Media companies — whether they produce video, print or social content — are all struggling to price and sell their products today. In a digital world, stolen content is also an increasing concern. But at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York Monday, speakers seemed to agree that the future of media lies in providing access — not ceding ownership — of content. 

A major problem for media companies (film studios and record labels especially) is this idea of content ownership. Maintaining tight control of property may feel good, but it often leaves money on the table

As a growing crop of companies are leaning (ZipCar, Netflix or iTunes, for example), simply letting consumers access content for a period of time can be very profitable. As Fred Davis, Founding partner of CODE Advisors, put it:

“It’s not about owning, it’s about accessing.”

During a fireside chat, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz reiterated the point:

“I don’t know that anyone owns anything anymore.”

Social media brings this point home most clearly. Companies do not own their social media output. It’s an ongoing conversation they can guide, but not control. According to Bartz, that’s  alright:

“As long as you get your hands on the information, and you can, with
the right intent, do something great for the user. That’s good.”

Furthermore, negative social media feedback can actually improve the quality of available content. That’s what Boxee founder Avner Ronen said:

“If you are going to create bad content, people are going to be turned off. I think [negative feedback] makes for better content.”

But many companies aren’t ready to embrace the idea of sharing access to their content according to demand. For instance, film studios still use a rigid windowing strategy to release films that Davis says contributes to digital theft. As he said:

“The entertainment companies need to migrate. It’s not going to be an onwership thing going forward.”

Still, ownership continues to be an idea often equated with success. Davis thinks that will change over time. He says:

“The generation growing up will not own.”

Leasing, sharing and renting are common practices of both old and new businesses. But those strategies are moving into increasing areas of business.

That doesn’t mean that ownership is losing its advantages. But in a digital world, where media is so easily shared, it’s less often an available option.

“I’d love to own information,” says Bartz. But she thinks that is an unrealistic attempt to harness what cannot be controlled:

“I’d also like to be Queen Poobah of the world. But I’m not.”

Image: TechCrunch