Patrice Riemens on Thu, 17 Jun 2010 23:55:03 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Charles Arthur: King Rupert's plan to turn back the insurrectionary tide of the Internet (Guardian)

Guardian 15/16 June 2010.
original at:

Can Rupert Murdoch remain king of content?
News Corp's bid for full control of BSkyB is just part of its push to
manage how its output is consumed

Content is king, as we so often hear. The problem is, the internet is a
republic; which means that the most exalted content has to muck in with
everything else that's out there.

The biggest technology companies don't sully themselves with creating
content: Google generates none (except Street View); nor does Microsoft,
or Facebook, or Twitter. Even Yahoo, which has bought a company called
Associated Content, is better known for the content on its photo sharing
site Flickr. There's no room for kings among that democratic mess.

So how does Rupert Murdoch, a man who is fiercely certain of the value of
content, restore it to what he sees as its rightful place as a
money-earner in its own right? In effect, by making sure that it stays off
the wider internet. BSkyB is a perfect example of controlling the endpoint
of consumption: you need to have Sky's satellite dishes and Sky's receiver
and Sky's encrypted card ? tied to a subscription ? to view it. Similarly,
the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper that he coveted, lies behind a
paywall on the web, and most recently in an iPad app (with, again,
subscriptions). Fox is a cable channel, not an internet site. And it's
interesting too that BSkyB and the Wall Street Journal rely on content
that is fantastically time-sensitive: sports and finance. People will pay
for access to those in a way they won't for the latest episode of House or
a reality show.

It's instructive to compare Murdoch's success with that content with the
biggest failed merger ever, of AOL and Time Warner. Those two couldn't
work, because they were the internet equivalent of oil and water: one is
an internet distribution company, and the other a content company. With no
control of the endpoint, the losses were staggering. AOL has now been cut
adrift, but not before Time Warner bled content and money all over the

Murdoch has experimented with the republican world of the internet, with
MySpace, which News Corporation bought for $580m in 2005. Even that didn't
work, because it couldn't keep people locked into the site, and when
something more attractive came along, people left in droves: Facebook
overtook it in 2007. When last seen, MySpace's visitor numbers were still
plummeting, and nobody knows how to turn it around.

So having tried the republican model for content, and found it not to his
liking, Murdoch is retreating once again to a kingdom. The paywalls being
put up around the Times and Sunday Times are indicative of that thinking.

So if Murdoch has failed on the wider internet, does that mean it's
impossible to make content work online? No; but you either need not to be
worried about the direct cost, or confident that your strategy is
definitely going to pay off in the medium and long terms. For the first
example look at the BBC, where its multiple outlets ? TV, radio, the web ?
are increasingly well-integrated: its TV and radio journalism feeds into
web pages, while TV programmes are available again on the iPlayer, and
radio is spread around the world over the net. The purpose there is clear
? to push the BBC brand, which is an end in itself that trumps simple
profit-and-loss calculations, though even there it has had to cut back

Then there are the newspapers, where the Guardian and the New York Times
are competing to push their content out across the web via an API ? the
side door to the database of stories and other content. Like the BBC's
strategy, it's predicated on having no control of the endpoint, and
instead having control of the feed of content, which means either charging
for it or including adverts ? the same model as the print newspaper, in

It may be that Murdoch will be able to largely ignore the internet and
keep the kingdom of content of his properties for as long as he likes,
providing he can retain the two must-haves of live sports and financial
information. For others, the former king may instead have to live like the
Swedish royal family, cycling around with everyone else, and distinguished
only in name and history.

But Rupert Murdoch never did much like bicycles.

Charles Arthur is The Guardian's technology editor

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