Clueless Is as Clueless Does

I’m constantly entertained by the Internet strategies of Big Media companies. They’re always good for a laugh.

The complete, utter Cluelessness of it all is what gets to me. You just know they craft these things around big tables, using spreadsheets, moving assumptions and properties around the Big Board, thinking they’re in “Fail Safe” when it’s really “Dr. Strangelove.” It’s as funny as Elmer Fudd singing Springsteen.

In the past, we’ve seen them dismiss the Net, spin off the Net, claim domination over the Net, and seek to turn the Net into newspapers, magazines, TV, and vertically integrated AOL-like empires. All of these strategies failed because they don’t understand the first thing about the Net, namely that it’s primarily an interactive medium, and in order to take you first must give, then engage in free give-and-take. In other words, you win time by letting people talk, by encouraging fans, and by listening.

Listening is a skill they’ll never master.

Anyway, the latest Big Media plot is to go back to the beginning, to integrate everything and treat the Internet as just another channel for content created elsewhere. This lets them claim the content is free and makes the numbers look better.

Along the way, a ton of people have been let go at Major Media Web sites. But now they’re ready to “build” again. And last week Disney showed how it would build, buying 50 percent of US (an entertainment weekly owned by Rolling Stone founder Jan Wenner) in order to take it online.

Disney’s Fearless Leader, Michael Eisner, who claims to speak for the Mouse but whose changing strategies make him seem more like Donald Duck, insisted “this time for sure.” The exact quote was “We have content and technology, and now we have to find a way to drive it home.”

The key word here is “ownership,” as in controlling everything related to a copyright so people can be forced into Clueless content related to that property. Thus AOL’s Warner Brothers is busy trying to do to Harry Potter what Viacom’s Paramount did five years ago to “Star Trek.” It’s closing down fan sites to guarantee exclusivity and in the process angering fans that will then kill a fine franchise. (Seen any new “Star Trek” shows announced lately?)

I know — that trick never works. And what’s amazing is that there are plenty of successful examples out there of media property owners who “get it” and realize that the key to integrating online and offline media is to channel the fans, not make them angry. Yet all we get from Big Media are lawyers and financial game players, still — and it’s been nearly seven years since the Web was spun.

The only conclusion is the tautology “Stupid is as Stupid does.” That should make all you potential Internet entrepreneurs smile as you go to sleep tonight.

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