Who Is Your Real Competition?

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We're rapidly approaching a time when every piece of entertainment and information content ever produced will be available to everyone on myriad platforms, all the time. Whether it's a series like Lost or Laverne & Shirley, a feature film like Iron Man or Gone with the Wind, Internet content from Heavy.com or VBS.tv, or a video game like Grand Theft Auto IV or World of Warcraft, consumption of entertainment content—and the potential profit that comes with it—is about to explode.

One thing is certain: no matter which company takes a leadership role, it will be marketing that gets them there.

As the public is systematically bombarded with overwhelming amounts of media content, they'll look to marketers to package, simplify, streamline and organize choices into tailored, palatable, and purchasable options. Marketing has always been a cornerstone of the television industry. Yet, as we move into this truly digital age of rapid (and rabid) content consumption, where time, place and bandwidth are no longer a concern, marketing becomes the critical backbone of this business and what this business will become.

So, how do marketing executives prepare themselves to become industry thought leaders for this digital paradigm shift?

They can start by analyzing how their competitors are positioning themselves to reap digital success. But, before doing that, define or redefine your competitors, what they're doing and where they're going. As entertainment and information content marketers, part of the job is to identify competitors and pre-empt their strategies with our own tactics. Almost religiously, examine the content, extensions and marketing activity in which competitors engage.

So write down a list of your competitors. Go ahead. I'd gamble that with few exceptions, most television executives jotted down the call letters of the other stations in their markets, and other executives marked down the other music channel or the other network catering to women or kids or sports enthusiasts.

But what other electronic entertainment and information content did you identify?

Does Oxygen or HGTV view Better.tv as a serious competitor? How about TheSims.com? Does MTV, FUSE or VH1 see Pitchfork.tv in a competitive fashion? Did local stations identify Wii News? Did DirecTV recognize Xbox Live? And what of Bud.TV, The Onion Network and the various MMGOs (massively multi-player online games)?

Each of the companies behind these properties vies for the same audience eyeballs that you do. And their business models are fundamentally the same: Get as many people from your target market as possible to purchase your content (either with cash or time) and then monetize that audience by lending it to high-paying advertisers. Get people to endure six minutes of spots, download a program on iTunes or some other VOD/PPV platform, or buy the DVD (linear content or video game) at retail. And each is underwritten through some combination of subscription, sponsorship and advertising—a business model that should sound familiar.

The more time audiences spend with content that isn't yours, the less time they spend with you. The less time they spend with you, the less your sales people can charge advertisers and sponsors to tap into your audience.

Traditional and non-linear television remains an incredibly compelling medium and—by far—the biggest, most impressive audience aggregator. But for this industry to stay competitive in a digital environment with unlimited choices, marketers must look past television brands and begin to look at all content providers as genuine competitors. Are you ready?

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