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Is one channel enough?

by on 14 Jan, 2011

Flicking through the news headlines, I noted that MySpace has again cut jobs. They’ve now lost two-thirds of their workers over the last 18 months , as part of their “refocused” business strategy. With the might of News Corporation behind them, of course they should stand a decent chance of survival. Prosperity is another matter, especially in such a crowded – and polarised – social media space.

These latest cuts got me thinking  back to the days when MySpace was The Big Thing online. Now of course that glory belongs to Facebook, with its global audience of half-a-billion, and an apparent valuation of over $50,000,000,000, according to Goldman Sachs. This equates to a supposed market value for FB of about £60 per registered user, yet according to best quesstimates it currently ttracts advertising revenue of about $1,000,000, with little  profitability to show for it. Does this sound familiar at all, I asked myself, thinking back to the exciting days of the boo.com adventure and the last hurrah that was the lastminute.com flotation?

 Aside from such conjecture about bubbles, booms, busts, etc, there is one particular thing that occurs to me. Why is there always only ONE brand leading the digital pack?

To illustrate this let’s look at some (admittedly rough and ready) market-shares:

Microsoft - 93% of global operating systems
Apple - 99% of global non-Microsoft operating systems
Google - 80+% of all online search, worldwide
Facebook - the huge one...

In other (offline) spheres, we appear to value choice and comparison, yet online we are strangely habituated, not seeming to want, or exercise choice. It’s as though the abstract concept of “choice” is enough to reassure us, as we click the same old buttons, day in, day out. Perhaps our innate caution about this new digital frontier means that our herd instinct gland has swollen in response, so we feel much safer treading that well-worn path toward the “leader”.

If this is so, it has obvious consequences for the immediate future of the web, and especially emerging formats such as web TV and tablets. After Week One of ownership, is any self-respecting iPad user really going to shop around for their daily news fix? They can’t browse the news-stands, so of course they will stick to whoever they first liked.

Once the awful reality of anywhere, anytime TV reaches us all, I’m convinced it will be the same story, just more so. That friendly little app that tells us what our friends watch and recommend, or the app that usefully logs our viewing and anticipates our future favourites, is the one that we will go for, ignoring all other options.

Think about it. There are over 30 million websites out there, yet 90% of all the advertising  money spent online goes to just ten sites; the huge portals or supersites, such as  Google,  MSN, AOL, etc. It’s the Pareto Principle, proven yet again.

A study a few years ago also showed that the longer we have been online , the fewer sites we actually visit. So convenience and human inertia soon win over novelty and curiosity. Yet this is less true in the “real world”, where we seem to enjoy trying out new shops, restaurants, walks, magazines, holidays, authors…

Does this mean that we are destined to become a homogenous race of mono-channel internet addicts?

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