Media Perspective: Learning from the music industry can keep you on track

By Russell Davies, russell@russelldavies.com, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 04 December 2009 12:00AM

Thanks to Campaign's relaxed approach to holiday publishing, this is my last column of the year and therefore my last column of the noughties.

Which means I'm obliged, under the provisions of the 1856 Columnist Cliche Act, to wax portentous about the decade now departing.

But if we try to look at everything that's happened in technology and media in the past decade, we'll get swamped in the sheer density of events, so I thought I'd look via a single industry, specifically the music business, and see what that tells us. And if we start with 2000, we immediately hit a big, crunchy theme: because that was the year Metallica sued Napster and the music industry started its guerrilla war against its own best customers - a war every content industry has pledged to learn from and then, generally, failed to do.

And as if to add technological insult to revenue injury, a year later Apple launched the iPod. Think about that. A decade ago, the iPod didn't exist; now there are somewhere around 250 million of them and the economics of music distribution are completely transformed. You can see why long-term planning is hard in some businesses.

Music on telly has seen some changes too - in 2002, Will Young won Pop Idol and mainstream entertainment values began to hijack the charts back from the "alternative" music industry taste-makers. Then, in 2005, YouTube arrived and before long it became the default place for millions of people to get their music and music video reference.

Perhaps that was part of the reason the BBC stopped making Top Of The Pops a year later. Though it wasn't that we never saw TOTP again: the re-run shows started straight away as everyone with a serious archive realised they were sitting on something valuable and the repackaging and reselling of classics started in earnest.

2005 also showed us the first inklings of two really significant trends - the Arctic Monkeys' first album went huge with help from a MySpace fan base and Guitar Hero was launched for the PlayStation. The first moment showed how bands would be increasingly managing and marketing themselves, the second demonstrated how games were starting to eclipse the music business as a cultural and economic force. This would lead, four years later, to perhaps the most significant musical moment of the decade - The Beatles arriving as a Rock Band game.

What does this mean for the rest of us? It's hard to say, but if nothing else it should make us pay attention to technological change and it should remind us never to say "people won't do that".

And with that, I'll bid you Happy Holidays, advise you to get some sleep and hope to see you next year.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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