Cluck cluck squawk! The future of media should be independents but it'll actually be chickenization

Spotify, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, Google, Apple are all in the business of raising chickens. And you love it.

The optimistic vision for the future of media is of independents — solo and groups —using the power of internet platforms to make a sustainable living. But while zealots will tell you that YouTube, still under the so-called benevolent control of Alphabet/Google, and Patreon, with venture capitalists slowly squeezing its throat, will continue to change the game. This month, TikTok has been the obsession. In audio, Spotify continues to gobble up podcasts. 

The problem is: These platforms are just as rigged as any traditional media. It’s simply that they are rigged in ways that fewer people understand. YouTube is increasingly becoming a place where big companies are consolidating brands created as smaller propositions into larger consortia. That allows them to leverage more views and, in turn, more advertising revenue. As they grow, they swallow up more of the smaller producers. The latest example is History Hit’s acquisition by Little Dot

In the case of Spotify, Daniel Ek, the company’s founder and CEO, has pursued a policy of aggressive acquisition. By buying successful podcast production houses like Gimlet Media and The Ringer, and securing exclusive rights to massively popular podcasts including the world-crushing Joe Rogan Podcast, Ek is pushing to utterly dominate podcasting, to make Spotify the place where big shows live and listeners go to find new podcasts. Apple had that opportunity in its grasp for years but it just wasn’t that interested. 

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Meanwhile, the radically-slimmed down Murdoch empire is seen by many commentators as done, just waiting for old Rupert to die. That’s a mistake. While properties like The Sun and The Times are struggling at the moment, News Corp is consolidating in talk radio and quietly building new media brands on the very platforms that are allegedly about to destroy it. Have you seen how well Murdoch-owned brands do on YouTube? It’s not dying. It’s thriving. 

All of this gloms together to form my argument for today: The best future for the media would be the flowering of hundreds of sustainable independents but that’s not what will happen. The Substack revolution of independent writers doing well with their own publications is only possible largely because most of those people already built audiences through writing in mainstream outlets.

The more likely future for media — and it’s happening now — is an increase in the chickenization of the whole business. 

In the video above, Christopher Leonard, author of The Meat Racket, explains how Tyson Foods turned chicken from a speciality food into the most popular and cheapest meat in the world. It’s all down to chickenization: 

“I can determine exactly the type of bird that get raised I can determine how big those birds get; I can determine exactly the number of flocks to deliver to you, then I can build a slaughterhouse that does nothing but make a product like the McNugget…” 

That’s what’s happening with YouTube video producers, and podcasts on Spotify. It’s chickenization as platforms and big players set up the environments to produce a certain type of media bird, determining how big those media birds get, and controlling the worlds in which those media birds thrive, survive or die. Add to that the level of power Facebook has in determining what content succeeds and you have a system where successful independents are outliers and in which their success inevitably leads to them being swallowed by a giant. 

Cluck cluck.