Media is a distinctly 20th century term that has expanded and evolved, while taking over an increasing proportion of our lives. Its power seems limitless in this consumer-driven age. Politicians are at its beckon call. Business leaders treat the media as carefully as they treat investors. Yet the media universe is changing - perhaps for ever.
Today media powers Facebook, Fox, Formula One, football and fashion. Digital media is the format du jour while experiential media seems almost passe. Print media has all but disappeared and the future is, well, changing.
Let's take a few steps back to re-examine this abstract term:
According to Oxford Languages media is defined as “the main means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing, and the internet) regarded collectively”.
Modern media comes in many different formats, including print media (books, magazines, newspapers), television, movies, video games, music, cell phones, various kinds of software, and the Internet. Each type of media involves both content, and also a device or object through which that content is delivered.
The word media is a plural form of the Latin word 'medium' meaning 'middle ground or intermediate'. Its usage as a word to describe newspapers, radio and other sources of information likely derives from the term 'mass media' which was a technical term used in the advertising industry from the 1920s on.
Social media has transformed the media industry over the last couple of decades - both directly and indirectly. Social media is computer-based technology that facilitates the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and information through the building of virtual networks and communities.
Up until this form of computer-driven media took over, the power lay in the hands of the media barons. Owners of movie studios, publishing companies, newspapers and magazines controlled our world view and that of the politicians and power players that helped define it. They made vast profits incubating and building titles, stories, shows and ads. Actors, singers, writers, journalists and presenters sat at the top of the pile.
Social media and the Internet have changed the game. Today Apple and Google are more like media companies than tech organisations. Amazon is following. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok are being forced to evolve toward media organisations as they chart a survival course through the endless claims of misinformation and fake news that are undermining their platforms. They have, though, learned that the purest form of gold on the Internet is ‘content’.
At the same time traditional media has been assailed by the Coronavirus crisis. Fewer people want to go to shops to buy magazines or newspapers and events, gigs and conferences have been stopped in their tracks.
And yet the currency of media - content - has exploded. Once the preserve of large media organisations and publishing labels, today content is produced by almost any company or individual, irrespective of industry or role. We are literally ALL content creators.
This has fuelled a growth in user-generated content and company driven media on a scale that we never really imagined. It leaves the traditional media brands and their newer technology platform competitors as gateways and middle men. Full circle back to the original definition of media.
Professional journalists working for big news providers have suffered. You could argue, somewhat controversially, that the New York Times is no less curator of other people's content than YouTube, Netflix or Facebook. The illustrious FT is almost exclusively driven by third party content provided by corporate press rooms and stock exchange indices.
So where does all of this go? Will we see the collapse of mainstream media and traditional media devices such as the TV, radio and print press? Will tomorrow's media conglomerates become digital platforms that offer up pay-per-someone-else’s-content?
We believe the future will be shaped by an ever increasing amount of independent content creation - independent film, TV, news, fashion etc hosted by large, branded, all-digital platforms.
The broadband-enabled mobile phones, tablets and laptops that have nurtured our desire to consume digital media have become increasingly powerful devices also capable of capturing and creating quality writing, photography, video and audio. This makes anyone that owns a mobile phone as capable of creating professional grade content as a CNN news room. The growing amount of artificial intelligence appearing in the devices means that high end photography, film and editing skills will become increasingly machine-driven - enabling yet more users to become creators. At the same time machine-based editing will enable media platforms to source and curate ever more content at scale.
As quality, professional content generation gets outsourced to the masses, these creators will get savvier about selling their outputs - whether to companies, media conglomerates or directly to the public via open-Web, subscription-enabled newsletter and content hosting websites such as Patreon, Substack, Revue or WordPress.
And while content generation gets fully democratized, Media-as-a-Service (MaaS) could open up a new set of opportunities. MaaS platforms will develop to enable content-rich companies to diversify their offerings and revenue streams. Magazines will become shop windows that seamlessly sell clothes, movies and gigs while museums and arts institutions digitize their artifacts and exhibitions, allowing us to visit them virtually.
Safari parks will become tomorrow's wildlife TV channels, offering not just video and photography, but gaming and virtual reality safaris. At the same time MaaS will enable McKinsey, Deloitte and Latham & Watkins to package and sell their premium content as a virtual consultancy solution or a packaged content approach. Taking them into the world of digital publishing, education and research.
Tomorrow's conference organisers will recognise that they can become a publisher and media company and not just an event organiser, with speakers and presenters their content creators and producers. Virtual round tables will seamlessly morph into virtual consultancy sessions or audience research groups. Once editorial tools become even more automated this ‘live’ content will auto-generate real-time packaged media.
As the environmental crisis is teaching us to better value nature's intangible assets, companies and individuals will learn to better value the content that they create. The continued democratization of content and the new opportunities presented by Media-as-a-Service will make for exciting times.
Whichever way you think about it, the media industry will look very different to the way it looks today. It’s just a matter of time.
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