GenuineVC David Beisel's Perspective on Digital Change

May 10, 2006

One thing that I’ve been noticing recently is the distinction between the venue for the discovery of media content and the consumption of it. It’s notable to explore, as media distribution dramatically changes, not only is the consumption of content shifting, but also the discovery is as well. And those shifts are not always parallel.

In my own personal experience, I can anecdotally observe these changes. Prior to having TiVo, I learned about new television shows in the ad promos between during the commercial breaks. Now as I skip through these, I am really not discovering new shows at all. Movies are the same way; I used to learn about them on television commercials and in the previews, now I only do through the latter (when I am forced to sit through them). I used to learn about new music from CMJ New Music Monthly magazine, but as its circulation has dwindled, so has the quality of its suggestions. You would think that I would benefit from music recommendation engines, like Pandora and, but I haven’t found myself using them. I think that’s due to the fact that I don’t listen to music on my PC, but rather on my iPod in my car and while I am running.

Perhaps discovery has been traditionally most effective when it is directly integrated into the consumption workflow. See traditional radio as the perfect example – consumption is discovering, as playlists include new music in the linear format. But increasingly users have more choice to consume what they want, not what others put in front of them.

Anecdotally again, I’ve found most of the new content I’ve consumed (regardless of type) in the past year or two has been through some type of word of mouth. It’s obvious that discovery will increasingly include a social component to it, and technology will aid in that process. We’ve seen a lot of progress in the last year with respect to news and blogs, with tools that effectively personalize or prioritize the discovery of new content (sources).

I wonder, though, with the disruption of media towards digital formats, if the discovery becomes detached from consumption method, and if consumers will be increasingly frustrated about finding what they want to consume. As content producers scramble to find the right distribution outlet for their content, are they mindful of how consumers will discover it, wherever it is?

(On a side note, I completely realize that in my thoughts above I’ve committed a fundamental mistake that many VCs make – assuming that my own habits are like those of many other consumers. It’s often funny and frequently misleading when venture guys evaluate or explore a consumer-facing services through only their own eyes, as opposed to through those of the general population or the actual target demographic of the service. A topic for another post…)

  • Neville

    You’re right to be cautious about the VC-as-consumer aspect, but also right about this issue.

    I really only discover media now through blogs. We cancelled our cable TV subscription (even though it’s cost, given we have broadband, was zero) and I no longer read paper newspapers or magazines. The Sunday newspaper delivery is hanging by a thread (my wife wants the local events and entertainment section).

    Pandora was effective at introducing us to new music for a couple of months, but I notice we’re not using it now.

    As you note, we are throwing our old discovery mechanisms away with the pre-digital era junk, but in a world which enables us to go with pinpoint accuracy to what we know we want, discovery becomes a more important function than it was before.

  • John Treadway

    David –

    Slightly different take. I too get to skip the commercials with TiVo and need to get my info elsewhere. Strangely, though, the number of printed magazines I read at home is actually rising… I see reviews in Time, Entertainment Weekly, and (gosh) TV Guide, learn about some interesting products or businesses in Forbes, Fortune, Biz2.0, and then the Boston Globe and WSJ. I don’t read them all cover to cover, but I do scan most and read when I get a “hit” that interests me (e.g. anything from Walt Mossberg). Of course, friends and colleagues are always go for recommendations and never shy away from giving their opinions….

  • Fraser

    David, another very interesting post.

    “discovery has been traditionally most effective when it is directly integrated into the consumption workflow”

    Traditionally that process for discovery may have been most effective, but it is terribly inefficient.

    I think that filters, specifically personal filters, will become the discovery mechanism of choice. The problem is that, currently, they’re far too rudimentary, complicated, geeky, etc. for most early adopters to benefit from. They have a far way to go. However, you can see the potential – in the past year you’ve relied on word of mouth, and this can be built into a personal filter, accordingly, with the appropriate amount of influence on the final recommendation.

    I also believe that media producers will have to focus so much of their time in the short-term on distribution strategies that they will not be able to focus at all on discovery strategies (or maybe the thought hasn’t even crossed their mind). This creates an attractive opportunity for a new venture.

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