The ubiquity imperative: Why content needs to be everywhere

The media world is quickly changing, being driven by a vast number of new devices from which viewers can access content and the ease of finding content on-demand. Big media companies can no longer rely solely on the strength of their content to win against alternative viewing options: They’re also being forced to be more thoughtful about distribution and the need to be on as many platforms as possible.

In a multiplatform world, is content still king?

The old credo that content is king assumes TV viewers will turn to the most attractive choice possible and good content will win out over bad content. But it also assumes that, all things being equal, viewers are making that choice on a single platform: TV. But what happens when all things aren’t equal, and when some types of content are available on one platform but not on another?

This is the world in which many of us live in today. Viewers still look for the best content, but in many cases, it’s limited to the best content available on whatever devices they’re using. It also opens the door for other video publishers to potentially win over audiences on platforms where content selection isn’t as strong.

Take Revision3, for example: As an independent, online-first publisher, it has limited opportunity to compete with broadcast programming in the traditional TV ecosystem. But on iOS (s AAPL) and Android(s GOOG) mobile devices, as well as smart TVs from Samsung, LG and Vizio, Rev3 has staked out a claim to be wherever its audience is. In a lot of cases, that means its content is available where traditional TV episodes might not be.

Why Netflix “won”

Putting aside its recent struggles due to a price increase and confusion over its DVD-by-mail strategy, Netflix (s nflx) is still the most popular streaming service available today, with about 24 million users in the U.S. alone. But Netflix didn’t become popular because it had the best content library available; it beat the competition because it was available on practically every connected device users might have purchased over the last 12 months.

Whether it’s a connected TV, Blu-ray player, video game console, streaming set-top box, tablet or mobile handset, chances are, if a device is connected to the Internet, Netflix has built an application to stream movies and TV shows over it. In fact, Netflix is no longer just a nice feature for consumer electronics manufacturers; it has become table stakes for the vast majority of connected devices.

Other content companies are quickly following Netflix’s lead. Although TV Everywhere was originally dreamed up as a way to extend on-demand viewing to PCs and laptops, it has very quickly moved on to other devices. HBO’s multidevice strategy (s TWX) is the best example of a cable network making its TV programming available “everywhere,” as the HBO Go app is now available on Roku set-top boxes, the iPad (s aapl) and other mobile devices, and it will soon be on Microsoft’s (s MSFT) Xbox Live service.

Even the Hollywood studios are pursuing a multiplatform strategy through their UltraViolet initiative. While the initial implementation of UltraViolet — through Warner Bros.’ Flixster application — has received poor reviews from early adopters, the long-term strategy of making films that customers have purchased available whenever, wherever and on whichever device they choose is still intact.

The new attention economy

Viewers were formerly beholden to the whims of a select group of programmers: If they wanted to watch a show, they were forced to be home and tune in at the time it was broadcast. That world has changed, thanks to the broad proliferation of time-shifted viewing options — whether they be DVRs, cable video-on-demand services or online options like Hulu. Just as importantly, viewership doesn’t just happen on the TV anymore; it happens on laptops, on tablets and even on mobile handsets.

In other words, consumers are now in charge of when and how they watch video content. No longer content to be stuck to someone else’s schedule, consumers expect to be able to access their favorite content whenever they want and on a wide range of devices. As a result, the media companies that will win are those that recognize the need to be everywhere.

When it comes to capturing consumers’ attention now, a piece of content is only as good as its distribution. If it’s not available on the device that a user wants to view video on, then they’ll watch something else. Which is why now is such a critical time for traditional media companies. If they don’t have a strategic plan to distribute their content on whichever device the viewer uses to watch content, they risk alienating and eventually losing that audience.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Kiersten Balukas