Most everyone will agree that advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) are radically transforming the business landscape. But, how are these transformations playing out industry by industry? This question was explored in Industries in Transformation, a series of reports developed by Ericsson in collaboration with the Imperial College Business School and the UK’s Sustainable Society Network. Several weeks ago I wrote about The Future of Financial Services, based on their report on the subject. I now want to turn my attention to ICT and the Future of Media.
Like few industries, media has been disrupted by the digital revolution of the past 20-25 years, - with much more to come. “[T]he number of Internet users is expected to increase from 2 billion to 5 billion by the end of the decade,” notes the report. “Internet users already spend 20–30% of their time online, mainly engaging with media content… Globalization, deregulation, technological innovation and the convergence of previously separate industries such as media, entertainment, information, and consumer electronics, have created a somewhat turbulent media landscape.”
- Content creation: the original development of content, - a new song, film, TV program or newspaper article.
- Production: the bundling of different content into a final market-ready product, - a newspaper, TV schedule, cable package or DJ’s playlist.
- Distribution: getting the content to consumers, - TV and radio broadcast, cable services, newspaper delivery, media websites, music and video streaming.
As with other industries, ICT was originally applied to media in order to increase the efficiency of its processes. But now that most content is available in digital formats, the value chain is being significantly disrupted. Once created, digital content can be easily reproduced; it can be instantly distributed over the Internet; and it can be consumed over a variety of digital devices. In addition, consumers are no longer just passive recipients of the content, but, - unlike the case in most other industries, - can become co-creators in the value chain as well.
The report argues that the media industry will likely evolve along three major directions: Unilateral, Distributed, and Inclusive.
Unilateral. This is the original media model that’s been long in operation, e.g., newspaper publishing, broadcast radio and TV, film studios. A central authority, be it a corporation or government agency, exercises editorial, financial, and (sometimes) political control over the content that reaches the consumer. While alternatives now exist, this media model is still widely found around the world.
Digital technologies are not only giving rise to more distributed and inclusive models, but are also enabling alternative unilateral-like models. For example, algorithms used to personalize the content that’s most likely to appeal to each user, - e.g., Google’s search results, Facebook’s selection of friends’ updates, Netflix recommendations, personalized music channels, - could significantly limit the variety of content users are exposed to, even though so much more is easily available to them. The algorithm has effectively become a kind of digital central authority.
In addition, while the Internet enables us to access all kinds of different content and points of view, it also enables like-minded people to find each other and self-organize into communities that share a common interest or passion. Our free-for-all technology-mediated world can help us quickly learn about different tastes and opinions. But it also makes it possible to surround ourselves with tastes and opinions that confirm our biases, thus effectively living in hermetically sealed ideological and artistic zones, - a self-imposed, unilateral media model.
Distributed. This blog is but one small example of the democratizing power of the Internet, as it enables individuals and communities to create and disseminate content and communicate with each other, effectively turning our planet into the Global Village presciently predicted by Marshal McLuhan in the 1960s.
“The ICT revolution has placed cheap and powerful computational capacity into the hands of many people around the globe. An outcome of this is that the physical capital for the creation and production of content is broadly distributed throughout society, as is the power over the creation, production and distribution of media… Anyone who wishes to create and share his or her own content it is therefore able to do so - if not alone, then at least in cooperation with others. Networks of individuals can now work together to generate content for one another, increasing the role of non-market and non-proprietary production.”
As always, disruptive innovations have unintended consequences. Among the newly empowered communities are terrorist and racist organizations who use the Internet to create and distributed their hateful content. In addition, it often appears that our technology-mediated, free-for-all conversations are more aimed at polarizing the discussions than they are at bringing us together to find common cause as we address our many tough problems.
The digital empowerment of citizens is a strong positive force for democracies, - enabling individuals to express widely different opinions and contribute to our civic engagement. But, the ensuing dialogues can at times be anything but civil. The newly empowered individuals use their technology-amplified voices in many different ways, not always positive and constructive. A lot of negative, shrill, attacking opinions are heard throughout our now democratized information channels.
Inclusive. Beyond enabling individuals and communities to easily create and distribute content, digital media has transformed the once one-way communication from creators to consumers of content into two-way communications.
User comments on an article, TV program or film can significantly enhance the original content being discussed. One of the pleasure of reading or watching something really good is to subsequently read the associated comments, which I often rely on to shed light on a particularly complex program and help me better understand its storyline, characters and what its creators might have been after. It’s like participating in a kind-of digital book club, or in a kind of social media version of a literary criticism class.
In addition, data science, - our ability to now gather, analyze and extract insights from huge quantities of data, -, is enabling content creators and distributors to better understand their audience. For example, USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab (AIL) has been conducting research on how to best quantify fan engagement in a variety of media, including entertainment, music and sports.
Last summer AIL conducted a global study of fan engagement during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The Fans. Passions. Brands. Global Footbal study aimed to identify communities of football (soccer) fans based on their passion for the sport. It used surveys, interviews and social media analysis to better understand how international football fans engage with their favorite teams, reaching out to 22,000 people in 16 countries, over 16,000 of which responded.
The analysis of all that data was then used to develop a new framework to better understand the behaviors and motivations of World Cup fans, as well as build an interactive tool, the Sports Fan Engagement Dashboard, that provides real-time analysis of how fans are actually engaging during live sports.
“The media industry is one of the fastest-changing and most dynamic industries in the world,” notes the Ericsson report in its conclusions. “Media has often acted as an early indicator of how industries will adapt to changes in consumer behavior resulting from new technologies.” Its experiences will help predict the likely impact of ICT on other industries. “The application of ICT in such a broad variety of forms perhaps reflects the complexity of humanity and our increasing interdependence in a rapidly changing world.”