One of the techniques we've been playing with this year is The Digital Nightmare Competitor, a framework for stretching the thinking of executives in a business by showing them how their industry could look strategically, operationally and economically in a digital world. I recently did such an exercise for a studio client and thought I'd share a nightmare I particularly like. Think of it as a Grinch-like Christmas present :)...
November 5th 2026, London
In late trading, shares in Wintermute, the apex media business of the 2020's hit a record high, valuing the business at more than $400Bn. This success marks a remarkable rise to prominence for an organisation barely a decade old.
Classical disruption started with the customer
From its launch in late 2016, Project Wintermute targeted people turned off by the complex media distribution and rights landscape of the mid-2010’s. By offering a single monthly subscription to unlimited premium digital content at a significantly lower price point (EUR 15 a month, without contract) than the EUR 50 (typically with a 12 or 24 month contract) or more that the traditional pay TV industry charged, Wintermute created a ‘no-brainer’ decision for tens of millions of younger consumers around the world. Basing the experience around mobile and making it impossible to share subscriptions through ‘Totally Secure Streaming’ technology or find content without ‘Total Social Search’ (which only allows you to watch if you’ve been recommended and only being recommended if you’ve done likewise) only made Wintermute more cultish and compelling.
Top-to-bottom data redefined the industry’s value chain… backed by billion dollar parents
Although giving early equity to A-list content creators certainly helped build momentum, Wintermute’s unreal economics are really a combination of Digital Economy technologies and business concepts.
Making a virtue of short content windows enables the company to manage the cost of essential 3rd party content. Artificial Intelligence enabled Wintermute to assess the quality of talent and creative concepts from the structure of a pitch and find great behind the scenes and on screen talent from their own job network with radically greater success than the industry they replaced.
Combining funding with talent in a single platform created an instant and enviable ecosystem of virtual independent producers. And with billions of dollars of backing from the Valley’s largest funders it was able to ride out years of heavy spending while it built global scale, leaving Wintermute free to compete with the incumbents in an unequal competition between a global over-the-top player and local oligarchies.
Starting and staying lean is an essential strategic advantage
Despite its rapid growth, Wintermute remains a very small organisation, assembled from an ecosystem of seven-person, multi-disciplinary ‘icebreaker’ teams, each of which owns one of the business’ small set of outcomes. Each team operates semi-autonomously, drawing in external experts where they’re needed, resulting in a business that does the job of tens of thousands with a few hundred full time employees. By building its business around talent, rather than vice versa, Wintermute believes that it remains perfectly placed to lead further disruption in the trillion-dollar global media industry.