What’s wrong with the wheel

The WheelI love metaphors, and this one’s a beauty. In a Variety article a week ago about the television “upfront,” Jack Feuer writes of how television companies are positioning digital media this year.

“Last year, the networks all realized they had to address digital,” says Margaret Clerkin, CEO of North America for MindShare Interaction. “They were naïve in that they thought they could offer it in a cookie-cutter fashion. ‘CSI,’ ‘Lost,’ every show had the same tactics put against it. I would hope now they understand what works and what doesn’t.”

No doubt they do.

The emphasis is evident in the rush to put shows on iTunes and acquire social networking sites like MySpace.

Media buyers and sellers are calling it “the wheel.” It’s the idea that you don’t just buy television anymore, especially network television. What you do, instead, is use the network as the hub of a wheel. Then digital and other emerging platform opportunities become the “spokes.”

Nice metaphor. Unfortunately, it’s suicidal strategy, if it’s all you’ve got.

That’s because the hub is the problem, and to tie digital efforts to it guarantees only that disruptive innovations will continue to march forward. The hub is what we call Media 1.0, wherein media companies take elements of the disruption and try to drag them into the mass marketing business model of a deteriorating core. Notice in the metaphor how each of the spokes flows from and supports the core.

The problem is that real business flexibility lies within the disruption, and that is what we call Media 2.0.

The television upfront is a dinosaur from the Wayback Machine — but a necessary part of doing business as television. However, businesses in decline often find that their greatest strength ultimately becomes their greatest weakness, and by tying their digital applications to their core, this “wheel” strategy sacrifices long-term business health for short-term profits.

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