Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The New 'Big 3'

Remember the good old days of TV, when the world was dominated by three big networks: CBS, NBC and ABC? Remember what it was like when you could spend the majority of your ad budget with just three power players, who could provide you with as much as 75% of your target audience? Well, get ready to revisit those days, because we might just be getting ready to see them again.

This time the world of media is quickly becoming dominated by three "primarily" digital players: Google, Apple and Facebook. These three companies are making moves that separate them dramatically from the rest of the pack. Plus, their respective spheres of influence are no longer constrained by the parameters of the computer.

Google's quest to organize the world's information makes it a formidable player to deal with, but especially with its rapid growth via development of mobile platforms and desktop operating systems (see Android). The Android platform has the potential to extend even further, powering your TV, the dashboard of your car, even the organization of your kitchen and the appliances that fit inside.

Apple is known for the development of elegant, easy-to-use devices. Its focus has shifted far beyond the desktop, becoming the dominant player in mobile (iPhone), in the music industry (iTunes) and the application space (App Store); it's now moving into publishing (the iBooks and the iPad). Of special importance is the company's success in the app space, literally redefining the way the average user interfaces with programs by creating a simple interface powered by stand-alone programs rather than a sophisticated, learning-curve-driven operating system.

Facebook is the latest move and shaker, creating literal waves with its development and procreation of the social Internet -- or as the company now refers to it, "the open graph." By aggregating the wealth of data that is fast becoming available to it, Facebook is proving a new vision for the Web that may require its competition to revisit how they integrate with the world at large.

Oh -- and did I mention that these three players are big?

What I find most intriguing is that each of these companies understands one simple idea: that the future is based not on a single platform, but on cross-platform capability. ABC, NBC and CBS had their chance but lost their footing with the growth of cable; their lack of speed online has put them at a further disadvantage. They put all their eggs in one basket and they didn't think about the future. They used to own the eyeballs, but they hesitated -- and he who hesitates loses ground.

Google, Apple and Facebook are not so much technology or Internet companies as they are service- and experience-based companies. They focus on providing users with a consistently reliable, easy-to-use set of services across a variety of platforms. These companies understand that if they make these services reliable, then the user won't mind some marketing mixed in. Consumers don't hate advertising the way they pretend to hate it; they just tend to notice the ads that are untargeted and ineffective the most. They never complain about the messages that resonated and worked because, let's face it; they may not have even realized they were being advertised to. In those cases, the advertising was so good that the consumer may have forgotten they were supposed to be acting cynical.

These three companies are expanding their influence in ways that you wouldn't have imagined, and though there may indeed be other strong players in the marketplace (hello, Microsoft), they're all playing catch-up at this point. Microsoft does not innovate, that is simply not its strength. The company identifies markets that others have done well in and then tries to take them over. Of course, the Microsoft alignment with Facebook makes it formidable on its very own, but still second fiddle to the innovators.

These kinds of situations excite me because they demonstrate maturity for the business that we haven't seen before. You should be excited, too! What do you think? Let me know on the Spin Board!

Source: Online Spin