Redstone: Content’s king

Topper faults companies for ignoring consumer demands

Hours after giving an interview in which he talked about severing ties with Tom Cruise, Viacom topper Sumner M. Redstone gave a determined speech to a media conference.

In the address, Redstone alternately exalted the online consumer, faulted record companies for ignoring online consumer demands, responded to some of his critics and urged his colleagues to try new things and take action in the digital age.

Underlying all his remarks was a rallying cry for strong copyright enforcement and a reaffirmation that “content is still king,” as he put it.

Redstone delivered the closing address for “Aspen Summit: Competition, Convergence and Culture,” a three-day conference sponsored by the D.C.-based think tank Progress and Freedom Foundation and held at the St. Regis Hotel in Aspen.

Ten years ago, as the Internet became a potent force, “content vs. distribution was the great debate, and the big money was on distribution,” Redstone said. “I told everyone who would listen that content is king. Content is still king.” Although digital technology — principally the Internet — poses a huge threat of piracy to media companies, they must still embrace online consumers and markets, Redstone said. Media companies must sell content in a way that both compensates creators and satisfies consumers with a reasonable price.

“But I would argue that’s where we’ve fallen down as an industry,” he continued. “The record labels resisted tiered pricing, clinging to the $17 CD while consumers clamored for access to individual song tracks at a reasonable price.

“Our obligation is to turn a responsive ear to consumers with a robust digital rights management system that accommodates tiered pricing,” Redstone added.

He advised movie companies to consider tiered pricing for streaming movies either for viewing or recording.

Above all, Redstone said, “Let’s let the consumers decide what they want and what they are willing to pay. That’s how you encourage people to do the right thing.”

Redstone also denounced recent arguments from some academics and interests groups that copyright may be obsolete in the digital age. Moreover, as he said, “I bristle when critics characterize me as resistant to change. My whole career has been a case study in reinvention.”

Redstone closed with what he called his digital manifesto: “First, let us all declare that we are digital companies. And don’t sell tools that enable pirates to thrive.” Second, he said, media companies “should all pledge to experiment,” even if piracy threatens the experiment. “We must forge ahead. Third, let us all reiterate our respect for the consumer, and finally, let us press our point of view that the proper role for government is to foster a free market in innovative, creative expression.”

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