Most people access the majority of their television content from a cable box or satellite provider hooked up to their flat screens, but those days are likely numbered. With many savvy media, sports, and entertainment companies preparing for the upcoming expansion of the Internet and thousands of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) rolling out, there is a lucrative opportunity for gTLDs to become channels of distribution within the next few years. Comcast and Dish Network clearly see the proverbial writing on technology wall, with both making bold gTLD plays and Dish submitting 13 gTLD applications alone.
Apple, Samsung, and other tech leaders are also playing a role in evolving content distribution by developing devices and technologies to streamline Internet connectivity with flat screens. Not to mention that Google is buying up fiber optic networks to ensure faster delivery of high-speed Internet to homes. When these forces converge along with the expansion of the Internet and the ever-accelerating use of Internet-enabled mobile devices, then networks such as HBO, ABC, CBS, and The Weather Channel, as well as Netflix and the NBA, NFL, and MLB will be able to leverage their own gTLD-based channels to deliver their content, partner with advertisers, and be ready for the decline of traditional television as we know it. Which other content-focused companies applied for gTLDs? Sony, PlayStation, Lego, Transformers, Xbox, Showtime, BBC, Blockbuster, Bloomberg, and Mattel, for example. Combine one gTLD with the ability to offer movies, sports, on-demand television programs, and games, and you have a valuable digital asset – particularly if there is already tremendous brand loyalty.
Surprisingly, some media giants failed to apply for their own gTLD channels, including Disney, the PGA, NHL, ESPN, Viacom, and MTV, among others. Whether they will partner with other applicants or just wait for the second round remains to be seen. A few notable others who opted out of the $185,000 gTLD investment include: Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, eBay, Groupon, Tennis, NHL, E, NBC, National Geographic, and media mogul celebrities such as Ryan Seacrest, Kim Kardashian, and Ashton Kutcher.
While gTLDs will not be the reason consumers ultimately cut the cord from cable boxes and move on from satellite TV, it’s a significant factor that will have a definite impact. While all applicants can run programming and games on .com, owning a gTLD provides more creative and robust capabilities, not to mention control over the architecture of the entire domain and the ability to track rich user data. In the end, it gives those who applied a five-year competitive edge to innovate, think creatively, and utilize this digital asset in profound new ways. Those who didn’t apply should think about partnering with an applicant and how to evolve their .com to ensure they can sufficiently compete in a changing Internet landscape.
Consider, for example, how the NFL or NBA might change how it distributes content and programming. Not only could each team or franchise have its own subdomain to promote authenticity as the one and only true Bostonceltics.nba or Celtics.nba, but individual players could also develop channels within the trusted .NBA source for authenticity and brand value – with the NBA issuing the channels to them. Might the NBA partner with CBS on March Madness in the future, or will it still need CBS in the long run?
Likewise, PlayStation could expand from its core games offering into other content like movies and television programs and create social networks among its members that either replace or complement Facebook and other social sites. PlayStation could also create a tailored search engine to drive searches for games across the Internet and track when consumers leave their gTLD and go to a competitor’s site.
As another example, Showtime could use its gTLD to provide its subscription-only content without the need for a cable distributor password, instead delivering it directly to consumers beyond just tablets and mobile to flat screens hanging on the wall. Networks like ABC and CBS could reinvent programming like soap operas and reality programs to be more tailored to specific audiences and supported by products of interest to those respective audiences.
While opponents continue to argue that all of this can be done in .com, the brand gTLD applicants have a significant competitive advantage by owning the channel (VeriSign owns .com). They can leverage gTLDs as a source of innovation and a catalyst for evolving their digital strategies, including optimally architecting their site for data mining and developing a naming convention and promotions that are more memorable. And, most importantly, once consumers shift to a .brand world and move on from traditional cable and satellite television technology, gTLD owners will have the first mover advantage for gaining content-driven market share.
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