Commentary

The Media World Will Never, Ever, Be The Same

There are no set paths, no "Four Easy Steps" for adjusting and embracing a world of change. Traditional media executives are often caught somewhere between the defensive crouch of protecting the old ways with every legal and regulatory tool at hand, to shrugging their shoulders with the hopes "it will all happen after I retire." And yet the history of almost every technological innovation in media, though cursed as the doom of what we knew and loved at the time, ended up being a new and golden opportunity for those who embraced change.

To embrace change starts with an ability to understand the world for what it is, and not what we think it is or hope that it will be. We know now that the way people consume, interact, share, view and communicate with information, entertainment and each other has changed forever. And four truths have emerged from the world of the Internet that, if organizations tailor their thinking, their organizations and their services accordingly, will open great worlds of opportunity and innovation.

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The first, over-arching and undeniable truth, from which all else follows, is that the individual matters most. The media industry (and most industries, in fact), have long paid at least lip service to "meeting the customer's needs." The difference now is that the individual has the technology to make it so. With powerful search and customization tools, the individual is the aggregator; he or she chooses what she wants, when and how she wants it, while any competition is one click away.

A second truth, which compounds the first, is that there are still 24 hours in the day. Individuals are bombarded with a myriad of information at an unprecedented level, so they are, by necessity, not only choosing what they want but proactively blocking that which is irrelevant.

A third truth is that the Internet is playing out fundamentally as a communication and transaction medium, and less of a narrative one. By communication, I mean not only the obvious e-mail/IM direction connections, but that the best destinations online are, in fact, communities that compare, contrast, share, debate and educate about the issues that bring audiences in the first place. Transaction is not limited to the classic Ebay/Amazon/Expedia/e-commerce-type buying and selling; users progressively handle all content as a transaction (for example, music -- I want this song or that; news -- I want this story here, that one from there; video -- I want not only the show I want but the PIECE of what was once "whole" content.)

The foundation of traditional media business models include one-stop shops with viewers lingering, browsing, reading, reflecting -- getting into the narrative of that experience (with almost no communication per se). The Internet is less about this and more about movement, speed and almost infinite communication opportunities. It certainly offers the opportunity to download/stream narrative content, and this will grow exponentially. But generally individuals spend little time on any one destination, and gather the pieces of information, entertainment, knowledge and communications from multiple destinations and synthesize their own "truth." Multi-player gaming has been the only unique broadband content experience which is, at least in a way, narrative. It is truly broadband in that it is extremely visually alluring and is all about interaction. But even here, overall, it is more about communication -- and the narrative is created by players' interactions with each other.

The fourth truth is that broadband (whether wired or eventually wireless) and expansive memory compounds the other three. Speed, visual experience, interactivity and the ability to receive, store and share nearly unlimited content have been the fundamental bottlenecks to exponential change in individual behaviors. These bottlenecks have nearly ceased to be of issue.

"Technological revolutions are most often overestimated in the short run, underestimated in the long run," science fiction writer Arthur C. Clark once said. The long run is here.

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