In the past, I’ve argued against the likelihood that Hollywood is going to be taken over by Silicon Valley.

My position is quite simple - there’s a difference between content and distribution.

I believe that while the content business has been significantly impacted by technology and faces considerable challenges, at the end of the day, companies in the content business still occupy the position of power.

So it was with great interest that I read News.com’s recent article about MTV’s new media strategy.

I’ve previously noted that “many technologists often seem ignorant to the fact that old media companies like Viacom and News Corp. are actually pretty darn savvy when it comes to new media.

Based on the direction MTV is taking, I think this is hard to dispute.

The initiatives MTV has implemented or will be implementing include:

  • Embeddable video players that enable users to post MTV’s content on external sites.
  • High-definition online video.
  • A network of “highly-targeted” websites that are “loosely connected and focus mostly on programming such as VH1 Classic, Jackass, and Sucker Free on MTV” and that offer fans ways to interact with the content and each other (i.e. social networking).
  • A revamped digital music service.
  • Further investment in the video game market.

While this may not be groundbreaking stuff in and of itself and Charlene Li of my favourite research firm, Forrester Research, notes that MTV hasn’t been aggressive in leveraging user-generated content, I think MTV’s efforts highlight several key points:

  • Content is still king. MTV recognises that its most valuable asset is its content and that while it can leverage technology to better enable its viewers to engage with that content in beneficial ways, the content itself drives the creation of value for both the company and its viewers. Far too many technologists discount the value of content while overvaluing the role of technology in distributing it.
  • Major media companies are not inflexible and can adapt but they do operate a little more slowly by virtue of their size. Technologists often don’t recognise that slow change is not the same as no change. Unlike the plethora of internet startups that produce no content of their own and often rely on the unlicensed, copyrighted content of others to build their businesses, media companies like MTV have to evaluate the ways that they can leverage new technology effectively to actually generate more tangible value from the content they own. To do anything else would be wasteful.
  • There is willingness on the part of major media companies to experiment and innovate. As noted, Viacom has provided funding and freedom that enables certain MTV units to operate in a more nimble, startup-like fashion. MTV has also set up an “assembly line” to develop new websites and has a plan in place to adapt and try again if newly launched websites don’t take off. While I’m sure there are those who would criticise these efforts and question just how real they are, I personally don’t doubt that MTV is making a serious effort.

At the end of the day, I believe that MTV and other major media companies like News Corp. and Disney are taking practical, sensible approaches to new media.

An observer with a narrow perspective might mistake these types of approaches as dinosaur-like, but the truth is that, throughout history, technological change is rarely immediately embraced by incumbent players.

And for good reason: he who gets there first isn’t always the last standing. He who takes a measured, smart approach and figures out the models that work typically does.

There will be many online video startups, for instance, that try to innovate in the content distribution space, but most will fail in part because distribution is more commoditised than good content.

Just because technology has created new content distribution platforms and these have posed challenges to the largest content creators does not mean that the content creators will not adapt and thrive.

It may take them a little bit longer than we would like, but I really have no doubt that the MTVs of the world actually do get it and are having success, primarily because they still produce the content that consumers want.

Many people – primarily technologists – just don’t realise that and they’re the ones who will eventually be “punk’d”.