In the traditional model, you can only play one program at a time. One radio show or one movie or one show…
Scarcity of spectrum has changed just about every element of our culture. Scarcity of shelf space as well.
There are just a few radio stations in each market, and each station gets precisely one hour to broadcast each hour. Scarcity of spectrum, inflexible consumption (listen now or it's gone forever).
There are only a hundred or so channels on most cable systems. Each viewer is precious and you can only program one show at a time. So program for the largest audience you can find, because that's how you get paid. Share of viewership is everything.
There's only one shelf in front of that bookstore visitor at a time. That bit of shelf space is quite valuable… winner take all. Either the book is on that shelf or it's not.
And every trade show booth takes up a few hundred square feet. There can only be one booth in each location, so the trade show operator charges as much as she can for this particular spot. And having paid so much, the exhibitor tries to get people in and prevent them from leaving so soon. All of them.
And it's a big but…
In a world where everything is a click away, and in a world where everyone can have their own YouTube channel, ten blogs and a thousand email accounts… the only thing that's scarce is attention.
Shelf space is worthless now. Why worry about making a particular hour of radio all encompassing and wildly popular when you are welcome to broadcast a hundred hours–and people can listen whenever they like.
[Stop for a second and think about the fact that there is no real gatekeeper, no scarce shelf space, no superpowerful owner of spectrum in the long run… how does that change your work?]
The idea that someone can program our consumption is becoming obsolete, and fast. The front page of the paper disappears in a digital world, where there is no front page–merely the page I got to by clicking on a link from a friend. The tenth minute of a sitcom isn't necessarily the part that comes after the ninth minute, and in fact, I might never even get to minute nine.
Fifty years ago, the remote control freaked out TV executives. Today, the exception is the linear consumer, the rare bird that sits from the beginning to the end. Weird is in, mass is fading.
In a world of surfers, all you can do is work to make the best wave you can. The real revolution is that you get to make waves, not just ride them.