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Frenemies and Earthquakes

We’re all busy and crazed and jumping from activity to activity like rabid badgers on a caffeine high. But every now and then, it’s good to sit down, look around and reflect on “where it’s all going.” When it comes to content, advertising and all the other ingredients that fuel video entertainment, recent shifts in alliances across the tech and media scene can teach us that trying to project the future more than a couple years out is simply foolhardy. It doesn’t work. The future of media is absolutely unpredictable, and any guru who tells you he has the answer is selling snake oil. The World of Unpredictability is a scary place, to be sure. It’s cannibalistic, hyper-competitive and constantly shifting beneath our feet like a never-ending earthquake assaulting a landscape built on quicksand. It’s dangerous to live and work here. And yet here we are.
 
The tech world—you know, the place where large swaths of media and entertainment are migrating from the once-exclusive world of linear TV—is braving a nice earthquake right now. Shakeups always result. For example, we have Google CEO Eric Schmidt resigning from Apple’s board because—gasp!—the two companies finally figured out that they compete. Google already has a mobile operating system that competes with the iPhone and is working on one for desktops and laptop computers. What a change from just a year ago when Apple and Google were both working together to challenge Microsoft on a number of fronts. What about Microsoft? Oh yeah, it’s now friends (or at least frenemies) with its one-time rival Yahoo! in the lucrative world of search, which seems to be the only place advertisers aren’t cutting back. Today, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced that Yahoo! got a great deal. Doubtful, considering Microsoft’s reputation. More likely is that Yahoo! knows its star has fallen in recent years, and Microsoft is the only company that can prop it up against Google.
 
Meanwhile, we have this silly rivalry between MSNBC and Fox News that, according to the NY Times, prompted GE chmn/CEO Jeff Immelt and News Corp chmn/CEO Rupert Murdoch to talk about ratcheting down of tensions between the nets (mostly fueled by on-air stars Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann). So why would Immelt and Murdoch, who vigorously compete on several fronts, ever sit down together and talk about easing tensions? Could it be because these guys depend on each other’s content to drive eyeballs to Hulu, of which their respective companies are partners? Or is it perhaps because they sell content to each others’ TV properties through their production arms? Or own pieces of countless other ventures that criss-cross endlessly until neither of them can figure out where the competition begins and the partnerships end? Or vice versa?
 
Yeah, this is a confusing, earthquake-prone swampland stretching over infinite pools of quicksand. It’s a place where friends, frenemies, enemies, rivals and competitors all drink from the same watering hole. Everyone is vested in each others’ success to some degree, even if each player wants to drink more water than the next guy. Sometimes, a group will work together toward that end only to break up and find new temporary love interests. Alliances never stop shifting. Yet everyone keeps lapping up the water, looking suspiciously from side to side as they drink.
 
So what does this all mean? Where’s it all going? Well, sit right down and let me tell you about this excellent snake oil…
 
(Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX Daily)

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