Thursday, February 18, 2010


Traditional media brands and networks are playing catch-up with trends that have been in effect as a result of the Internet for several decades now. In particular, four distinct shifts in audience and consumer behavior have resulted from the influence of the Web and each should guide our thinking about media, marketing, content, and new technologies. These are:

1) Interactivity—audience members and consumers are called “users” with good reason in this medium where the expected experience is no longer the “lean-back” one of the television living room, but the “lean-forward” engagement of a user who expects to have a say and the ability to interact and manipulate his “personal” media environment

2) Personalization—from MySpace to the iPhone, digital media is now super-charged with the capability of incorporating the individual and personal—from branding and iconography to collaborative filtering, choice, and having options are the way of the digital world

3) Immediacy—the web offers the kind of instant gratification that can be addictive from enhanced shopping experiences a la Amazon’s “one-click” buy button to the streaming media of sites like and

4) Community—arguably the most compelling transformation wrought by the Web, the specialization of human experience is now capable of being channeled into affinities of every special interest imaginable where, through the power of networking, like-minded individuals can find each other by just a click-through in a search window

This last transformation is critical because of the way that community has now extended to social media and thereby, changed the very nature of what networks can produce virally. The advent of distributed computing over ten years ago is a tribute to the accelerated power of the networked individual. As part of its value proposition, any new network would have to offer the capability of accommodating and encouraging user generated content and feedback.

Additionally, the community aspect of building network presence should not be restricted to creating Facebook and MySpace pages—several cable networks, for example, have made investments in acquiring several online newsletters to aggregate communities of special interest in the arts, music, and culture, and to create cross-promotional programming opportunities for web content to be broadcast on television and vice versa.

The introduction of time shifting behavior through the use of PVRs and TIVO as well as VOD are all reflections of personalization and the ability of the user to interact with media on demand.

All of the above transformations caused a sea change shift in the nature of media distribution. From peer-to-peer and social network sharing to crowdsourcing and user generated content, the inmates are now running the asylum and distribution that was once in the hands of media companies is now being given a run for the money by game-changing “user distributors”. The trend toward distributed authority of the flat organizational model where decision-making authority is at the edge is just one corporate reaction to this new empowerment of the individual and what Malcolm Gladwell calls “outliers.” Even savvy brands like Amazon have been caught up in the grassfire of a negative blogging campaign, hence, the evolution of the corporate blog as pre-emptive brand strategy.

While conventional wisdom proclaims that the dominant forces that will transform media will come from the introduction of new technologies and changes in the means of distribution, the most powerful transformative agent of change will be a coming generational shift. First signs of such a shift were evident in the advent of multi-tasking and new television formats such as MTV’s experiments with three ten-minute segments making up a half-hour show as well as Nickelodeon’s innovating a programming wheel of five cartoons within a half-hour block of a single show. The shift from the large plasma and HD screen digital surround sound of the home movie theater to the small screen and mp3 of the web and mobile phone are another sign of differing generational appetites in the consumption of media.

The power of web video is also a reflection of how different generations are utilizing media. Six billion videos were viewed on YouTube in January, 2009. Twenty hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Between 150,000 and 200,000 videos are uploaded daily. The growth of short-form video viewing answers a seemingly insatiable appetite among younger audiences for entertainment. The challenge facing traditional long-form and series is that the new viewer is a non-sequential consumer who is apparently less interested in these kind of formats than in instant gratification of what’s hot right now and it does not have to be scripted, professionally produced “broadcast quality”.

There is also a short-form video revolution going on. The single-most influential trend influencing the creation of content is the evolving short-form program format. If YouTube is any indicator, the audience of the future will prefer short attention span theater to the half-hour and hour formats that still dominate traditional broadcast. The average YouTube video is two-minutes and forty-six seconds in duration.

The growth of Twitter should be seen as another indicator for the coming power of snack size media. 70% of its current users joined in 2009 demonstrating a 1400% growth between February, 2008 and February, 2009. An average of twenty million tweets are sent every day with 3.8 billion sent to date.

Short-form program formats are not new and have been around since the 1970’s and 80’s when program insert series such as “This Day in Sports” and “Today in Music History” were successful informational commercials of sixty-seconds in length. But, these formats are a very distant cousin to webisodes and mobisodes that last only several minutes. ABC’s first online experiment in offering its primetime hours for download offers another illustration of how the offline and online worlds differ. As measured by Nielsen, there were some forty million downloads of which the average time viewed was two-minutes. Clearly, the remote control’s cousin is the click of a mouse away.

Social media can now be leveraged to reach target audiences in their native, online environments. The power of online video syndication is that it can reach beyond video networks such as YouTube and Facebook, and engage users through tactics such as community and blogger outreach, featured video portal placement, content seeding, social applications, game development, and other methods. The potential reach of video syndication networks like,, is expansive.

Certain applications now offer the capability of identifying influencer activity on the Web. Usually, web site and blogs are ranked by popularity. Increasingly, tools like those provided by Buzzlogic and Visible Technologies offer the ability to actually reverse engineer networks of specialized interest. By identifying such nodes of audience concentration that appeal to a particular media brand’s core value proposition and program content, it would be possible to reverse engineer an online component to a vertically integrated network.

Mobile is the fastest growing channel in the world, offering new and exciting opportunities for marketing, advertising and content distribution. Mobile provides a conduit between media outlets, entertainment, e-commerce, and consumers. Mobile data capable phones reached a social tipping point with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007.

The market for mobile video content is growing at a rate of 20% a month. While they were only introduced a year ago, video ringtones and video screensavers account for approximately 10,000 downloads a month at a price point between $2.50 and $4 (on Tier 1 North American Carriers). Given consumer adoption rates for mobile data and the fact that the music download market still accounts for five million downloads per month (between $2-3), all next generation of handsets will support this type of content and will drive the expansion of this market. As such, the media network of the future will be well advised to create a mobile beach-head to take advantage of the platform for distribution of its content.

What kind of world is this transformative media environment creating? I have written before in this blog ("Is Personalization Really That Personal?", "National Nano Memory", "It's A Short Form World After All", "Why The Web Is Like A Time Machine") about the fact that there is no free lunch and that the allure of new technologies always carries a price, particularly in what may be lost as the result of supposed advantages in efficiency, ease of use, choice, and other features dangled like shiny carrots by new gadgetry. Automation and its impact on the declining of the Industrial Age workforce is one example of the trade-off in human terms that "better machines" have wrought. If something appears to be too good to be true, it probably is. Or as the Zen Buddhists would say, "Things are not as they appear. Nor are they otherwise."

Jaron Lanier, the computer scientist who coined the term “virtual reality”, has written a new manifesto which is essential reading called “You Are Not A Gadget”, which describes at length the perils invited by our increased love affair and reliance on technology, particularly the Internet and social media. Hardly a neo-Luddite, Lanier is not the kind of voice in the wilderness that one might expect to sound the Cassandra call to action and for conscious use of technology. Maybe that’s what makes his beautifully written argument so compelling. Or as Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs once so poetically put it, “I now pronounce you man and…machine.”

At the beginning of the 20th century, Rudolf Steiner predicted that by the end of the century a non-biological lifeform would develop in parallel through a parasitic relationship with biological life. I think that he was prescient in describing our present day silicon-based lifeforms. Anyone who has sat at a keyboard for hours or been pulled by the strange attractor of the Blackberry keypad or iPhone apps knows that feeling of losing control and all sense of time. We might ask in our spare time in between Facebook and texting, who is actually being served here? Are we the digital canaries in the proverbial silicon coal mine?

I don’t necessarily subscribe to the singularity theory (the technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence), remembering that the HAL 9000 onboard computer was incapable of lying in "2001: A Space Odyssey," and that he failed when he became paranoid through cognitive dissonance when his instructions were compromised by conflicting instructions as supplied by the NSC and White House—“people who lie for a living”—according to the script in Arthur C. Clarke’s sequel, "2010: The Year We Make Contact."

Perhaps the singularity is not near as Ray Kurzweil has supposed in his recent tome, but is already here. At least, I think that HAL probably had wisdom beyond his circuits when he said, “I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.” ...OK, already. I hear you. So, why not get off my soap box and let’s just change the channel and see what else is on—after all, we have over five-hundred channels now on TV at least and we’re just getting started on the Web and mobile…

Special thanks for Liz Gebhardt——for the YouTube and Twitter metrics.

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