Coercion and Cooperation in the Second Century of Electronic Media: Video of Robert Tercek keynote speech at Digital Directions in Sydney, March 4, 2011

Last week I attended the Digital Directions conference hosted by Fairfax Media and X | Media Lab in Sydney.  A series of outstanding speakers, including Tim Wu, Gigi Wang, Kevin Anderson, Baratunde Thurston, Riyaad Minty, Anthony Rose and others shared their perspectives.

My topic was “Coercion and Cooperation in the Second Century of Electronic Media.”   And my message was that the architecture of a business determines how its creative energy is channeled.   Fairfax Media kindly provided me the video, posted here.

By architecture, I am not referring to buildings or physical structures, of course.  I’m using the term metaphorically to describe the entire constructed environment surrounding a business activity.

This talk explores the question of why cable TV companies are so bad at innovation. But in fact they are not bad at innovation: it’s just that their business model is based on a completely closed architecture and private infrastructure. So it’s not optimized for collaborative creativity. Instead, Pay TV is optimized for coercion.  All of the innovation in a closed system is oriented towards revenue extraction, rather than value creation or audience expansion.

Closed architectures may be the best way to separate customers from their money, but they are not the best environment for fertile imagination or entrepreneurial energy.

The contrast of coercive architectures and cooperative architectures explains a lot: why internet companies are able to scale their audiences much faster than traditional media companies; why internet companies die an ugly death after they are acquired by major media conglomerates; why vertical integration is the dominant theme in old media; why Hollywood studios and broadcasters are hooked on predictable formulaic plots and two-dimensional characters; and especially why internet video is likely to be the biggest challenge to traditional media conglomerates yet. Brace yourselves. We are about to watch the battle of the century.

Mies Van Der Rohe said, “Architecture is the will of the age conceived in spatial terms.” Which architecture best expresses the will of our current age? The open architecture of the web? Or the completely closed architecture of pay television?