By Nicolas Roope 12-09-2014
The future can be an unnecessary distraction from the huge complexity and opportunities afforded by the now. And if there’s one thing I can be certain of, whatever we predict, it will most likely be wrong. Some of the biggest phenomena that have gripped our lives, societies and our industries, have more often than not been happy accidents, not premeditated, pre-planned epiphanies.
The temptation is to look at forthcoming technologies like wearables, the ‘Internet of Things,’ etc and extrapolate the possible effect on media because of their functional enablements rather than the human, behavioural drivers behind them. As an example, for reader amusement I might speculate that having access to your physiological data might enable entertainment selection on the basis of heart rate, blood pressure and so on, and perhaps when something gets too invigorating, automatically flipping to Care Bears or an Enya concert before any threat to health progresses too far. It’s possible, but nobody wants it.
‘Beam me up Scotty’ is a phrase that conjures the best, most imaginative of sci-fi’s colourful visions for the future. The transporter aboard the Starship Enterprise may have seemed like a bold, futuristic vision, but the truth that lay behind its invention is a more likely allegory for most innovations. Strapped for budgets, the show’s producers invented teleportation simply to cut costs by not having to construct sets, models and scenes to document each journey to and from the Enterprise.
In the same way, as I’ve observed technology’s wave crash down in one continuous wash, what has struck me more than anything is that the real power behind its swell is that of ‘making things up as you go along.’ Of course, there are those well ahead of the break and many after it, but the truth is, no one predicted where we are now and I doubt anyone will predict with any accuracy where things will be in 10 years. The best strategy in this situation is to plan for change and constant reinvention. And keep a very open, creative mind.
Having said that, there are clearly trends that suggest a trajectory that will gather momentum. Where it goes specifically is another matter.
If we look at media we now see two distinct worlds, poles apart from one another – one about control and prediction and one that grows organically, systematically around its audiences. Both have pros and cons.
Devices are now common and are making consumption seamless and ubiquitous, and as they do so both channel preference and tastes evolve, which in turn pressures the commissioner, maker and artist. We’re more selective and directed in what we choose to view, yet simultaneously more capricious and suggestible – especially when influenced by friends and those we trust and connect with.
The quality moves in the other direction too, with some of the best TV we’ve ever seen being commissioned today while at the same time we see a deluge of content sloshing around the internet’s many pipes and tributaries. While it’s taken some time for the heroes of UGC to emerge and for the networks (mainly YouTube) to develop their long-term strategies as connectivity and devices mature (especially connected TVs), there’s clearly a convergence that is going to be one glorious, slo-mo car crash if organisations keep charging towards their destinies with their eyes closed.
What consumption habits tell us is that the viewer already has very different desires and where the internet players have the advantage is in the richness of feedback that hugely speeds up the finessing of their ideas and formats, and the incredibly rich, real-time data that translates into razor-sharp ad targeting. Online networks are being welcomed in their droves to domestic TV sets via a growing segment of smart TVs and connected set-top boxes, which will soon be the standard offering.
The reason I believe convergence is the terminal trend is because every media operation is ultimately subject to the same customer and the same wants and whims. At the moment, strategies seem distinct and incompatible – one proprietary, one seemingly open. One talks in absolutes, the other is vague, iterative and organic, letting happenstance lead the way. But as we’ve seen with music, while the revolution may have been ignited by polar opposites, over 10 years later the choice and immediacy expected by listeners – spurred initially by pirating – has driven new paid models that now feel like a hearty compromise between the two positions. Should we not expect to see the same in video?
Think about the consumer again and also recognise what they are really looking for. They’re seeking the interesting, exciting, entertaining and inspiring experiences that video can conjure up, again and again. Who makes it and how it gets there is neither here nor there. Is it curated or algorithmic, is it crowd-sourced or performance defined? We’ve come from a paradigm where the channel and network has dictated these organising structures, from commissioning editors to Google’s search logic. Going forward, however, I imagine these divides will break down and the emergent winners in the space will engage multiple means to connect audiences with the things they enjoy the most, whatever they are.