I was just digging through some old files and came across a quote that I found entertaining. Back in 2003, when he was still president and chief operating officer of Viacom, Mel Karmazin said with reference to Microsoft, AOL-Time Warner, and Comcast: “I can’t imagine being a competitor with any of these guys.” At the time, some media worrywarts made great hay of Mel’s quip and claimed, as Gene Kimmelman of Consumers Union argued at the time, that it proved how “Media moguls themselves admit their desire to avoid real competition within their industry.”
Utter rubbish. In fact, just six years after Karmazin spoke those words, Microsoft finds itself in a heated war with Google on all fronts, AOL-Time Warner has crumbled (even Time Warner Cable and Time Warner Entertainment got divorced!), and Comcast is now squaring off against telco and online video competitors that were unfathomable at the time (not to mention traditional satellite TV competitors.) In the meanwhile, Karmazin abandoned Viacom and today, as CEO of Sirius XM, is struggling to find a way to make the satellite radio universe survive the ongoing digital music bloodbath thanks to unforeseen competition from online music services and a little thing called the iPod!
It’s proof positive that media markets and digital technologies always evolve faster than most people — even smart industry titans like Karmazin — anticipate.