six months,” he said. In that sense, Netflix is more like Pixar than Hulu, showing that a Silicon Valley company could produce creative, successful programming.

This is the speed of Internet based innovation. The big content makers like ABC, NBC etc… have had a cartel of content for so long it’s interesting to see a new player appear. It seems to me there are some parallels here for education too.

The realm of Higher Education has had it’s established cartel of players for even longer than TV has been around. They are so used to be the sole source of higher learning, perhaps they can’t see innovation coming? I think what really got me thinking about this was this other quote from the same article.

Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, told The New York Times last week that the Emmy nominations solidified the idea that “television is television, no matter what pipe brings it to the screen.”

The content is not the same thing as the network. In fact, a big TV network is just an aggregation of content. Oh snap. Could my theory of Disaggregation work here too? Will networks break apart into their individual content pieces? If you think about it, networks were formed back in the mid 20th century because there was no other way to nationally distribute content. Small local TV stations also needed content that they could not afford to make on their own.

Times have changed. YouTube and Netflix shows us that very small companies can create decent content and distribute it worldwide. This is disaggregating the content from the distribution system.

With online learning growing at a rapid pace, this trend is also coming to higher education. Universities are dismissing Massive Open Online Course’s as inferior, but they are evolving rapidly. There will be some failures, such as the shutdown of San Jose State’s experiment. Some are saying that proves MOOCs are a mistake, but I just look at it as evolution. Nature has many evolutionary deadends but overall, the strong survive.

Netflix shows us that new entries into established content pools can rapidly gain in quality and start to disrupt established players.


  1. Thanks for the posting here Andrew. I think culture is a big factor in our current situation in higher ed. It seems folks within many institutions of higher education either want to hit home runs or not step up to the plate at all. We need to form more nimble groups within our overall organizations whose job it is to experiment/innovate — to find out what’s working and what’s not working for any given institution.

    I agree that MOOCs may not be the ticket as of July 2013, but as you said, they will likely continue to morph into something else. Innovation is happening in the online world on a rapid/daily basis. People will find a way to make a living — and if they can’t afford traditional higher ed, something else will have to take it’s place.


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