A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

5 Really, Really Important Shifts (not trends) in #Media & #Technology

I'm not one for lists, nor do I pay too much attention to trends (trends are fleeting), but I do see a whole lot of shifts in the work I do. You know, seismic ones. So I thought I'd share a few that I think are critical to business, and those shaping the way we leverage media and technology for the better.

(1) Brands as major studios & publishing conglomerates

We've seen the transition of brands into publishing and content distribution with their own paid, earned and owned media properties -- as evidenced by the likes of Coke, Pepsi, Levis, Ford, Whole Foods, P&G, Intel, Red Bull and a host of others.

The new shift is even more impressive now: They're replacing studios and traditional publishers outright. Some might scoff at the idea, but it's been discussed at length; the studios are out of time and money, and publishers can't figure out how to monetize through flatter distribution schemes. And then there are the reams of proprietary IP of which they refuse to give away pieces (ala "freemium"); this stasis is literally killing off their businesses systematically. TV networks have fared far better in this game, but the verdict is still out on whether or not they can keep pace with a ratings horizon that isn't dependent on where people watch, but how they watch and why.

THE DISINTEGRATING LANDSCAPE...

5 Really, Really Important Shifts (not trends) in #Media & #Technology

THE EMERGING LANDSCAPE...

5 Really, Really Important Shifts (not trends) in #Media & #Technology

To boot, companies that have robust distribution platforms, like Walmart (Walmart Labs, Vudu), are realizing that if they can't license content outright, they can create it and distribute it themselves, and they're looking for smaller, agile partners with which to do this. Coincident TV (a company I advise and work closely with) is just one of a select group leading this charge in the social TV and multi-screen space. Add companies like Netflix into the mix, and you've got a brigade of disintermediaries that are literally replacing the role of media companies. This is the more obvious play in terms of media planning, buying and placement (which by the way, are commodity services that are still important, and likely to remain with media agencies). The less obvious play is in how they're doing it: they're creating new markets -- something that media companies, for the most part, aren't set up to do.

Is it the death of the big media buy? Depends on how you look at it -- "Big Media" is becoming the playground for owned and earned media properties that can scale... And brands are wising up to the fact that they don't need brokers for it. Media companies are getting scared, and rightfully so.

In terms of production, brands can either go to smaller 3rd party vendors, or, they can simply produce the content themselves. Companies like Best Buy have built an entire internal infrastructure to do this and many other companies have followed suit.

Whether brands get into the movie or the TV business isn't so much the question or the issue (they already have on multiple levels); the bottom line is that they have the screens, the means and the access to consumer audiences, and that, in and of itself, poses both a major threat and an amazing opportunity... Mostly for the people that matter most: the end "consumers".

(2) Dynamic publishers comprise the primary market, while agencies comprise the secondary market

Upon first glance, an agency exec might say, "Bullshit! Our margins are fatter than ever and the market is solid!"

To the ad exec: Maybe so, but the big journalism and the big data markets are much bigger and that's where your big clients are playing, kimosabe. The numbers don't lie -- in aggregate, more than 40% of measured media budgets are shifting towards content-generation just in 2012. Also: you're not building markets, you're just squeezing blood from those that are dying or in stasis. A few holding companies get it and are building new divisions to take advantage of this shift, but they're still challenged by their size and hamstrung by their less agile portfolio companies.

No, Sir: ads and billboards and bright, shiny digital objects aren't going away, they're just being put into their proper place, which is second fiddle to rich, original content and stories driven by experiences that have real value (read: not curated stories, not headline stories... But actual, real stories). In some ways, they're also being reinvented (in a good way).

5 Really, Really Important Shifts (not trends) in #Media & #Technology

Leading-edge creative and social media agencies as well as true content companies (dare I say, transmedia storytellers) will continue to play a vital role in this, especially as they staff up with real journalists, writers, creative artists, film & TV directors, experience designers, culturalists, environmentalists and political thinkers. However, the rubber will soon meet the road for them as they are challenged with turning these offerings into service products and scalable IP. One solution they've undertaken is the development of true content platforms (the amalgam of unique people, unique technology and exceptional storytelling), which can generate new stories, new products and new campaigns in perpetuity. These platforms are also co-developing the utilities of the future (like Nike+ Fuelband). Where the medium has become the message to a large extent, the content created becomes the context (or part of it) for the use and spread of that utility.

5 Really, Really Important Shifts (not trends) in #Media & #Technology

Internet publishers like AOL (HuffPo in particular) and Yahoo! (yes, YAHOO) are starting to resurge with this new movement, provided that they can continue to see past their ad models and realize that the real opportunities lie within their own networks of dedicated readers/users. Similar to some of the brands mentioned above, they have three distinct advantages: a) distribution; b) content; and c) utilities.

To boot, less commodified services like data journalism continue to strong-arm the marketplace and companies with independent strengths in publishing properties (and with dedicated divisions) like the New York Times will become the bedrocks in this equation (a bit ironic, eh?). Again, there's a dire need for good stories, and the context to back those stories (read: good data). By the way, the NYT data journalism unit is a thriving enterprise business forging significant paths into the at-present $100B big data space. Look out, world.

(3) User-generated data or "UGD"

Speaking of good data, you might ask: "What's the obsession over data all about?" 

Simple: We've been using outdated, ineffective models for measurement. In the Internet world, this has been going on for the better part of 17 years (which is a lifetime)! The fact that most companies still can't account for 50% of their media spend is, well, pathetic. And some are getting sick of it. And so are the people who consume, share and/or remix content -- they simply don't care about ads and don't want them flooding their social media feeds. They will, however, tolerate or even enjoy ads if they are used as containers of good content or shareable utilities of one sort or another.

For example, the value of a sponsored story on Facebook isn't the fact that it's more relevant (which it is), it's the fact that it's something that you might've discovered just by clicking around a page, and that's the difference -- you engage with something you discover rather than something you're just being served. Instead of a brand having to support a conversation that's already happening, a person can go to a storefront with all the goods and services they need. This means conversations remain as free, valuable bits of information and fCommerce remains relatively unfettered because the endorsement comes from a person, not a brand.

5 Really, Really Important Shifts (not trends) in #Media & #Technology

The big boon in this is privacy. On one side, privacy exists as a means to somehow protect individual data, and to avoid being fed ad-like objects that are intrusive. On the other, it exists as an opportunity for users to knowingly share data and potentially profit from it. Platforms like Glome, Mynd (a company I advise) and Kapture represent a new wave good data providers that are creating exchanges for companies to leverage individual and category data in more altruistic ways. This amounts to brokering information with audience consent. The VRM space is specifically focused on companies not actually owning user data, but managing how people and vendors share it. A New York Times article that ran just over the weekend provides details on some other start-ups that are tackling the challenge of pricing and managing personal data.

Here's the even bigger boon: UGD markets. These are new, emerging markets based on dynamic research, focus groups and myriad forms of panel data. Think of progressive companies like Lithium or Passenger with more open, flexible models whereby users can actually build market segments of their own. No more experiences in which you, as a survey participant, are forced to drink bad coffee behind mirrored glass -- you particpate on your own terms, and in environments in which you are comfortable (like your living room). Watch Google quietly get into this space with its new privacy regulations and a stronger effort to leverage its networks like G+ for this range of enterprise benefits.

(4) User-curated data, or "UCD"

Which brings us to another really interesting shift, UCD. Not to be confused with "OCD" (although the condition might fuel it), this is a means for company analysts to adapt to the rapid changes in the consumer and enterprise landscape and curate data in such a way that it reflects the more real-time nature of sharing and transactions (or in some cases, shareable transactions).

You've probably read or heard rumblings about the merger of structured (paid or owned media) and unstructured (earned, conversational) data. This actually isn't anything all that new. What is new is how data is managed, parallel processed, stored and correlated to the extent that companies can actually make sense of their analytics systems and make quicker decisions that impact their bottom lines. Believe it or not, BI (business intelligence) systems are just starting to be able to do this on a level that isn't confounding to the average user.

5 Really, Really Important Shifts (not trends) in #Media & #Technology

Additionally, talk about "influence" or "engagement" or "virality" is meaningless without context -- the metrics surrounding them are literally moving targets. So how do we achieve context? We constantly adapt how we measure, and curation is the key. This is something we've been working hard to refine at Heardable -- to allow users to curate in such a way that the data becomes easier and easier to understand, and business decisions become more noticeable, and actionable, within context. At the end of the day, this is all about understanding people.

(5) People are not only media, they are also technology

With "consumerism" losing its greasy heels on the wave of a newly charged, people-powered media environment, people really are becoming media, and they are also embodying the technologies they use.

This doesn't mean they've taken to writing code per se, although tech development has become a lot easier, especially through open source communities like Gnome. But overall, people are becoming more literate in a way that their dependency on devices, software and applications have changed their behavior, and more specifically, their daily rituals. Don't be fooled, digital literacy is still a huge problem for the general population, but the good news is that people are curious enough to interact with technology systems as an alternative to their socio-economic struggles.

We have already started to see this at the NGO level, but it seems that there is a permeating factor in terms of driving innovation across borders. Take China, for instance: labor costs have risen dramatically as a result of young people graduating from universities and seeking higher-paying jobs, many of which are technology-based. To add, the average age of the entrepreneur in China and other APAC countries is 30 -- this clearly points to a shift in how technology markets take shape, and how they develop via peoplesourced means.

The net-net...

If you are a company playing in any of these spaces, now is the time to act and make very uncomfortable decisions. If we don't reverse-engineer the staid methods that have hampered our growth up to this point, then our audiences and "consumer cohorts" will do it for us (they already have). To compete in the 21st century means we have to be extraordinary, at all times and at all costs.