Seth Godin has written a reprise of an old article of his called Monopolies, seven years later, which I heartily recommend.
The recording industry once had an important role that justified its monopoly, as did Broadcast Television stations and other limited outlet industries. But inevitably the monopoly is broken – by legal fiat in some cases, but by technology in a whole lot more cases.
It’s hard for a monopolist to give up the position because monopolies are very, very profitable. Sad to think that a company that was once raking in multiple millions of dollars every year, for many years, suddenly has to compete on the quality of their offering in a completely changed market where they are no longer a monopoly. This is why the music industry (concert tickets, merchandise etc) is doing very well while the recorded disc business is slowly fading away.
Some of the time monopolists don’t realize what business it is that they are in. Railroad companies apparently thought they were in the railroad business, rather than the transport business, so when their long-haul monopoly was threatened by trucking, they didn’t respond fast enough, and faded in importance to society. Record companies think they’re in the disc business, when they’re really in a promotional business. That’s probably the only role left.
Other times, industries lose relevance because technologies bypass them. This is the position that broadcasters and cable channels are facing right now: they had an effective monopoly (mandated by the government in the case of broadcasters) because they had access to limited resources – broadcast licenses and access to cable distribution. However when we don’t need those limited resources to get entertainment “out there” to the viewer, what role is left? Finance company? There’s lots of competition there.
And finally, industries lose out when they focus on the wrong customer. Broadcasters and cable programmers have the wrong focus. They believe that their customer is the advertiser, and they are correct in an advertising supported entertainment model. However, the producer’s customer is the viewer and is often in conflict with the broadcaster’s customer.
Losing a monopoly is inevitable. You can avoid fading into irrelevance by focusing on the core value of your business to the customers and to keep focused on the customer’s needs. Unfortunately, the more broadcasters do that, the faster they’ll fade from relevance because they are unnecessary in an unmediated marketplace.