The Future of Media

If you don't read this magazine a robot will kill this editor

Fast Forward

Over the 10 years I’ve been involved in producing this magazine, I’ve often had a “gun to my head,” but until this issue, it was only a figurative reference related to making our print publishing deadlines. Editor

Over the 10 years I’ve been involved in producing this magazine, I’ve often had a “gun to my head,” but until this issue, it was only a figurative reference related to making our print publishing deadlines. With this issue — our annual “Future of Media” edition — it is a literal one. You could even see it on our cover, if we had one. Technically, we don’t, because this is the first issue of MEDIA that won’t be printed on paper, with ink — unless you choose to do that on your end. Instead, this issue was designed, produced and published 100% digitally on the Web, and utilizing a responsive design enabling it be rendered on whatever screen you happen to be reading it on.

It’s a logical progression for MEDIA, because, well, it’s a logical progression for media. The truth is we’ve been publishing this magazine “digitally” since its inception — both on the front-end, in terms of how we produce it, and even on the back-end, in terms of how we distribute it. The only things we’re doing differently with this issue is scrapping the analogue part (you know, print), and making the digital part more responsive.

Sure, some readers (including this one) will miss holding the glossy paper version in their hands, but there are some major benefits to going 100% digital, especially economic ones that hopefully will enable us to tell more of the long-form kind of stories we’ve been telling in MEDIA more frequently and more dynamically. This issue, for example, is actually being uploaded in stages.

This is not the first time MEDIA has gone nonlinear on you. Some of you may recall the “Nonlinear Issue,” which was literally unbound, comprised of 52 standalone pages held together by a belly band and stuffed in an acetate sleeve. When some readers opened it, the pages flew in every direction, and I got calls and emails saying, “Something’s wrong with this issue.” Some of the pages in that issue didn’t even appear “in the magazine.” Some were online, or in other digital formats. One — featuring our MEDIA Person of the Year, “iGod” Steve Jobs — was published on a billboard in Times Square, courtesy of Clear Channel Outdoor. (Apple’s legal team even called me and asked me to take the “unauthorized ad” down, until I explained it wasn’t an ad, but a nonlinear editorial page from our magazine. It was one of the best issues we produced, and I’m hoping that the conversion to a 100% digital format will enable us to do other interesting things like that with our content. Assuming the technology we use lets us do that, or in the case of this issue’s “cover” story, doesn’t simply replace us.

Inset photo by JJ Mack 

If You Don't Read This Story, A Machine Will Take My Job

In this modern version of John Henry, editor Joe Mandese throws down with a machine, and so far, he’s still ... Editor

The words you are about to read most likely were written by a machine. The people who built the machine say it can write better than a human — in this case, me. And if the headline and opening of this article you have just read are among the ones written by their machine, then they were right — and I may be out of a job very soon.

Those words were how one version of this story began when it was first published on Sept. 6, alongside an alternate version written by a machine named Persado. Both were sent in equal but random splits to the email subscribers of RTM Daily, a publication I edit that is mainly about people using machines to do a better job of what people used to do without them: planning, buying and evaluating media. One of the premises for why machines can help them do a better job is that machines — especially those tapping “Big Data” and utilizing next-generation data- processing algorithms — can make decisions faster than people can, enabling marketing to go “real-time.” Hence RTM Daily’s name.

During the months since we launched RTM Daily, and in the past decade that I’ve been covering the acceleration of advertising technologies — especially the kind of super-powered algorithmic machines that are now bordering on true artificial intelligence – I have written about how machines are beginning to replace many of the functions we previously employed people to do. Occasionally, I even came across some machines their creators claimed could do what I do — write stories — as well or maybe even better than I can.

It’s one thing to cover an industrial revolution that is disintermediating other people’s jobs. It’s quite another to cover one that could replace yours.

Let me tell you — it’s one thing to cover an industrial revolution that is disintermediating other people’s jobs. It’s quite another thing to cover one that may be making your own livelihood irrelevant. So when I met with the team at Persado some months ago, and they told me what their machine could do, I said, “Prove it,” and asked them if they would participate in an experiment to see which could write a better story — a man or a machine. They agreed, and

what you are reading is the second installment of a story that began on Sept. 6th, but as I’m discovering with “real-time” publishing, it may never actually end. That’s because the metric we are using to demonstrate who or what won this John Henry-like competition, is dynamic: Click- through rates generated by the original split-run of the RTM Daily newsletters.

To date, I can tell you that so far, the human is winning, albeit by a small margin: 863 click- throughs to read the full story based on the version of the headline and the newsletter blurb written by the human vs. 806 for the machine. That gives me small comfort and a modicum sense of job security — for now. But the truth is, we didn’t even unleash the full power of Persado, which is really more than a machine – it’s a platform for analyzing, predicting, testing and refining marketing copy to improve its performance.

MAN VERSUS MACHINE

To do that properly, Persado actually recommends 32 versions of copy wordsmithed by powerful natural-language processing technology, coupled with a humongous database of years of results of winning advertising copy. Due to the limitations of our publishing framework, we couldn’t test all 32 versions — 33, if you throw in the one written by me — because, well, we’re only human. But the Persado team agreed to do it anyway, supplied us with all of Persado’s versions, and let us pick one to test. We selected the one we tested randomly, but you can see the 31 other versions at the end of this article.

In truth, Persado is a man/machine collaboration. It does not write copy in a vacuum, and usually starts with campaign copy created by people, which it then breaks down into their five most essential semantic elements — emotional, functional, descriptive, formatting and positioning — to determine which ones would work better. It draws on years of historical information in its database on which combinations of words have been proven to work the best, and then it creates 32 new variants that are tested in real-time to see which ones generate the greatest conversions to determine the perfect copy to be used as the basis of the actual campaign.

The human was quicker on the front-end of this process, but machines proved to be a lot faster on the back-end, because it then took me weeks to finish writing this entire story.

To understand why no human could process copy better than Persado, their executives pointed out that those 32 variants were generated from 4,194,304 possible combinations. I will admit, that is a lot more than I considered when writing this story.

One thing that did surprise me about the experiment was how differently a man and a machine can act in “real-time.” It took me about 20 minutes to draft the headline and lead paragraph you read on this story. It took Persado about a week to come up with the 32 variants seen below. Needless to say, the human was quicker on the front-end of this process, but machines proved to be a lot faster on the back-end, because it then took me weeks to finish writing this entire story, which if you read the editor’s letter preceding this article in MEDIA magazine, you’ll understand gave new meaning to the term “having a gun at your head.”

As I said, this is not the first time I’ve come across advertising, marketing and media technology developers who claim to have developed machines capable of doing what I do — maybe even better. Over the past several years, I have come across a number of “semantic engines” their developers claim can understand what our readers want to read — better than our editors can. And they claim they can do it in real-time. Some successful publishing models have begun incorporating such technologies into their framework, including companies like Demand Media, Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, and BuzzFeed, and appear to be winning at it. But the ones that seem to be doing the best job are the ones whose humans say they are only utilizing machine intelligence to augment what the human editors and writers instinctively think is best.

During MEDIA’s recent “Future of Media Forum” at New York University, BuzzFeed chief Jonah Peretti said as much, asserting that no content goes on BuzzFeed’s home page that wasn’t put their based on what some human thought other humans might most want to read, see or hear — whether it was a breaking news story of global significance or the most adorable viral kitten video being circulated that day. Once the content is uploaded, Peretti said, that’s when the machines start to kick in — optimizing readership in real-time and giving the editors and content masters the ability to play things in real-time, or even enabling their servers, feeds and emails to do it automatically.

That man/machine interaction makes good sense to me, because machines are much better at processing and parsing big volumes of data than humans. And we’re better at instinctively understanding the stories that people might want to read — so far.

MACHINE POWER

But as we all know, machine power is growing fast — and not just processing power, but the logic and even AI, that goes into them. Given enough time, media technologists say it is only a matter of time before the machines can do a better job of even that.

In fact, there are actually cases where machines have already replaced human writers at some well-regarded publications. About a year ago, I was introduced to one, the aptly named Narrative Science, at an event organized by Publicis’ VivaKi. Narrative Science began by mapping all of the key elements that the best human sportswriters put into an archetypal baseball story — stats, scores, on-field action — to produce an automated version of baseball game coverage they claim is as good as any human’s. They adapted that model to automate other forms of journalism, including stories about company quarterly earnings reports, and list Forbes magazine among the publishers that utilize their technology to automate their coverage.

I suppose that is a good thing, if it works, and if it works well, but I can’t help feeling nostalgic for people — people like me — whom I believe can still see the bigger story inherent in the stats, scores, earnings, and other elements the machines see only as data points weighted, parsed and organized based on some powerful learning algorithm.

For example, I utilized a first-person account about these technologies in the hope that it would humanize what I am writing about in a way that would mean other people could relate to it — whether you’re a writer, a planner or a marketer. One of the things that makes humans good at what we do is that we are actually human. And part of what makes us who we are is that we’re not all about logic. Sometimes the most important data our organic processors (our brains) process is emotional, unconscious and not something that could even be explained — much less programmed into a machine. In fact, neuroscientists estimate that as much as 98% of the information our brains process is not even things we are cognizant of. But they can have a profound effect on what we think and even how we behave.

Sometimes, I feel the people who build these machines —and certainly the people who fund the building of them — don’t always consider those effects. They look at the power of the machines and their ability to do some things better than people can, without understanding the consequences of the things they do not do as well — or even worse, the important things they displace.

During that VivaKi event I referred to, the agency held a panel discussion of some leading venture capitalists funding advertising and media technology start-ups. When moderator

VivaKi’s Rishad Tobaccowala asked one what he was looking for when he invested in those start-ups, I expected him to say something like “innovation,” or even “monetization,” “profits,” or dare I suggest, “return on equity.” Instead, he gave a one-word reply: “Disruption.”

PERSADO’S TURN

The Persado variant that went randomly to half our subscribers was:

Headline: This Article Was Generated By A Machine
Lead: Check this out: you are about to read a story that was probably created by a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to its creators, write better than humans, including myself. Are they right? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then this experiment is successful. So this human is soon getting fired.

The other 31 Persado variants included:

Headline: This Article Was Generated By A Machine — That's Not A Joke

Lead: Dear reader, you are about to read a story that was probably created by a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write a more effective text than humans. Are they right? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then I guess machines win over humans. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: 16 Million Different Ways To Sell Something... And This Could Cost Me My Job

Lead: You are about to read a story that was probably created by an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to its creators, write a more effective text than humans. Could it be true? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then I guess machines win over humans. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: 16 Million Different Ways To Sell Something — Or, How Language Meets Math

Lead: I never thought I would say this, but you are about to read a story that was probably created by an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write better than humans, including myself. Could it be true? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then this experiment is successful. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: They've Cracked Creativity

Lead: I never thought I would say this, but you just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to its creators, write a more effective text than humans. Could it be true? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then this experiment is successful. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: They've Cracked Creativity — That's Not A Joke

Lead: You just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write better than humans, including myself. Could it be true? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then I guess machines win over humans. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: Words Have Secret Powers... And This Could Cost Me My Job

Lead: Dear reader, you just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to its creators, write better than humans, including myself. Are they right? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then I guess machines win over humans. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: Words Have Secret Powers — Or, How Language Meets Math

Lead: Check this out: you just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write a more effective text than humans. Are they right? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then this experiment is successful. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: Exclusive: This Article Was Generated By A Machine... And This Could Cost Me My Job

Lead: You are about to read a story that was probably created by an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write better than humans, including myself. Are they right? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then this experiment is successful. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: Exclusive: This Article Was Generated By A Machine — Or, How Language Meets Math

Lead: I never thought I would say this, but you are about to read a story that was probably created by an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to its creators, write a more effective text than humans. Are they right? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then I guess machines win over humans. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: Exclusive: 16 Million Different Ways To Sell Something

Lead: Check this out: you are about to read a story that was probably created by a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write a more effective text than humans. Could it be true? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then I guess machines win over humans. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: Exclusive: 16 Million Different Ways To Sell Something — That's Not A Joke

Lead: Dear reader, you are about to read a story that was probably created by a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to its creators, write better than humans, including myself. Could it be true? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then this experiment is successful. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: Exclusive: They've Cracked Creativity... And This Could Cost Me My Job

Lead: Dear reader, you just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write a more effective text than humans. Could it be true? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then this experiment is successful. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: Exclusive: They've Cracked Creativity — Or, How Language Meets Math

Lead: Check this out: you just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to its creators, write better than humans, including myself. Could it be true? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then I guess machines win over humans. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: Exclusive: Words Have Secret Powers

Lead: I never thought I would say this, but you just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write better than humans, including myself. Are they right? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then I guess machines win over humans. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: Exclusive: Words Have Secret Powers — That's Not A Joke

Lead: You just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to its creators, write a more effective text than humans. Are they right? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then this experiment is successful. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: Must-read: This Article Was Generated By A Machine... And This Could Cost Me My Job

Lead: Check this out: you just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to its creators, write a more effective text than humans, including myself. Could it be true? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then I guess machines win over humans. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: Must-read: This Article Was Generated By A Machine — Or, How Language Meets Math

Lead: Dear reader, you just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write better than humans. Could it be true? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then this experiment is successful. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: Must-read: 16 Million Different Ways To Sell Something

Lead: You just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to its creators, write better than humans. Are they right? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then this experiment is successful. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: Must-read: 16 Million Different Ways To Sell Something — That's Not A Joke

Lead: I never thought I would say this, but you just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write a more effective text than humans, including myself. Are they right? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then I guess machines win over humans. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: Must-read: They've Cracked Creativity... And This Could Cost Me My Job

Lead: I never thought I would say this, but you are about to read a story that was probably created by a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to its creators, write better than humans. Are they right? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then I guess machines win over humans. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: Must-read: They've Cracked Creativity — Or, How Language Meets Math

Lead: You are about to read a story that was probably created by a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write a more effective text than humans, including myself. Are they right? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then this experiment is successful. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: Must-read: Words Have Secret Powers

Lead: Dear reader, you are about to read a story that was probably created by an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to its creators, write a more effective text than humans, including myself. Could it be true? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then this experiment is successful. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: Must-read: Words Have Secret Powers — That's Not A Joke

Lead: Check this out: you are about to read a story that was probably created by an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write better than humans. Could it be true? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then I guess machines win over humans. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: The Power Of Emotions: This Article Was Generated By A Machine

Lead: You just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write a more effective text than humans, including myself. Could it be true? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then I guess machines win over humans. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: The Power Of Emotions: This Article Was Generated By A Machine — That's Not A Joke

Lead: I never thought I would say this, but you just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to its creators, write better than humans. Could it be true? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then this experiment is successful. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: The Power Of Emotions: 16 Million Different Ways To Sell Something... And This Could Cost Me My Job

Lead: Check this out: you just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write better than humans. Are they right? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then this experiment is successful. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: The Power Of Emotions: 16 Million Different Ways To Sell Something — Or, How Language Meets Math

Lead: Dear reader, you just got randomly selected to be part of an experiment: it's me vs. a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to its creators, write a more effective text than humans, including myself. Are they right? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then I guess machines win over humans. So this human is soon getting fired.

Headline: The Power Of Emotions: They've Cracked Creativity

Lead: Dear reader, you are about to read a story that was probably created by an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write better than humans. Are they right? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then I guess machines win over humans. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: The Power Of Emotions: They've Cracked Creativity — That's Not A Joke

Lead: Check this out: you are about to read a story that was probably created by an algorithm — an algorithm that can allegedly, according to its creators, write a more effective text than humans, including myself. Are they right? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then this experiment is successful. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: The Power Of Emotions: Words Have Secret Powers... And This Could Cost Me My Job

Lead: I never thought I would say this, but you are about to read a story that was probably created by a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to the company that built it, write a more effective text than humans, including myself. Could it be true? Well, if the text you are currently reading was indeed generated by their technology, then this experiment is successful. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Headline: The Power Of Emotions: Words Have Secret Powers — Or, How Language Meets Math

Lead: You are about to read a story that was probably created by a machine — a machine that can allegedly, according to its creators, write better than humans. Could it be true? Well, if the words you're reading right now are indeed among the ones their algorithm created, then I guess machines win over humans. And I probably need to start looking for a job.

Photo by JJ Mack, inset robot images by shutterstock.com 

Why You Should Be An Optimist

A Conversation With VivaKi Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer Rishad Tobaccowala Editor

As one of the few people on Madison Avenue who seem to have a solid foot in it, what can you tell us about the future of media?

Four big trends to the way that media gets planned, bought and measured.

a) Audiences/people become what marketers increasingly value versus program/title or property. The move will be from buying/ planning media to finding and engaging audiences.

This rise in addressable skills will drive a significant rise in addressable programmatic across glass (or screens).

b) Content (creative), media and technology will increasingly blur with technology and content distribution/storytelling skills being differentiating advantages.

c) We will continue to live in a hybrid world (analog and digital) but more and more electronic media will be Internet Protocol-delivered and be about re-aggregating audiences on one into larger audiences rather than segmenting mass audiences into smaller audiences since online is really about audiences of one.

d) The Clout of data/intelligence will join the Clout of scale (both will be important).

Knowing what you know, what's the thing that keeps you up most at night?

How to ensure we have the talent and the organizational structures to thrive in this world where data and technology will join storytelling and insights as a key to success. How to remain relevant to clients whose business models are under threat. How to create new business models in a world where selling people by the hour is going to be increasingly difficult. And how to stay on the right side of the three women in my life (my wife and two grown up daughters) who wonder if I am cool enough for them.

And what's the thing that makes you most optimistic about the future of media?

Marketing and media is a huge growth industry. As people grow more empowered we have to learn how to meet their requirements better and this takes empowered marketing. Here at Publicis we say our client will need "empowered marketing for an empowered age." Marketing will be a big difference.

Technology is allowing for entire swaths of the economy -- from commerce to content -- to become digitized and is creating opportunities for marketing and media. Digital did not kill the advertising star but re-invented her. We are less and less in a share game and more in a growth game.

Knowing what you know, would you want your kids to follow your footsteps into advertising? Media?

Yes but I would point them in the direction of companies that are digital first or “get” digital. Our older daughter works closely with advertising and marketing, but at Google. Our younger daughter has just graduated and moved to New York to look for a job and I am pointing her to all sorts of advertising firms (non-Publicis due to potential conflict of interest), including my friends at WPP and Interpublic, and marketing departments and advertising groups in digitally savvy industries.

SOLVING UNMET NEED

When you look back at past predictions about the future of media what do you think is the one thing people got the most wrong?

Most of us thought too narrowly and short term. That this was only about digital media or advertising versus that it was about digital marketing or a hybrid form of digital/analog marketing. That stories and brands would grow even more powerful and important despite mass media growing less important.

Twenty years after I started in digital the only Industry that has shrunk significantly in media is newspapers, while new industries -- from online video streaming to social networks to interactive out-of-home display (like Gas Station TV) -- have been created.

On the flipside, what was the most prescient thing?

Video would always be very powerful. We called it television.

About a year or so ago, you moderated a panel in which you asked some VCs what the No. 1 thing was that they looked for in a venture they were investing in. And one of them gave you a one word response: "Disruption." What does that say about the future of media, when the people who are funding it just want to disrupt it?

Most Venture capitalists understand business models but they do not understand marketing and media. They have invested in disruption of media and most of them have come up with a pile of losses versus gains. Look at my friend Terry Kawaja’s Lumascape and the fact that more money has gone into ad tech in the last few years with almost nothing to show for it.

Our Industry is so full of insecure folks that we let them get away with this constant insulting of us. We are not as stupid as people think we are, thank you.

All the VCs want to have the next big Google or Facebook. If so, think? Google and Facebook and soon hopefully Twitter were not funded to disrupt shit. They were funded to allow people to discover new ways to find things, connect with friends and express themselves. Solve an unmet need versus disrupting shit! 

This Article Knows You Want to Read It

Precognitive targeting technologies know so much about you, they can anticipate what you will need.

“What do I want?”

Sometimes it’s an incredibly hard question to answer. Whether deciding where to get dinner, what smartphone to buy, or even which route to take to work, these questions add up fast.

Ask any shopper marketer to describe the modern shopper, and I guarantee one word they use is “empowered.” Because collectively, we are. We have the same access to information as experts, and have that access at any moment. But with great empowerment comes great responsibility, and the decision-making process has become significantly more complex over the past few years.

It’s a numbers game. According to Google’s “Zero Moment of Truth” research, the number of sources shoppers use in making a decision to purchase, across all product categories, doubled from 2010 to 2011, from 5.2 to 10.4. For everything from lightbulbs to cars, we’re doing a lot more research before we commit.

But it’s made decision-making overwhelming. As the film “The Legend of 1900” so succinctly put it: “Give me 88 keys on a piano and I can play an infinite amount of music. Give me an infinite number of keys and I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

There’s hope though...

GOOGLE NOW “Google Now” enables the search giant to predict the information we need before we even know we need it, never mind knowing to ask for it.


The most promising thing Google is working on is something, ironically, few people know about. Google Now is the search giant’s take on trying to predict the information we need before we even know we need it, never mind even knowing to ask for it.

Initially included in Android 4.1, it’s now available for both Android and iOS, and is rumored to be headed to the Chrome browser. The best way to describe what Google Now does is to give an actual example.

Say you use Google Calendar to track your meetings, and set up a lunch meeting tomorrow at a nearby restaurant. Tomorrow morning, your phone will alert you, letting you know what time you have to leave to get there on time given current traffic conditions and your current location. And this happens without you needing to set anything up. It’s really neat, and when it works well, it works like magic.

They’ve expanded the service to track airline confirmations in Gmail to keep you informed about flight delays, package tracking information for purchases on Amazon, directions for recent searches for local businesses, etc. And they’re going to be opening up the platform soon for marketers.

The potential here for marketing is massive. As the program has yet to launch, the full performance of Google Now-powered ads is purely speculative, but we can look to a past related case study for reference.

Google Flu Trends was a Google program used to track instances of the flu based on search queries for symptoms or other correlated search data. It was used to figure out where outbreaks were about to happen, even before they actually happened. It was 96% as accurate as the CDC’s own data, but could spot outbreaks two weeks earlier. Kleenex very cleverly partnered with Google to use this data to inform local ad spend. With the program in place, their year-over- year sales increased 40%.

PRECOGNITIVE MARKETING

The basics of precognitive marketing are simple: first you use ‘Big Data’ to create a map of contextual actions and rules for responses, a ‘context map.’ With that map in hand, you then just have to constantly listen for behaviors on the map, and have to have constant access to users to show them the relevant data.

The first part is easy - data-gathering and analysis tools have been a major growth sector recently. We can cut, slice, and dice data any which way. It’s the second part that’s near impossible.

John Ross, former founder and CEO of Interpublic’s Shopper Sciences and now executive vice president at Inmar and president of Inmar Analytics, highlights the issue:

“The value of anticipatory marketing is massive, but the gap is much wider than people think. While ‘Big Data’ has existed for years - retailers have used this data to do precognitive optimization on store layout and loyalty offers - when trying to do it in real-time, by the time the data shows up in the system, unless you know the complete timing of what’s happened so far, you’re bound to get it wrong.”

“It’s much like calling up an automated helpline,” he continues. “You already rebooted your router, and tried a dozen other things, but the automated prompt makes you go through it all again. Then when you actually get on the phone with someone, they have you go over the same steps a third time. Without both the behavioral data and the purchase data, for both online and offline actions, the utility will have a hard time matching the promise.”

Indeed, while the industry has had a great deal of success in data-mining both behavioral and purchase data after the fact, the challenge of stepping into a real-time decision-making process faces serious challenges from the threat of having “missed something.”

Anecdotally, a great example of this process gone wrong was my lone product recommendation from Google Now - a piece of software I’d been researching months before was about to be released for Macs, and Google Now suggested I might be interested in it (presumably because I use a Mac). What they didn’t realize was that I’d already bought the software for my PC months earlier in an offline purchase.

However, if we take a step back and look at the data streams that would need to be tapped into to make this work as intended, of all the possible players, Google comes out on top. They have the most popular search engine, the most popular email service, the most popular video-sharing service, the most popular browser, and the most popular mobile operating system.

Google’s giant net pulls in email product purchase receipts, constant geolocation, search and email contents, and every web page visited. And they have the ability to insert relevant messaging into every single one of those platforms. If Google is successful with its Wallet offering, it will be able to close the loop on offline purchases as well.

Facebook may have social data in droves, but when it comes to transactional behavior, Google has its finger on the consumer’s pulse in a way that would even make the NSA jealous.

AN OVERLOOKED OPTION

The basics of precognitive targeting are simple: Use Big Data to create a map of contextual actions and rules for responding, then just sit back and wait for behaviors to happen.

The basics of precognitive targeting are simple: Use Big Data to create a map of contextual actions and rules for responding, then just sit back and wait for behaviors to happen.

For brands that want to play with the concepts of precognitive marketing, but don’t want to wait for Google to fully open up the floodgates on Google Now, there is an option in the technology that is most overlooked by brands in their digital marketing toolbox: the browser extension.

Browser extensions can hook into all the data that takes place on Web pages a user visits, and most importantly, can modify those pages. Want to highlight your search results on Google? No problem. Put your logo on your competitor’s site? Yep, that’s fine. As long as you build enough value to get users to install it, you can do whatever you want.

The best example of precognitive marketing or shopper empowerment in a browser extension that I’ve seen is the company InvisibleHand, whose browser extension shows a small bar at the top of the page for any product listing, and searches the product’s price across 26 other online retailers, alerting you if it’s cheaper elsewhere. And it does this automatically.

Whether Google Now or a home brewed browser extension, the future of marketing is poised to make the decision making process much easier, by making the decisions we’d eventually make anyways. 

The Pay-Per-Gaze Model

Pupil dilation gauging your emotional response as you gaze at ads through Google Glass. Can anything get creepier than this? Business Development Manager

Well, this is the question most of us have in our minds as we get exposed to this sensational news — “Google Patents 'Pay-Per-Gaze' Gaze Tracking System.” By the time you get active trying to figure out what the revolutionary technology from the Google Glass creator is all about, you indeed might have found your pupils dilated by now. So what actually is this ‘gaze tracking patent’ all about?

Google Inc. filed the patent (US 8510166 B2) Gaze Tracking System application at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), two years ago in May 2011:

Pay per gaze advertising need not be limited to on-line advertisements, but rather can be extended to conventional advertisement media including billboards, magazines, newspapers, and other forms of conventional print media. Thus, the gaze tracking system described herein offers a mechanism to track and bill offline advertisements in the manner similar to popular online advertisement schemes.

Google urges that its idea for filing such patent is intended to track eye movement and measure how long a person looks at an advertisement, besides interpreting their emotional response based on pupil dilation.

However, Google this time chose to play safe, rather than be caught in controversies and allegations regarding privacy invasion – by noting that users can opt out of "pay- per-gaze" tracking and data will be presumed anonymous.

Google is all set to cash in on ‘gaze tracking’ technology for its online as well as offline advertising strategy using more sophisticated devices similar to Google Glass. Google decodes it strategy promising better ROI for advertisers:

Advertisers as you all know spend a large part of their advertising budget on banners, online and offline product promotion, branding, etc. However, is the return of investment measureable? Well, it can be either Yes or No? While online advertisements can be tracked with clicks, there are hardly any ways to measure whether anyone’s looking at the advertisements on billboards, magazines, newspapers, and other forms of conventional print media.

Not only will it enable advertisers to track a consumer’s gaze across a screen, it will also help gauge their “emotional response” in real-time.

As advertisers constantly look for ways to understand consumer requirements, so as to help target their ads more effectively; the ‘gaze tracking technology’ will indeed prove to be a technological breakthrough. Not only will it make the advertiser capable of tracking a consumer's gaze across a screen, but also will help gauge the ‘emotional response’, which would tentatively help them target their ad based on a consumer's behavior.

As Google mentions in its Gaze Tracking System patent:

“It is a method where you are receiving scene images from a head mounted gaze tracking device capturing external scenes viewed by a user wearing the head mounted device, the scene images received at a server via a network.”

So, is Google hinting at Google Glass?

The very first thing that strikes your mind when your read ’pay-per-gaze’ is pay-per-click (PPC). So the next obvious question is definitely, “Is Pay-Per-Gaze the next PPC?” Well, similar to PPC advertising technique that rules the internet, Google’s new patent ‘pay-per-gaze’ would register whether a consumer has looked at an advertisement and for how long.

RAPID BRAND MOVEMENT

It would also track your eye movement, which will help an advertiser know and understand the next brand which the consumer has moved on to – empowering them to analyze and improve their advertising/marketing strategy.

Moreover, the ability to interpret a consumer’s emotional response by tracking pupil dilation is an added advantage, giving advertisers an insight into the reaction sparked by their ads.

As per the ‘pay-per-gaze’ advertising technique, (as shared by Google in a patent application posted on the USPTO website) it would charge advertisers based upon whether a user ‘actually viewed their advertisement’ and perhaps cost would differ based on ‘how long’ the ad was viewed.

It will also track your eye movement, enabling advertisers to know and understand the last brand and the next brand you looked at.

There is also a buzz that a ‘premium fee’ could be fixed for charging advertiser willing to know the emotional response generated viewing the advertisement. Google insists that this revolutionary technology could open up an entirely new dimension for business’s advertising strategy as it promises to provide “reliable, low cost, and discreet gaze tracking system” that could effectively have a variety of useful everyday applications.

As we all know, Google's revenue mainly comes from online advertising; but the internet’s Big Brother seems all set to be ready to foray into ‘real’ world business with Google Glass (a be made available by end-2013) and now ‘Pay-Per-Gaze’ patent.

Eye-tracking technology has for long been there, but has never been introduced for mainstream applications. Google is always known to have gained by being a first-mover in the internet world and by obtaining patent for implementing its gaze tracking technology in advertising, it is set to be the first to tap into commercial opportunities from eye-tracking technologies.

Analysts are optimistic that ‘pay-per-gaze’ concept will open up new advertising opportunities in the industry with approximately $500 billion in expected annual revenues. However, there has also been apprehension from certain quarters of the media and industry regarding the efficacy of an ad campaign, sans the availability of ‘choice’ for users in device selection. Because, it is believed that in the eventuality of the gaze tracking system patent falls short of being applied to more devices, the data gathered might fail to give an accurate analysis.

The announcement of Google’s new Gaze Tracking System patent has open up a Pandora’s Box of concerns – mainly related to user privacy. The one concern that remained intact throughout media clippings across the internet seems to be “the apprehension of Google creeping in with a technology that would monitor his/her emotional state”.

Google is privy to the concerns and has already address the issue as stated in the patent:

To protect individual privacy, personal identifying data may be removed from the data and provided to the advertisers as anonymous analytics. In one embodiment, users may be given opt-in or opt-out privileges to control the type of data being gathered, when the data is being gathered, or how the gathered data may be used or with whom it may be shared. Furthermore, individually identifying data maybe encrypted for communication to further protect individual privacy.

This means, you as a user will also be made cognizant to set controls on the type of data gathered about them – when data is gathered, how data is gathered or with whom the data may be shared. Let me share a few other questions raised that remains to be answered:

Should you compromise your privacy at the cost of better ads (or say better product/ service) an advertiser would offer after gauging your emotional response?

Would you pay say $1500 (as Google Glass) to get yourself monitored? What if it came free, and mandatory, would it be beneficial for industry or the society in general?

Will Google’s ‘Gaze Track System’ be able to provide accurate data in interpreting emotional response involving pupil dilation as there is every possibility that external factors like light or sound will affect the reactions. Is this otherwise ‘lab technology’ actually feasible in a real-world environment? Is Google listening?

Nilay Dhamsania is a Business Development Manager at VITEB, an India based web design company that develops high-end web applications & mobile eCommerce solutions for global clientle. A visionary and a business strategist with a passion for Innovation,Nilay believes in ‘Nurturing the Relationships in Business’. His able leadership, hands-on business experience and cutting edge insights in technology makes your association with VITEB a synergistic experience.

Welcome To The Thingamajigernet

What happens when everything — from your fridge to your toilet — are all connected?

The nice real-estate lady made it the centerpiece of her pitch. Having been notified that my wife and I would likely buy whatever house had the most bitchin' kitchen, she led us around the otherwise unexceptional colonial in suburban Jer-Z in an elliptical manner. First we toured the basement, then we trod up two flights of stairs to see the bedrooms. Only then did the agent swing back downstairs to the main living space. It was clear that she'd planned some grand reveal.

That reveal, as reveals so often do, arrived in the form of an appliance. The agent inhaled deeply and meditatively before leading us into the kitchen. Upon entering, we were somewhat stunned to find that it resembled... a kitchen. There was a table. There was an island. There was tile.

The appliances, however, were another story. The house's original refrigerator had shuffled off this mortal coil a few months prior and the owner saw this as a sign from above - that not only should he replace all the other original appliances, but that he should install the shiniest, house- resale-value-enhancing-est ones on the market in their stead. And so it was, with fear in my eyes and lust in my heart, that I made the acquaintance of my first-ever Internet-enabled refrigerator.

The agent told us about the nigh-miraculous powers of this machine with the air of a schoolchild who'd just learned some mindblowing fact about the natural world ("trees are tall"). Thanks to bar-code scanning, the fridge would know exactly which products had sought solace in its frosty embrace. Via a series of beeps and/or boops, this particular model would alert us when we ran low on almond butter or Chipwiches. Its front-panel display would rain down photos stored in our Picasa cloud, throwing in a bunch of recipes and weather forecasts for good measure.

I couldn't have been more impressed. I envisioned myself evaluating casserole options with one hand while the other was knuckle-deep in Jif. I envisioned my children growing up secure in their knowledge that what their parents couldn't give in attention and affection, they could give in expertly chilled pudding pops.

And yet with a single subtly arched eyebrow I knew that my wife had reached the same conclusion that I had: that we would have as much use for these features as we would for a turbine-propelled DVR. Eventually we bought another house, one with functional if unexciting technologies and a refrigerator that might most aptly be described as "cold food box."

DRINKING THE WEB-CONNECTED KOOLAID

This is probably why I haven't yet punched my ticket for the Internet Things bandwagon, currently being piloted by the networking facilitators at Cisco Systems. In a recent press release, Cisco estimated that there are now 1.5 trillion things in the world. Of these 1.5 trillion things, 8.7 billion are connected to the Internet. Furthermore, Cisco expects that, by 2020, 50 billion things will be connected to the Internet.

Never mind how Cisco happened upon the 1.5-trillion-thing figure; I'm guessing the company didn't send thousands of khaki-clad minions all over the globe, with instructions not to return until they had conducted a statistically rigorous sampling program. And who knows, maybe the 50-billion figure is low, or high. The whole thing feels like a provocative premise aired chiefly to generate social-media comment.

I envisioned my children growing up secure in their knowledge that what their parents lacked in attention and affection, we would give in expertly chilled pudding pops.

And yet here I am, fresh off a, uh, gastrointestinal jam session in which I found myself pondering the notion of an Internet-enabled toilet. Frankly, I think one of those would make at least as much sense, if not more, than an Internet-linked refrigerator. In theory, you could implant toilets with chip-tech doohickeys that would connect with the Internet to monitor and optimize water flow. Think of the potential return in terms of energy efficiency.

Cisco's own example is of a more utilitarian sort. In an Internet of Things "visualization" on its web site, the company envisions an alarm clock that, owing to its all-knowing and all-seeing connectedness, can adjust wake-up times to account for every immediate contingency: a postponed meeting, traffic on the usual route to work, etc. In turn, the alarm clock would send an urgent "yo!" across to the coffee maker, which would activate earlier or later depending on the particular schedule adjustment. Then either the alarm clock or the coffee maker would consort with some or other product that is monitoring the weather, then cyber-yell down the stairs to the car and instruct it to crank up the A/C (or melt the snow, or defog that which demands defogging) in advance of the driver's entry.

A SMARTPHONE FOR YOUR FACE

All of this will link up, in and/or around to Google Glass ("the hands-free smart phone for your face"), sending screen-free moments to the same fate as the manatee. This might be too much for some people, even ones who belong to Internet-era generations.

Me, I'm no Luddite. I dig technology, because it allows me to follow baseball scores during funerals. I just wonder if, personally, I need any or all of this.

I’m no Luddite. I dig technology, because it allows me to follow baseball scores at funerals. I just wonder if I need any or all of this?

I find myself suitably informed and coordinated as is; most of my inconveniences are self- inflicted (cue video of LD walking into the ocean with his phone in his bathing-suit pocket). That said: It all sounds way cool, don't it? Whether or not I avail myself of ovens that can mind-meld with microwavable Chef Boyardee containers, I can't wait to see how the science comes together.

Not everyone will agree. A trusted source in the media business - fine, this guy I know, I think his name is Josh or Jon or something - told me yesterday that Pandora is racing to ink deals with appliance manufacturers. Because really, there isn't a single dishwasher cycle that wouldn't be enhanced by a thumping backbeat, or perhaps a few delicate harp arpeggios. If true, this opens up a door that nobody believed needed opening. Which is fine. Hey, 12 years ago, nobody was demanding to watch live sporting events on their five-inch phone screens, either.

"Thunder Road" during the extra rinse and refrigerators that will alert me when the beer count descends into the low single-digits? Dystopian visions of the future have never felt quite so benignly nerdy. 

The Games People Will Play

It’s the console’s last stand as gaming goes to the clouds, into Kickstarter — and even your mind.

When looking to the future of media, there’s always a great deal happening to move the needle, and yet, in the short term, things really don’t feel like they’ve changed much. It’s a progress treadmill of sorts. Something like the shift from using DVRs to using Netflix is a massive leap behind the scenes, but the consumer experience seems elatively unchanged.

Major transitions, like going from photographs to moving pictures, from personal computing to the Internet, or from stacks of CDs to the iPod - these game-changing moments are far less frequent.

But we’re about to see another one.

The video game industry currently sits in a pressure cooker of several media and technology trends that are creating the perfect storm for both rapid innovation and empire-shattering disruption. From new consoles to mobile consolidation, the cloud and digital distribution, to futuristic virtual reality - this is a space worth watching closely, because the winning trends in video games will move on to conquer the rest of the media landscape.

THE LAST-GEN CONSOLES?

This fall, the next generation of game consoles launches with the release of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It’s been eight years since the last generation of consoles, and the promise of a new bar being set has the industry abuzz.

But while these new releases will absolutely usher in fresh game experiences, the increase is only an incremental one, and nothing like the jump from 2D to 3D (three generations ago), or even from SD to HD (last generation).

The video game industry currently sits at a perfect storm of media and technology trends that are sparking innovation and empire-shattering disruption.

This is the first generation of consoles that is launching with graphical capabilities less powerful than the top-notch gaming PCs available (which are currently ~3x better, according to data from nVidia). In the case of the Xbox One, Microsoft even cut back significantly on the hardware capabilities as compared to the PS4, opting to focus on the Kinect’s motion gaming and integrated TV experiences to try and differentiate its console.

There are important technical developments in the new consoles (unified memory is going to be a big deal), but the acceleration of capabilities in mobile hardware and the developments in cloud gaming make a strong case for this generation being the last for specialized gaming hardware.

CLOUD GAMING

In looking at the threats to the console business model, one should first look to the clouds. Or rather, the cloud.

Cloud gaming has a lot of moving pieces that sound like a lot of work. With a cloud-based game, a user controls the game at home, the controls are sent to a server running the game on the Internet, the game is rendered to video, and the video is streamed back to the user at
home . In fact, a lot can go wrong if even one piece of the puzzle falls out of place, with poor response times, stuttering video, or other issues.

But when it goes right, cloud gaming offers a lot of promise. Rather than having to depend on the capabilities of the hardware you own, you can rely on central infrastructure that is much easier to upgrade. As a result, waiting eight years for better graphics or more realistic gameplay is a thing of the past, and the highest quality games can be available even on a smartphone.

It becomes particularly interesting with Sony buying Gaikai, a cloud gaming provider. PS4 gamers can play over the Internet using their handheld PS Vita devices. But technically there’s no reason they couldn’t play on their iPad, or any other device. And technically there’s no reason they need to own the PS4 to begin with.

If Sony gets the technology kinks worked out over the lifetime of the PS4, the PS5 could well be a “cloud-based console” only, with games available on any device with Bluetooth and an Internet connection.

MOBILE GAMING

At the rate smartphones are improving, they may exceed the requirements of the next- gen gaming paltforms before a new generation is needed.

While cloud gaming makes a lot of sense for devices that aren’t capable of running high-quality games on their own, at the rate smartphones are improving, they may exceed the requirements of next-gen gaming well before a new generation is needed.

With offerings like Airplay, Miracast, or Google’s Chromecast on the market, the promise of a phone powering the TV “set-top box” experience is set to become the standard. Add in a wireless controller, and playing games in the living room is a forgone conclusion.

We’ll see cloud-based offerings initially bringing mass-market “core” gaming to mobile users, but within a few years they should end up holding their own without the cloud.

KICKSTARTER

The past decade has seen smaller game development companies selling themselves (due to increased game development costs and the subsequently increased risk of a failed title bankrupting them) to massive studios like Electronic Arts. It seemed like the Hollywood-style studio model was an inevitable shift for game developers.

But crowd-funder Kickstarter is greatly expanding options for indie game developers. The model works extremely well for gaming, as many gamers are already quite used to putting down reserve “pre-order” payments on games well ahead of an actual release date, and crowdfunding isn’t much different.

The current heavyweight in crowdfunded gaming is Star Citizen - a game that, much like many of the popular Kickstarter games, comes from a developer that had a successful title years ago and wants to create an updated “old school” game for fans and new gamers alike. To date, the project has raised $16 million in funding by gamers.

And the biggest shift for all of gaming (and possibly most media) has also come out of Kickstarter: The Oculus Rift.

THE OCULUS RIFT

Ever wished you could teleport somewhere? The beach. A Tuscan villa. Deep under the ocean. Outer Space. Well when users take off the Oculus Rift, that’s exactly the language they use: “It’s like I teleported back.”

The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset unlike anything yet seen. It started as a Kickstarter project that raised $2.6 million to create $300rdevelopment kits for game designers, and since then it has secured Series A funding of $16 million as the company prepares for a consumer model of the device.

Inside the goggles is a sensor that tracks where you turn your head. So once you’re inside this 3D world, looking around cements the feeling that you’re actually there.

It looks like a pair of ski goggles, and inside is a 5-inch screen with some lenses that warp the image for your eyes. Each eye gets a different image, which is critical. Because the lenses are right up at your eyes, the immersion of the 3D effect is far greater than anything most consumers have ever seen - much more than 3D TVs or 3D movies. In the Oculus Rift world, the scale of things matches up exactly to the scale of things in real life.

Inside the goggles is a sensor that tracks where you turn your head. So once you’re inside this 3D world, looking around cements the feeling that you’re actually there. The way it tricks your brain is really impossible to describe - it’s something that needs to be experienced. But searching YouTube for “Oculus Rift reactions” will reward you with agape mouths and screeches of delight (or terror, in the case of a roller coaster simulator).

In fact, it’s that idea of experience that’s most compelling with what’s coming from developers right now. At this stage, most users are less interested in goal-oriented experiences like traditional games, and more in pure experiential indulgence. In “Squish,” the user is put inside a room like the garbage compactor in “Star Wars,” where the walls move in until the user is crushed. Videos of people playing this have them involuntarily trying to become as slim as possible. In “Disunion,” the user looks out at an 18th century French crowd. In front of them is a basket. As they look up, they see the guillotine at the very moment the lever is pulled, and their head goes spinning to the floor.

While these experiences are quite compelling, maybe even unnerving, the most disruptive initially seems bland by comparison. In “VR Cinema,” users are set in a private movie theatre, with whatever video they want up on the screen, including 3D movies. With the Oculus, users are able to manifest whatever reality they wish - even replicating an IMAX theatre experience in a studio apartment, on a $300 device.

There are two limitations for the Oculus right now. One is that the screen resolution, because it covers a user’s entire field of view, has a long way to go until it becomes as sharp as HD screens look today. This will be somewhat improved on the consumer model (likely arriving next year), but there will be room to grow for a decade at least.

The other is that the goggles are just the display, and they need powerful hardware to run it, as any stuttering or delay can cause nausea by breaking the immersion. Currently it’s designed for gaming PCs, but for the mass market, more consumer-friendly hardware is needed. Looking forward, the Oculus team is developing software for mobile phones, but as resolutions scale up, the hardware needs increase exponentially, potentially faster than mobile can keep up.

Which is where Valve, the privately-owned game company behind the largest digital distribution center for PC games (Steam), comes in. They’ve recently become very involved with the Oculus team, porting their existing games to work in virtual reality. They have also been working on a console framework, the “Steam Box” for consumer-friendly PC gaming in console form-factor. Since the Oculus debut, the discussion about the Steam Box has quieted.

I suspect that next year Valve will be releasing the Steam Box concurrent with the consumer model of the Oculus Rift, and as the demands of virtual reality scale up, if it becomes popular (which anyone who has tried it believes it will), a future of dedicated game hardware will likely continue. The future of gaming is coming, and from the right vantage point -- or device -- you can even see it now. 

Out of the Box. Welcome to TV Everywhere

Welcome to TV everywhere, anywhere, and most significantly, anyone.

Inevitably, when asked to contemplate the future of television, one can’t help but briefly retreat into the past. What did television mean to us when we were kids, teens and young adults? What did it mean to our parents, our children and others in our lives? Anyone old enough to remember the pre-cable world no doubt feels a rush of nostalgia thinking about all of the simple good things television used to be.

Television isn’t going anywhere --- not in this lifetime, anyway – as it is more fully ingrained into our lives than ever before. And the overall quality of dramatic programming is arguably the best it has ever been. As content restrictions continue to ease and distribution options continue to multiply this once relatively sterile medium will continue to provide ever-more adult oriented entertainment along the lines of “The Good Wife,” “Breaking Bad,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Homeland” and “The Walking Dead.” But with so many viewing choices available at any moment – with everyone watching whatever they want whenever they want without interest in what anyone else is watching at that time – one shouldn’t expect the kind of mass emotional connection in the future that people currently have for the programs and events (and advertisements) they viewed in the past.

This dilution of collective lasting impact as television moves into the future will occur in large part because the separation of past and present will dissolve altogether. In effect, the medium will come to resemble a mass digital library or assemblage of libraries in which anything that has ever been will be available at anytime, anyplace, to anybody. But the shelves will have to be continuously stocked with new material if anyone is to make any money off any of it in the long- term. And the ever-increasing fees for the necessary library cards in whatever form they take might one day have people longing for the glory days of free TV, when hundreds of hours of entertainment were available every week to every American at no effort and no charge. (Of course, it’s worth noting that TV was never truly free. From the start it has been funded by advertisers who passed along to consumers all of the costs inherent in the production of television commercials and the overall promotion of their products.)

Dampening the electronic hearth

The very idea of free TV – when broadcast ruled -- already feels as distant as a thick daily newspaper. Of particular impact were the three decades when broadcast television achieved instant power and influence that seemed destined to last forever. It began in the Fifties when basic black and white television sets took the place of radios in living rooms across the land and became the electronic fireplaces around which families gathered together every night to watch entertainment programming appropriate for (if not interesting to) all ages; continued through the Sixties as color television sets began replacing their black and white predecessors and the three networks solidified their hold on the nation’s psyche, often with cheerfully mindless comedies and adventure shows; and soared through the Seventies, when those color televisions became ubiquitous, programming grew up and began to reflect the social concerns of the day and nobody paid much attention late in the decade to occasional reports of television being delivered in certain areas of the country by wires, knocking antennas off rooftops and extracting money from checking accounts to pay for something that had once been “free.”

That was many decades ago; so many, in fact, that by the time that amount of time passes again Millennials will be as old as some Baby Boomers are today. Millennials, the first generation with instant and unbridled access to information and entertainment, and yet one with no discernible interest in anything that happened before they came along, don’t understand the concept of television consistently bringing families and friends together for a shared physical experience – that is, the pleasures to be had in gathering together in person to enjoy a favorite program. (Just think about kids in the Sixties scampering to the home of a neighbor lucky enough to have a color TV to watch “Batman” or “Lost in Space”; or folks getting together on Saturday nights in the Seventies to watch CBS’ legendary comedy lineup; or the TV parties of the Eighties, when friends would assemble with pizza and beer to watch “Dallas” or “Dynasty.”) Rather, they know television as something to watch in their own physical space, often removed from the company of others or situated in such as way as to ignore those in their immediate environment, focused instead on their own screen or screens.

While watching television Millennials may be alone in the traditional sense, but they are often connected to one or more devices, communicating their reactions to what they are watching to friends via text or to the world at large via an ever-growing number of Web sites, portals and platforms. This will be the norm as they continue to age and begin raising children of their own. Broadcast and basic cable networks are doing everything they can think of to encourage this behavior. Some of them want viewers to become as involved as possible with their programs; others want people to think that they are intrinsically connected, even if they aren’t.

The younger the viewers the more readily they buy into this new approach to consuming television. That’s because Millennials are coming of age in a world when everyone is a critic, technology accelerates its own built-in obsolescence and, most significantly, people are expected to interact with what they are watching, sometimes going so far as to influence the outcome of a reality competition program or a scripted series. This unbridled interaction with and influence over television will gain ever-increasing momentum in the years to come, at least until it becomes annoying or “so early millennium.”

Body language

Media hipsters refer to this phenomenon of boundless involvement as the thrill of “leaning forward,” a concept utterly foreign to viewers of a certain age who associate watching television with the joy of “sitting back.” As technology continues to advance, perhaps faster and to a greater degree than anyone needs it to, viewers will likely be able to “sit back” and “lean forward” at the same time. Three-dimensional television is the beginning of this. Surround sound and, eventually, surround video projection will make it possible to fully immerse oneself in home entertainment to a degree that would not have been fathomable even ten years ago.

These particular advances, if they catch on, will necessitate producers taking an entirely new approach to program creation. The production challenges boggle the mind, but it’s the creative challenges that will change everything. Who would want to experience “Modern Family” or “New Girl” in 3-D or an even more immersive capacity? Kids might, especially those who have been weaned on physically, psychologically and emotionally absorbing video games and massively multiplayer platforms. Sport events and certain reality programs might benefit, as well as late-night sex shows on Showtime and Cinemax, but it would seem that scripted comedy and drama programs as we know them today would be lessened by these technological advances, in that they might prove too much for current format restrictions to bear. Some futurists believe that sitcoms and dramas as we know them will cease to exist in the decades to come, though nobody can say with any conviction what will replace them. Today it seems inconceivable that the short- form projects so popular on YouTube, Hulu and elsewhere will ever pose a significant threat to, let alone replace, longtime program models, but with attention spans shriveling like baloney in the sun the possibility cannot be dismissed.

Unless money becomes an object, which seems unlikely in the fifth year of a widespread recession that hasn’t stopped people from continuously buying new cell phones and laptops or from enjoying pricey cable and satellite programming packages, home entertainment will continue to expand well beyond the measurable need for it. In other words, there is already too much television for most people to consume, with much of it pushed off to some undefined future time when one might choose to binge his or her way through all those series he or she missed while busily watching other shows or dealing with the demands of their lives.

The first decade of this new millennium brought with it an exponential increase in the production of scripted and reality series on basic and pay cable television, with those two media enjoying sudden prestige as the providers of most of the best and most consistently rewarded programming during the last ten years. Concurrently, the broadcast networks have managed to hold their own and redefine expectations even as the mammoth audience they once served has continuously splintered away. But the second decade has brought sudden and dramatic new challenges to and increased competition for broadcast, basic cable and pay cable supremacy alike.

iProducer

When it comes to programming, suddenly everyone wants to get in on the act. Amazon has asked its customers and others to evaluate pilot presentations and help identify several that will become the first few series from Amazon Studios. (Amazon is attracting top talent, too. “X-Files” creator Chris Carter just came on board with a pilot project.) BitTorrent recently invited people to participate in the development of its first television program, beginning with an original bundle that is a pilot presentation for a new series and expanding via feedback from there. BitTorrent refers to this as “television by the people, for the people.” It would seem that program creators and developers, like painters, authors, composers, poets, digital game designers and other creative types, ought to be able to create and develop their product all on their own. Then again, consider the following: Logo recently ran the first season of a scripted series titled “DTLA” that was funded in part on Kickstarter by people interested in enjoying a gay-themed drama series not likely to be made by any network. Writer and producer Rob Thomas recently raised almost $6 million through a Kickstarter campaign to make a feature film continuation of his cult hit broadcast series “Veronica Mars.” So if ordinary citizens are beginning to supply the funding for the Hollywood entertainment of their choice, is it that much of a stretch to imagine them taking some degree of creative control over the projects they are keeping alive?

In a move that sounds almost traditional by comparison, Netflix has entered the original programming arena in a huge way, with prestige drama “House of Cards,” a fourth season of the broadcast cult favorite “Arrested Development” and one of the most talked about original series of 2013, “Orange is the New Black.” Full seasons of these shows (and others) have been dropped into the service in such a way as to generate huge media buzz, though Netflix does not make available ratings of any kind that might indicate exactly how successful they have been. Regardless, the publicity has been enormous. Overnight, Netflix is the new HBO, and it costs much less per month. Like so many basic and pay cable series before them, the Netflix shows are raising the bar in terms of audience expectation and changing the perception of what television can be in terms of overall quality, product delivery and viewing options.

The DVD market, on demand viewing options, Netflix and other alternative digital program providers have created a monster of sorts: An audience that demands instant access to just about anything it wants. There will be no returning that horse to the barn in the years to come; bingeing is bigger than ever, and a generation is coming of age with the expectation of viewing series in this manner. But listen closely and you might already hear random rumbles of discord among viewers who watch in bulk, especially those people who this summer hungrily devoured “Orange is the New Black.” Some of them are admitting to post-binge letdowns, wishing they had slowed down and savored each episode over several weeks or months rather than racing through them, and they are unhappy that they will have to wait a year or longer to continue enjoying the show.

Can it be that half the fun of television has been the wait from week to week for fresh episodes of favorite shows? Do people really want to treat full seasons of programs like 15- or 22-hour movies rather than experiences of extended engagement? It isn’t too far off the mark to imagine that in the years to come program providers like Netflix will seek to further sustain customer attachment by delivering seasons of their signature series in smaller groupings with a few months off in between the arrival of each.

At some point in the future this will be considered retro activity, but it circles back to the primary question that media in all forms must face: How much is too much? Television has taught us many things across the eight decades in which it has existed, but the insights it offers into our own behaviors and expectations have only just begun. Meanwhile, the changes that will continuously redefine it over the next ten years will likely eclipse everything that has happened since our grandparents first turned on “The Philco Television Playhouse.” 

Shift Happens, Prepare to be Disrupted

What Consumers Really Think About Media, Ten Years Later

One sunny Friday afternoon last March, I received a tweet. Though it was simple in form and short in message, it created an immediate shift in how I would experience the world going forward. The tweet was from Google’s Project Glass team and informed me that I was invited to join the beta tester program as a Glass Explorer. This immediately united me with the now more than 8,000 other Google Glass Explorers who are connected through a private community on Google+ where we share our collective adventures, experiences and thoughts about Glass at #throughglass. 

My lifelong passions are design and technology and I combine both to design spaces that connect people in meaningful ways. In fact, my company, Gustie Creative, is located in a technology incubator where I can easily access a 3D printer, chat with app developers about writing code and have dynamic brainstorming meetings with fellow entrepreneurs who work tirelessly to take their passions to the marketplace. People constantly ask me how I got Glass and as amazing as it sounds, I simply tweeted into the contest with “my pitch for #ifihadglass is to use Glass to design a Pop Up Store for Glass.” I think the potential for Glass to be used in the architectural and interior design fields is enormous and guess maybe Google does, too.

Looking back, my life has certainly changed from the way it was 10 years ago, when I appeared on the cover of Media Magazine holding a TV remote and gazing with a rather perplexed look at the lead headline, “What Consumers Really Think about Media. It’s Not Necessarily What Madison Avenue Thinks.” Yep, that’s me, “Karen Herman, Consumer.” Back then I worked from a home office, my phone was a Blackberry, I visited Blockbuster a few times a week to check out VHS tapes, used AOL for email and watched network TV.  I subscribed to the local newspaper, as well as, the New York Times and looked forward to walking to the bottom of the driveway each morning to collect them. I also subscribed to half a dozen magazines that arrived around the same time each month in the mailbox. In short, I was a typical “Consumer” and the story clearly highlighted the media that I, as well as most consumers, preferred to use.

But disruptions in media were starting to take place back then, with cable TV becoming the place for Emmy award programming and XM satellite radio stealing share from terrestrial stations. I quickly preferred both to their counterparts because they offered what I considered to be better television to watch and music with no commercials. And, of course, social media was growing in all directions. LinkedIn launched in 2003 and Facebook launched in 2004. Twitter was created in 2006 and started using hashtags in 2009. The rise of digital news channels along with online ad-supported news sites like The Huffington Post contributed to the decline of the traditional newspaper. While I still love the articles in magazines, now I’m more likely to read them on my iPad than to pick one up at the newsstand.

Glass Distinction

As for the newest creative disruption, I feel it will be Google Glass and other types of wearable computing. As part of the Explorer program, I am participating in a crowd-sourced social experiment to improve the product and make it ready to roll-out into the marketplace so I am experiencing firsthand the earliest stages of its potential. In my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined something so light and sleek could offer just about any information I am seeking so quickly, mostly though voice commands. “Glass is the next big platform for communications and computing,” according to Babak Parviz, one of the creators of Glass at Google. Glass tethers to my Galaxy S4 smartphone and data is transferred through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi so I can make and receive phone calls, send and receive text messages, search on Google, and use GPS to get directions. The prism screen display is the equivalent of a 25-inch high definition screen from eight feet away. I can take high quality pictures and record videos with audio. I can watch YouTube videos and listen through the bone conduction transducer.

When I put on Glass, a simple nod of my head activates the high resolution display screen while it sits at a very comfortable 27-degree angle above my right eye. It typically carries a charge for the entire day and even comes with sunshades to attach when I am out on a sunny day. I am finding that every day is a learning experience with Glass and I am integrating it even more into my daily routine. Each update brings improvements to its basic features and the opportunity for a deeper level of engagement from me.

What will the next ten years mean to consumers? Well, as so many people are asking me when they can buy Glass, I tend to believe it will be very popular when it rolls out into the marketplace. And when that takes place, Glass will bring a creative disruption that will touch every industry. My predictions are that showrooming, when consumers shop for product online while they are in-store, will grow even more and augmented reality that overlays text, video and audio over the physical environment just by looking at something through Glass will become commonplace. Language barriers will break down as people will have the equivalent of universal translators through Glass. And who knows where people in the medical fields will use Glass to improve their field of work. The possibilities are truly boundless. 

The Big Picture

Content Servers, Then and Now Editor

We may not think of them that way, but before the Internet — and certainly before the cloud — libraries were our original content servers. This image, a photocomposition of two very different kinds of “stacks” — the book shelves of the Library of Congress (above/left) and the computer servers of Google’s data center in Douglas County, GA (below/right) — makes that point in a visual way. Aside from having the word stack in common, they shared something else: a form of programming code for sorting, parsing and presenting information (remember the Dewey Decimal system?).Something they do not have in common, is bandwidth. There is only so much physical data you can store and distribute with a brick-and-mortar library, a point the team at cloud-serving giant Akamai like to point out, noting they now have the capacity to serve all the content of the Library of Congress in a few seconds.