Crossing the Platform

We’ve reached the digital age where people are making, distributing and viewing their own material digitally. The gurus call it pier to pier, or User Generated Content (UGC) but it’s more simple than that, it’s when pull became push.

In case you’ve been asleep and hadn’t realized you need to know that you can now see or be seen, hear or be heard, without limitation around the globe, instantly and unless you have the bad fortune to live in one of the totalitarian states can do this without limit unless your credit card runs out.

Everything can be got on the World Wide Web. An infinite variety of media is all now available in the one place, all at once. That’s what the geeky people call Convergence. Blockbusters and broadcasting are probably dead forever because web based distribution will lead to the power that was previously owned by the monolithic media owners now being owned and available to anyone or everyone or is that no one?

This doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a great thing since some of those distribution channels were really well run. There’s something to be said for someone who knows their job making sure the distribution chain is working. What’s the bonus in the “people” having the rights to do what they want when they want when mostly they want to make self-satisfied crap? There’s another way to describe that kind of democracy, and that word is Anarchy.

So beware of what sounds so sexy, because it could just be another way of our describing electronic anarchy.

Now, if it’s going to be bottom up entertainment rather than top down, does that mean that it’s going to get better? Do we achieve Highest Common Factor rather than the glitterati’s common belief that the Lowest Common Denominator is the result of the previously totally dominant top down material generated by the giants.

What it does mean is that the talent can get directly to the audience, and that they are one and the same thing. It means the creator and consumer lines are blurred to the point where they don’t seem to exist.

It also means that you can make low cost totally indie media products to suit yourselves, and if it works in one way or another then you keep on going. You don’t have any restriction, censorship or committees to answer to.

But you also don’t get to make big budget material that looks classy, or has big commercial values. How is anyone going to make a huge production? Can the micro and macro budget industry ends co-exist?

Now anyone can and does generate their own encyclopaedia and anyone can be an author of their own Blog, or create a V Blog to entertain, be entertained or simply as a means of expression. It’s the world looking up its own posterior with a mirror. Someone somewhere is always listening and looking and, depending on who you listen to there are two to three new bloggers signing on every second around the World.

This is totally changing the way we view ourselves, or the rest of the world, and this spreads ideas around the globe virally, without borders, in record time, with no intermediary to slow it up to moderate views or to censor.

This is cool. But how cool is the new order when someone like Rupert Murdoch buys My Space? Are we just changing the labels on the cans, but inside the cans will be just the same?

This is a revolution and the blood is still flowing in the gutter so who knows just yet who wins and who loses when the guillotine is still razoring necks, so no one knows. Nothing-new there then.

People are going to go out less in this brave new world, they are going to stay home, that’s because fuel is too expensive, roads too crowded, transportation reaching gridlock, terrorism being perceived as a constant threat, whilst at home, safe and secure you can give or receive what kind of entertainment when and how you want.

So here’s the story; this is how it has always worked in the recorded media industry. A new and special part of the industry appears out of the blue, let’s say the film business nearly 100 years ago or Pod Casting today. The film industry started very small, in fact it was considered a gimmick with a limited life span, but it very soon become gigantic, rich beyond belief and eventually fat, complacent and self satisfied. That’s what happens to most human commercial endeavour. But then some lean, hungry and very ambitious competitors appear and the fat guys become their fast food, when logic tells you, it should have been the other way around.

The people running the film industry originally made so much money that when a shiny new industry, television arrived they originally saw it as a joke to be ignored, and when that obviously was wrong, they then saw it as a threat. Of course those film guys should have owned this brash newcomer or at least embraced this weak newborn infant, nurtured it and made it their principal source of income. Instead living up to their laughably bad decision making of the past, the film business builds bunkers in which to hunker, hoping, like King Canute to keep the tide from rolling in on their heads. This activity has never worked, and the blind idiots drown before they realise that they are going to have to live with the blowsy but crazily attractive new gizmo.

So, now, instead of either owning or integrating with TV, there were now two tracks marching truculently along parallel lines. Only crossing platforms when they had absolutely no other choice!

Now it was the turn of the Network Television industry to become a huge cash cow for their owners. Billions were earned and they became just as fat and complacent as their film industry colleagues.

It’s of interest to note that despite both those industries being hugely bloated, out of date and missing opportunity after opportunity they were still insanely profitable for their owners. This translates not to their being well run businesses but being businesses in an industry that because of the public’s insatiable appetite for recorded media is almost indestructible, despite both actually suffering from appalling management during the 60 to the 80’s.

Of course this is all edging, inch by painful inch to the point where the customer is going to see what he wants, when he wants and how he wants. Time goes by and guess what, another new toy materialises over the horizon. This time it’s video and the same things happen again. The only difference is that this time around both the television and film industries miss the boat, rather than just one of them, they both wave sadly from the shore as yet another ship sets sail without them being the captain or the master. Video becomes huge, and from it springs DVD, and once again makes a fortune for many new people who mainly come from outside the entertainment industry.

You would think by this time that everyone knows what’s going to happen next and therefore prepares to embrace whatever is coming. And guess what, it then happens again and again and again and is still happening.

In case you’ve been in a very deep cave you will have notice that Television begat Networks and they begat Syndicated television and that created the spawn of the devil know as Cable television, and this begat Satellite television. You have the picture, forgive the pun, loads of different screens, funnily enough playing much the same kinds of things.

Due to the short sightedness of most of the conglomerates concerned the situation exists in which each of these systems has operated along separate railway tracks, parallel with, but rarely fully connected to one another.

They sometimes have come together because of financial engineering or due to one side in the equation or the other being perceived as a having a disproportionately higher market capitalisation at a particular moment. For example the seemingly crazy situation where AOL took over Time Warner when it was the latter which was the cash cow and the former was still primarily a blue-sky company, worth more in the common mind, but actually not earning anything like the company it purchased with its very high value stock.

Wave after wave of new innovation has crashed onto the shore. Because what do mobile phones, the Internet and all the new media players have in common? They are all totally reliant on content to make big profits.

Content is the King, Queen and Ace of what’s necessary for any media system to work commercially. This is going to become ever more obvious as with the Time Warner / AOL deal because the latter needs the content from the former.

Even some of the most media savvy analysts are blinded and confused by the technology. Somehow it’s this means of viewing that seems sexy whereas the content, to them, is the add on. The facts are entirely the other way around. You’re not dumb enough to go overboard praising a screwdriver for it enabling you to put a plug on a computer are you? All screens are just places for you to put on content. Nothing more, nothing less.

Many years ago there were many wonderful movies made where the hero and heroine saw each other fleetingly across two railway platforms, through the ever prevailing but oh so romantic fog of London, and the smoke generated by the train’s engine separating them and their unrequited love. They want to get together for some personalized inter activity; they want to go to bed together, and it isn’t to read……..

Their frustration is a bit like the film distribution companies looking at the mobile phone companies and thinking they would make a wonderful lover, perhaps even a wedding partner. Or perhaps it’s the other way around and it’s the gigantic Google data-bases of this world who cast about them, looking longingly at those very attractive curves of those advertising television billions, or even some bloody water company who wants to sex up their ultimately very boring profile??

I have news for anyone that’s been asleep the last few years; it’s all of the above and then some. Why, simply put we have a fairly static number of Western Dollars being pursued by a growing proliferation of narrowcasters. Forget the monolithic cash cows of the recent past represented by the old TV stations. They’re still there, and will continue to be, but now they’re less broadcasters beaming the big event show into everyone’s living room but the narrowcaster trying to cut through the cluttering proliferation to a more selective and selecting group of more narrowly focused viewers and / or participants. Again we’re looking at the need for these groups to come together for some inter-active personalized activity, they need some good loving!

This last description of the service end user as the viewer or customer and that they will be future participants further re-defines the entire dynamic of what skill sets industry professionals are going to have to possess or perish. People who view in the very near future will be demand to see what they want, when they want and more importantly how they want. And what people more than ever is to in charge of their time, and they’ve proven how willing they are to pay for what they want.

Essential in this change will be true inter activity for the viewer that has so far, only just begun on TV. Examples of this currently available are some voting techniques, choices of camera angles for sporting events, choices of matches to view and the now famous and ubiquitous “Red Button” which provides additional information or further choices.

The other major change coming rapidly at us is the BRIC countries. These are Brazil, Russia, India, and China and for good measure we’ll add the rest of the Asian Tiger economies who share a new insatiable frontier for these products and services. They want some very different products with varying sensibilities but mainstream films, music and above all personalised inter activity.

How personal media liberty will mesh with some authoritarian centrally controlled nation states remains to be seen. It seems improbable that these two diametrically magnetic poles can live together, and might well lead to meltdown in one or the other. It seems like something is going to have to give. Who knows what that will be?