We know what it means for consumers - content on demand, binge watching, and having the ability to catch up to the early watchers two seasons in.
Personally, I like Adam Sterbergh's take on the rise in content on demand:
From all this chaos, though, one truism about popularity apparently survives: If something is popular, it can’t also be good.
What he means is the broadening democratization of the popularity throne, that a growing number of access to content means a growing number of ways to become "the most popular". Here's an example: NCIS routinely brings in 17 million viewers a week, making it the highest rated non-football program you can find on your cable box. But my Breaking Bad feed, errr I mean, my Twitter feed paints a radically different picture. Last week, AMC's killer hit Breaking Bad pulled in a series record 6.4 million viewers - just a third the viewership of NCIS. But which TV show feels more relevant to you right now? Which TV show feels more popular?
And if that doesn't surprise you, then maybe Mad Men's 2.5 million viewers a week will. Or the ability for HBO's Girls' to pull in a paltry 615,000 viewers each week.
Sternbergh brings to light a new paradox. By one measure, Girls plays a weak contender for gaining viewership. But by another measure Girls' season one trailer on YouTube gains over a million views compared to the tally on NCIS' most recent trailer at 91K views.
Are we using the wrong metrics? Probably. If Breaking Bad feels more popular, then why don't the ratings numbers reflect that popularity? If Daft Punk's Get Lucky can score a Spotify record breaking 27 million streams the day of the release how can the single not even make it to the top position on Billboard's charts the entire summer? (Hint: The answer is not Blurred Lines).
Does it really matter whether the song is being listened to on a CD or on an online stream?
According to Kevin Spacey (and truthfully, we all know this) what has always mattered most to the consumer is the content itself. In Spacey's James Mc Taggart Memorial lecture he animates himself into the following line of thought:
If you are watching a film on your television, is it no longer a film because you're not watching it in the theater? If you watch a TV show on your iPad is it no longer a TV show? The device and length are irrelevant. The labels are useless - except perhaps to agents and managers and lawyers who use these labels to conduct business deals. For kids growing up now there’s no difference watching Avatar on an iPad or watching YouTube on a TV and watching Game of Thrones on their computer. It's all CONTENT. It's all STORY.
The paradox is important because consumers can't be the only ones breaking down categorical walls and this is the problem that Sternbagh, Nielsen, Billboard and others are trying to figure out.
Even my own venerable employer has invested in the game with Chromecast (and yes, of course, YouTube). Start-up companies like Tugg are bringing that a a la carte luxury to other types of content like big screen movies. Social ranking sites like Klout and Crowdbooster are attempting to orchestrate all of these strands. And marketers are trying to focus more on the audience behind a ranking metric than the ranking itself.
Because when everything's popular by some measure, it's impossible to keep up with everything that's popular.