Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Fox Interactive Enters Digital Age

Remember the buzz generated by Apple's announcement that they would start selling downloads of Desperate Housewives to Video iPod users?

I wasn't that excited. Others saw this as an indicator of Things To Come. One who obviously "gets it" is Ross Levinsohn, President of Fox Interactive Media. This is according to an article by Mario Sgambelluri in a recent (December 6) edition  of iMedia Connection, a web based source on online media and marketing.

Levisonsohn presented Fox's digital vision at a recent conference. What I found interesting about the vision he presented was the emphasis on a couple of items that suggest that Fox, Murdoch, and News Corporation may be in tune with what's happening:

  • There's a clear emphasis on how differently "under 30's" use media from older folks.
  • Fox's wants to combine "old media" with "new media" while somehow taking into account "user generated content" and younger folks' expectation of interactivity.
  • Fox realizes that there are some <understatement> thorny licensing and protection issues </understatement> to work out for news, sports, and entertainment content.
  • Fox is discussing content distribution through a mechanism like iTunes.

Okay, there's nothing really new here for anyone who pays attention to what's happening these days. But it sounds like Fox is taking this stuff very seriously.

What I also found interesting about this report was Levinsohn's mentioning of the ongoing "integration" of the "back ends" of the different sites controlled by Fox in terms of the multiple sales groups that currently handle advertising and licensing rights. The IT system integration issues raised by a highly interactive digital content management and distribution systems is a whole lot different from managing rights, advertising, and distribution for traditional media. So are the changes to the business processes that the technology supports. Levinsohn makes reference to these as well, given the existence of different advertising teams whose efforts  must now be coordinated.

Also, to hear what Levinsohn says, one realizes the fear that traditional media (including newspapers) feel as they watch their dally subscribers die off and become replaced by -- nobody. Can they pull a Cadillac by convincing the under-60's to buy their products? Or do they change the products and their image?

As an IT professional, I'm fascinated by how one goes about managing the complete cycle of content creation, distribution, and use in a highly interactive digital environment where  younger folks are accustomed to highly pliable digital media they can  poke, grab, and knead. How you maintain product and brand identity in a Wiki/blog/sampling world is an enormous challenge that must strain technical solutions like watermarking, DRM, and superdistribution.

Companies like Fox must compete for eyeballs, attention, and advertising dollars with  specialized blogs and social software networks that people can pick and choose according to whatever political or personal preference they feel. And these personal preferences extend to the type of advertising content that people will be willing to experience, which explains the scrambling that companies like Fox are doing to accommodate these changes and still maintain and grow advertising revenues that depend on matching up the right eyeballs with the right content experience.

While I personally have no real interest in many of the properties that  Fox hopes to pump through these new licensing and distribution channels, I am excited that big guys like Fox are worrying through the practical details of how to sell and price advertising, manage and license content, and provide distribution and support (if the comments about iTunes-like distribution channels are to be believed). Somebody's got to pay for all this content and, as the saying goes, "there ain't no such things as a free lunch."

Hopefully, Fox in its wisdom will also pay close attention to Sony's recent experience with its "rootkit" based copy restriction technology and will realize that you do not make friends and repeat customers by spying on your customers or by damaging their access devices. That's probably not the type of customer experience that advertisers want to support.


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