At a session of the 2008 leadership in media forum, Thomas C. Rubin of Microsoft delivered a speech on the subject of the emerging new media ecosystem that exists solely on the Internet. Rubin, who acts as Microsoft’s Chief Counsel for intellectual property strategy, saw a great many challenges that faced the burgeoning media system of the web as it replaced or overtook analog technologies. One of the most significant changes that Rubin saw affecting the media moving forward was the shift toward content creation by consumers as well as by companies. Millions of new voices and perspectives, he said, were being constantly added to the cultural mix, which creates a situation in which companies are competing against individual content creators instead of just against each other. The big question that surrounded the new swarm of content creators was, at the time of the speech, could they begin producing media that could compete with the established producers.
The problem with creating a situation in which independent content creators can compete, he said, was that those creators, he cited independent musician Robert Rich as an example, had to take on the back end production as well as the artistry. Something that particularly interested Rubin about the experiments that were, at the time of the speech, being attempted in the distribution of media was Radiohead’s distribution of its 2007 album. The band, which had recently parted with their label, released the album online and allowed fans to pay any amount they wished for the album, including no money at all: “The New York Times noted that the decision had, ‘Incited talk of a revolution in the music industry.’ Hardly, it’s not even the future of Radiohead. Just last week without releasing sales figures the band called the experiment a one-off moment in time and they announced that they’d never do it again.” While independent producers might have the inroads to create and distribute their content, they are still relatively ill equipped, according to Rubin, to monetize their content at the level that companies were capable of. The simple fact that the companies have professionals that can take care of the business decisions that, when made by independent producers, would mean cutting into time needed to produce.
What was left for incumbent firms, according to Rubin, was to learn how to properly use new technologies to their advantage. “It took three years from the birth of YouTube to the launch of wholoo.com, a great site co-founded by NBC Universal and News Corp that features free, high quality TV and movie content. But on the Internet, even three years is too long. A lot of damage can be done in that time; just ask Viacom.”