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The Golden Rule: Why Fans Trump Ads

Raise your hand if you like free, ad-supported content. Good, just about everyone. Now raise your hand if you would like Kelloggs and Procter and Gamble to control all your media and entertainment choices. Oh, not so much?

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Every time I read another post about the inexorable march toward 100% ad-supported content, etc., I remember the businessman’s take on the Golden Rule:

He with the gold, rules.

Is it worth “saving” a few cents so that the Corporate World can choose which content is available for our viewing? When it’s free, content is created for the utility of the advertisers.

Indeed, as soon as advertisers pay for the content, advertisers effectively control the content. It’s their money. They control how edgy or how alternative the content is allowed to be. Advertisers decide which plots are allowed, and if the content exists or not.

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A world where content is 100% ad supported is a dangerous monoculture.

Offensive content? Not ad supported. Politically left or right content?  Not ad supported. Your favorite little underground /niche-y content? Not ad supported. Content that is not “on message” with the brand? Not ad supported.

Look at YouTube’s monetization compared to Hulu. Hulu can sell ads across 100% of its safe inventory, while Youtube can only sell ads on 3% of its inventory. In other words, YouTube’s highly anticipated ad-revenue sharing program never meant jack.  Advertisers only support the safe stuff they believe helps them sell more product.

When Michael Phelps smokes a bong, he looses his Kellogg’s contract.  Even though plenty of mainstream press support him, advertising money talks and behavior that is not consistent with the image of Kellogg walks.

Be careful what you ask for, because when advertisers will only pay for content that is consistent with their brand.

Fans > Ads

When an artist is fan supported, the same golden rule holds true:  The fans bring the money, so the fans get the content they want.  Fans are simultaneously the financiers AND the consumers. The fans and the artists set the rules. There need be no advertiser or publisher or studio who [sets | influences | steers] the agenda.

Don’t get me wrong:  Free content plays a very important role in attracting new fans.  And ad-supported content–that is, content paid for by a 3rd party company who wags their product under our noses –works ok for the safe mainstream.

But I’m definitely against a monoculture of free, 100% ad supported content.  Its dangerous when advertisers are the only ones ultimately funding, and therefore deciding, which content gets made.

Artists should be able to earn a living by making content that is not consistent with the image of Kellogg’s, or any other corporation.  Fans should be a bigger voice than triple protection tide or aquafresh, or whatever.

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