Legend holds that a conman craftsman once made a chessboard for a king.  “Your Highness, I don’t want money for this. Or jewels. All I want is a little rice: a single grain on the first square, two grains on the second, four on the third, eight on the fourth, and so on, and so on, and so on, for the full 64 squares.”

As many of the more mathematically-inclined among us know, by the 21st square, the king owed more than a million grains; by the 41st, it was over a trillion grains of rice — more rice than he, his subjects or any king anywhere could afford.

The parable of the king, the chessboard and the rice offers a profound analogy for media and entertainment  (M&E) companies seeking to find their true identity (strategically) in the age of algorithms, automation and AI. 

The End of the Beginning

The M&E industry (really, a collection of industries, including publishing, film, music, cable, broadcasting, advertising, gaming, etc.) was among the first to digitize its products and services.  Whether it was “talkies,” Cinerama, Betamax, DVDs, Napster, the Kindle, Netflix, MP3s or augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR), M&E businesses have continuously embraced  technological advancements to innovate their platforms.

But today, shockingly, most M&E businesses don’t consider themselves to be digital leaders. Although M&E companies were among the earliest adopters of advanced digital technologies, it’s as if they’ve only just begun. Some would say they’re experiencing the “second half of the chessboard” conundrum, in which an exponentially growing factor begins to significantly impact business strategy.

In our recently published report “The Second Half of the Chessboard: Media Is Nearing the End of ‘Digital’s Beginning,’”we look at the new digital economics of the M&E industry, as well as the ways in which leadership and strategy – from linking customer interfaces with operational core functions, to preparing for the advent of the “experience economy” – will enable M&E leaders to innovate work in an increasingly digital future.

As it turns out, the digital technologies adopted by M&E businesses are merely a fuel; it’s their impact on business strategy that’s shaking the industry’s foundation to the core.  If M&E players once thought that digitizing products and services was the endgame, they now realize they’ve only made their first few moves.

Tumultuous Change Ahead

Opportunities to increase revenues, tap new markets and beat the competition lurk everywhere. While it may seem unsettling to long-time industry veterans, the onslaught of change has ushered in what some call “the second golden age of television,” a resurgence in documentary film making, an uptick in quality journalism, and bold new immersive experiences in gaming.

At the same time, it’s getting more difficult to discern the “clean bright lines” of the various M&E sectors.  Consider:

The strategic list of the grains on the chessboard goes on …

  • The “small screen” of living room TVs supplanting the “big screen” of movie theaters, both of which have been eclipsed by the “mini-screen” of mobile devices.
  • Rampant consolidation (Disney’s acquisitions of Fox and Lucasfilm, as well as the AT&T-Time Warner merger), signaling just the beginning of a whole new class of offerings.
  • Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s NewTV startup, offering two-minute snippets of content.
  • Snapchat’s move to go one better – fusing AR with mind-blowing, personalized, 15-second cartoons.

Sound like crackpot ideas?  Just ask your kids on Snapchat how often they use the embedded AR lenses.  (According to the folks at Snapchat, it’s more than half of 13- to 34-year olds.  Every. Single. Week.) So when you hear Apple’s Tim Cook or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg talk about their strategies and visions for the AR world, pay attention. Like the old adage about hockey and pucks – or rice and chessboards – you’ll know it’s exactly where they’re headed.

Where the Game-Changers Will Be

Beyond the front office, where consumers have been treated to digital products and services from M&E providers for the better part of two decades, the middle and back offices are the new digital frontier. Consider that in early 2018, Netflix released the latest film in the Cloverfield series to a rapturous reception from fans with no advance warning, save for one commercial during the Super Bowl, just a few hours prior to release. That’s a media game-changer, all at the push of a (very sophisticated) digital button. More out-of-left-field moves like this will rock the operating models and organizational alignment of all players in the industry.

At shift points like this, the old rule books no longer apply. If your organization feels it is doing “well enough” now, sustaining or redoubling those efforts may still not be enough moving forward. Bold moves are required to heighten content, augment creativity and cultivate attention spans. The changes to come will make today’s M&E trends such as cord-cutting, paywalls, Slingbox, Apple TV and targeted advertising seem quaint.

And, like a good gamer, don’t be caught playing checkers; if you’re a leader in media & entertainment, it’s time to start playing chess.

For the full report, see “The Second Half of the Chessboard: Media is Nearing the End of ‘Digital’s Beginning.’” Or visit us at the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work or the Media & Entertainment section of our website.  

Robert H. Brown

Robert H. Brown

Robert Hoyle Brown is an Associate Vice-President in Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work and drives strategy and market outreach for Cognizant’s Business... Read more