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Hackernoon logoPay Money or Pay Attention by@CharlieFink

Pay Money or Pay Attention

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@CharlieFinkCharlie Fink

“If you’re not paying for a service, you’re not the customer — you’re the product.” — Steve Ballmer

The famously pugilistic Ballmer will be kicking ass and taking names as the new owner of the LA Clippers.

Former Microsoft CEO (and now owner of the LA Clippers) Steve Ballmer expresses a fundamental truth about media. And, as I’ll illustrate in a second, he also reveals why, even at the price of one billion dollars, the LA Clippers is a great deal for the discerning multi-billionaire shopping for a major sports franchise.

With this G5 at his disposal, Steve Ballmer never has to miss an away game.

Once upon a time, a large and profitable industry was created by the new technologies of radio and then television. It was based on a very simple business transaction: broadcasters attracted viewers with free programming and then they sold the attention of their users to advertisers. The consumer literally pays for the programming with their attention, by watching ads. There was no other cost. The broadcast was absolutely free, like the air we breathe. There were only a few channels, so the broadcasters had scarcity on their side, too. Other than keeping an appointment with your television, there was no way other to see a program ever again. The three major networks formed a “tri-opoly”. They were television.

Had my mother not placed me in this position for several hours a day (more on weekends) I might never have had a career in entertainment.

The introduction of cable television, and the elimination (by law) of the actual over-the-air broadcasts, has forced people to pay for what was once free. Instead of three channels, now there are three hundred. Of course, the increased choice in programming has a price. A hefty price. We’re now paying $100 a month for access to a service that was once free, and there are still commercials. Let me repeat that in case you were listening: we’re now paying over $1200 a year per household for a service that was once free. Some crazy math: there are 117.5 million households in the U.S. That’s 141 billion dollars.

American families now spend more on cable television than they do on medical insurance.

The broadcasters whose channels the cable company carries, all collect a license fee from the cable company, so everyone gets a taste of the $1200, which is how good monopolies (and gangster economies) work. The more people who are profiting from corruption, the more normal and accepted it becomes, and therefore more difficult it is to eliminate.

When you’re skimming off the top of one of the world’s largest economies you don’t need to bother with a sports team. Here’s the world’s richest man congratulating Russian wrestler Fedor Emelianenko (bare-chested) on his win over U.S. fighter Jeff Monson in Moscow.

The broadcasters have come through this disruption rather well. They get a fee from the cable companies for doing what they used to do for free and they still have advertisers paying for their customers’ attention. They quickly figured out that by having a bunch of different channels they could get more fees, and offer advertisers better targeted audiences. So channels were created and/or purchased (see below) all bankrolled by subscriber fees paid to broadcasters, cable companies, and rich entrepreneurs like Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner, who both leveraged their family publishing empires into broadcast media.

Yes, TV used to be free, but for $1200/year look how many channels you get.

Advertisers, on the other hand, have actually been disrupted in a multitude of negative ways. Time shifting — watching taped shows — has reached epidemic proportions. Hypertargeting an audience isn’t valuable if the audience time shifts the programming. While digital media has vastly increased the options open to advertisers, there is no good way to replace those lost millions of eyeballs using youtube or social media. It’s very hard to get to a million a couple of hundred at a time.

If you want to sell hundreds of thousands of cars this quarter, your media plan is all about television, not social media.

There is still one spot where time shifting doesn’t work, where the ads are anticipated, where an appointment still must be kept: major sporting events like the Super Bowl. Hence the 9MM per minute cost to advertisers. A sports fan has to watch sports event programs in real time. Other sporting events are similarly in demand.

Buying the LA Clippers is a slam dunk.

Sports are not time shifted and therefore command a premium from advertisers. And the leagues command a premium to those channels that carry their games, so much that teams now get their own channels. They can even charge additional premiums for restricted games and internet access, as the NBA, Baseball and Football now do. Ballmer’s not just buying a team, he’s buying a channel. And when you’ve got one channel, you’re in line to get another. And when you’ve got one sports team…

You’d never know these cars are moving at 60 mph. Better leave plenty of time to get to the game. There is no mass transit solution.

Two other important things to note. First, that the NBA is the fastest growing American sports league, with huge international interest. Second, Ballmer’s buying into Los Angeles itself. LA is a wealthy, progressive, multi-ethnic mixing bowl where more than 10% of the country lives. The traffic’s getting worse (there are too many damn people there) but the air is getting better, and the sunsets are consistently breathtaking. Barring an epic earthquake, fire and/or drought, LA is a pretty amazing place to own a basketball team, or any business. Marketers must fish where the fish are. Enter Steve Ballmer bearing a check for a cool billion. He’ll get it back and then some.

Six companies pretty much own all the media in the US.

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