What Is The ‘Intellectual Property’ Of A College Campus?

Over the past decade, the disruption of the traditional higher education model has often been compared to other “content” and “distribution” industries that have been upended by technology and new entrants: newspaper, publishing, music, and Hollywood.

It’s that last industry — TV and movies — that’s been on my mind for the past few weeks after hearing former Disney CEO Bob Iger speak to Kara Swisher at the Code conference (you can watch the full interview here) .

As Swisher recalled during the interview, it was Iger who predicted back in 2005 that technology – and at the time he was thinking of the internet, not mobile devices – would significantly disrupt the spread of traditional television and films, if not their content businesses . to. “If you can’t beat them and you can’t join them, why not look at them as potential partners and find a position to play with,” Iger said while discussing the companies that have moved to Hollywood — Apple, Netflix, and amazon .

What these companies and others have been doing for the past decade is ushering in a new reality for linear media. Media consumption is no longer limited to “shelf space” on a set schedule, Iger said. This concept of ‘shelf space’ is still difficult for my own children to grasp because they have never had to live under a model where media consumption was limited by ‘channels’ on a ‘schedule’. (Do you remember when TV program arrived weekly in the mail.) Gen Z also doesn’t live in a world where studios put movies out in theaters and then take them away for weeks or months before you can buy or rent physical copies of a DVD (and before that, VHS).

Content vs. Distribution

Streaming transformed linear consumption for Hollywood, much like it did for the music industry after the introduction of the iPod in 2001, and much like web browsers changed the linear nature of newspaper consumption before that in 1995.

But in the interview with Swisher, Iger was careful to distinguish between content and distribution.

As he said, “traditional television is heading towards a definite abyss and it is being shed,” particularly those units that own the tubes and nothing else. During his time at Disney, Iger focused on building his intellectual property — the content — which was one of the reasons the company spent heavily during his tenure acquiring Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm.

As I listened, I wondered what a college or university IP is. Is it the professors? Is it the syllabus? Is it the living experience? Or is it a combination of these and more? A good exercise for institutional leaders and their boards to engage in now is identifying theirs true IP to understand what they really “own” and what makes them distinctive. And then, like Disney – and now Netflix, Apple, and Amazon – can they create more of that IP (without saturating the market, which of course is now happening in the streaming industry)?

However, like Disney, Highered can’t just focus on content intellectual property. It also needs to focus on distribution. In the beginning, Iger explained, Disney partnered with Apple and Netflix to distribute its content before Disney+ launched. Currently, most colleges and universities own their own distribution channels by offering education on campus and sometimes online.

But as new players and emerging incumbents continue to reshape the higher education market and have their own emerging distribution channels, colleges and universities would be wise to build their own pipelines — or rather partners, before those channels are completely closed to them and they end up ending up like them old cable company.

New sales channels for Higher Ed

Here are two examples of emerging “distribution channels” in higher education: Employers and Online. (I still refer to online as “emerging” compared to traditional face-to-face classes.)

Increasingly, employers are partnering with third-party providers such as Guild Education, EdAssist, and InStride, who manage their academic credit and largely handle the distribution relationships between companies and institutions. In distance learning, we have online program managers, or OPMs, that make it easy for a university to move online (to learn more about OPMs, listen to this explainer episode of the future and podcast). Some institutions, such as Western Governors University (WGU), Arizona State University (ASU), and Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), manage their own distribution channels.

What is clear in the online space is that at least in the adult student market (where online education began) some of the biggest players – WGU, ASU, SNHU, etc. – own both the content and the distribution channels (see McKinsey – graphic below). where the universities just mentioned are on the right and at the top of the graphic).

The question is, will the incumbents have an advantage by getting more students – traditional age, adults, lifelong learners – online? (This article in Within the Higher Ed Earlier this week suggests these big online players have an early advantage over traditional students).

Who knows if the Hollywood analogy will hold up in high school or if it will end up being just another overused analogy like newspapers and the music industry.

As Iger Swisher said, Disney’s original plan back in 2005 wasn’t to launch Disney+. It was simply a matter of “preparing” for the impact of changes to the historical model. Higher education has seen these impacts coming for more than a decade, so perhaps it’s time to better prepare by recognizing them true IP and recording the distribution channels for it.

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