Exclusivity and Control

by Andrei Hagiu & Robin S. Lee

Overview — Music, television shows, movies, Internet and mobile content, computer software, and other forms of media often require a consumer to join a platform in order to access or utilize the media. This affiliation may take the form of a subscription to a distribution channel or purchase of a hardware device. One of the primary means of differentiation and competition between platforms for consumer adoption is the acquisition of premium or quality content. However, whether or not certain content is exclusive to one platform or is present on multiple platforms varies significantly from industry to industry. One can even view Apple's exclusive U.S. provision of the iPhone to AT&T as even more variation in the degree of exclusivity across industries. Why is it that some forms of content are available only on one platform, while others are distributed through several or all platforms available—that is, they "multihome"? This paper analyzes industry propensity for exclusivity and presents a model of platform competition. The key driving force is the nature of the relationship between the content and the platforms: outright sale (all control rights, particularly over content pricing, are transferred from the content provider to the platform) or affiliation (the content provider maintains control rights over pricing). Key concepts include:

  • The key is control rights over factors such as content pricing and cash flow. Strategic interactions around control rights between platforms and the content provider can push the industry structure in either direction.
  • High-quality content will multihome, because foreclosing a portion of the market by being exclusive will be too costly. Mid-quality content will be exclusive and can soften price competition at the platform level enough to offset the losses from excluding a portion of the market. Low-quality content will multihome, since it would not yield any comparative advantage if it were exclusive.
  • A platform that has exclusive rights to content may prefer to relinquish control over pricing and associated revenues to the content provider in order to relax price competition with a rival platform.

Author Abstract

We analyze platform competition for content in the presence of strategic interactions between content distributors and content providers. We provide a model of bargaining and price competition within these industries, and show that whether or not a piece of content ends up exclusive to one platform depends crucially on whether or not the content provider maintains control over the pricing of its own good. If the content provider sells its content outright and relinquishes control over its price, the content will tend to be exclusive unless there are sufficient market expansion effects. On the other hand, if the content provider maintains control of its pricing, the strategic interaction between prices set by the content provider and by the platforms leads to a non-monotonic relationship between exclusivity and content quality: both high and low quality content will multihome and join both platforms, but there will be a range of content that will maintain exclusivity despite foreclosing itself from selling to a portion of the market. In addition, we show that contrary to standard results on double marginalization and pricing of complementary goods, a platform who already has exclusive access to content may prefer to relinquish control over pricing of that content and the associated revenues to the content provider as a result of the incentive to reduce price competition at the platform level.

Paper Information