Table of Contents
Note: This article first published in 2000.
Every television a network. Everyone a director. Guerrilla Filmmaking. Desktop filmmaking and democratized distribution. User-driven programming. The Fall of the Media Elites.
Weve got a New Media Age on our hands.
Its a revolution of sorts. The top down, dictatorial relationship between media providers and their passive audience is ending. Enter media democracy.
What does it mean? Where will it go? How can a media professional survive in the new environment?
This paper addresses some of these questions. The goal is to provide a framework from which the media professional can navigate. Or at least another perspective that, when colliding with ones own personal paradigm, creates some kind of shift or "ah hah."
Or maybe skepticism and "give me a break."
What characterizes the New Media Age? The table below looks at some of the differences between the old and new media ages.
Some of the above thats listed under the "New Age" is really already happening in the "Old Age." So the characterizations blur. But the distinctions in a broad sense hold water when you look at what is essentially a movement away from the old age and toward the new age that has been happening for several years and now accelerated by the Internet.
How to Compete
How does one compete in such an environment? In our view, the only way to compete is to go with it. To become it. To in fact help it. The way not to compete is to fight it. Because it is happening, will happen, and will not stop. The Movement is a force unto itself.
The Movement is driven by technology, but also by people seeking alternatives. The System has upset a lot of people. Voices have been silenced. Creativity squelched. Rejection letters for quality material litter the landscape. The Least Common Denominator has been forced down everyones throats. Many feel victim to media pollution and being dumbed down to the point of numbness.
As for the so-called alternatives, many have co-opted the bohemian style but not the content. Many artists today look like Bob Dylan but feel like Bob Dole.
The conventional wisdom is that content providers today are responding to what people want. And because the economics of media production are expensive, they are forced to provide to the majority.
Mediocrity in the media has become a habit, something run by apathetic and cynical producers who dont believe in anything but the bottom line.
But who is the "majority" that most producers cater to? The "majority" is really human nature. The majority as it applies to programming and content is appealing to the most basic human impulses because we know that works to get an audience. We also know it keeps us in an unending cycle of sameness.
High production costs have forced programmers to appeal to the many. Now those costs can come down. Digital Video cameras are cheap and ubiquitous. A non-linear editing solution can be purchased for under $10K that used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Internet content distribution is cheap and universal, and with Broadband will have the same quality as broadcast or cable television. The result is that producers are empowered by a new economic dynamic that allows them to produce much more cheaply and allows them to appeal to a much narrower demographic, even narrower than the current fragmented media market.
Lowered production costs and niche programming force content providers to appeal to the few, and the few will soon be much more localized than you think.
A cottage industry is arising of "desktop filmmaking" and "video publishing." Many homes will become production facilities. Many other New Media Age storefronts will also arise. The New Media Age production facility will become as ubiquitous as Kinkos. The new communication paradigm will shift from the written word and PowerPoints to the edited image and PowerVideos.
We will both lose language and find it anew. The use of images to communicate will be almost as ubiquitous as text. DV-mail will be as common as E-mail or Voice Mail. And thats just the start.
Some of the market drivers for the New Media Age include:
Lets look at each in detail.
We are in a decade of revolution. This revolution is occurring on many fronts, and has both positive and negative ramifications.
The technology revolution will continue. Broadband and Internet media distribution will offer a broader access mechanism for voices that have rarely, if ever, been heard. And no one will filter this media from on high. Individuals will instead make their own decisions as to what the watch, and when.
A social revolution is also brewing. Issues related to education, the environment, and global economics will continue to become more and more important as the decade progresses. These voices will demand a vehicle for expression. The Internet, Broadband and lowcost digital content creation technologies will provide that vehicle.
On the mainstream media front, the irony is that the lowered cost of production enables media providers to lead an audience, if they so choose. The reason is that the New Age Media economics promote creativity in such as way that will not only enable new voices to be heard but demand it. Newness and change will be a such a hot commodity that the market itself will demand revolutionary change.
Because the niche-oriented nature of Broadband will take more and more mindshare from traditional audiences, traditional media will be forced to embrace a more diverse and fragmented programming agenda. The concept of a mass audience will in some ways disappear.
Revolutionary change will in fact drive the economy. The New Media Age is the voice of that change.
Initially, we may see a lot of programming crap as a result of the "revolution" (mostly because of people trying to do Hollywood on the Cheap). But we will also view the new, the truly revolutionary, the enlightening. Well see that much of New Media Age will be driven by values.
The least common denominator will give way to the greatest individual potential, The Age of Media Enlightenment. Value-oriented. Altruistic. Not altruistic so much by choice, but inevitable altruism by the laws of evolutionary change.
Values will propel the New Media Age because a large section of the market will demand values to counter the numbing downward spiral of media content that the cynics see as inevitable.
Values dont necessarily imply uniformity of opinion. New coalitions will form that might seem strange bedfellows at first. Many former enemies may unite against the value-less media in order to counter a general trend toward programming that emphasizes the darker side of human nature.
The vehicle for distributing this new media content will be new broadband networks accessed by Internet portals. The portals, which will be owned and operated by a few large companies, will nonetheless have open access to thousands of New Media Age content providers. This open access, when combined with interfaces that allow people to create their own programming, will mean that there will be absolutely no commonality in the interface to the media. People will define their own interfaces, in effect, their own networks. Even though the portals will be under the banner of the Old Guard media, open access will allow people to create their own media world, and many will do so.
They will do so because the current media meets the needs of the corporations they serve and not the people. Over decades, corporate interests have conditioned peoples expectations and tastes, greatly influencing the so-called "market". This will change in the New Media Age, where people will define the nature and scope of their media experiences. Conventional wisdom will no longer apply. That status quo will be shattered in a way no one can quite foresee.
Non-Products began with shareware and "free stuff." Advertising itself is a form of Non-Product. The idea is that a free commodity or experience will help to sell a paid for commodity or experience. A free product is a non-product.
More and more, people are demanding that what was once charged for become free. The free music movement is a prime example. In the future, films will follow suit. This trend will only accelerate no matter what Jack Valenti wants.
Eventually, copyright owners may need to give up the idea that they can somehow control the sharing of content and will have to look to other ways to generate revenue from their products. Business models that dont depend on copyright must and will flourish. The Old Guard will be able to create stopgaps to the trend, but ultimately it will not be possible to forestall. The media industry will have to accept that the model of property rights as applied to physical property does not neatly apply to digital media, which can be replicated ad infinitum cheaply and universally.
Moreover, free sharing might not be such a bad thing. In the case of music, the free sharing of an individual song may lead to the sale of a CD the song is associated with. Thus the individual song becomes a non-Product to sell the CD.
With films, trailers can serve the same purpose. During a certain early release window, a films trailer can be distributed for sharing on the Internet, which will lead to the sale of the films theatrical release or video/DVD (this is in fact already happening with some films). Thus the trailer becomes a non-Product on the Internet, an entertainment in its own right that is a tie-in to a product.
Non-Products will rule. But for traditional Old Guard companies to survive, they will need to tie non-products to products. For the new guard media, low costs and embedded product placement will enable them to compete and survive.
The New Media Age is both exciting and intimidating. There are social and economic reasons for the shift from the old to the new, with the Old Guard representing certain values that will be questioned and challenged.
Hollywood will certainly survive, as it has survived in the past with the advent of television, cable, and other innovations. The theatrical experience will certainly be maintained as part of the Hollywood system. Post theatrical release, the Internet will become a major method of distributing and change the dynamic completely.
The post theatrical market for film content will so change with the Internet that Hollywood will have to adopt hybrid business models that incorporate elements of television sponsorship, guerrilla filmmaking, and content subscription. They will inevitably have to open up their content libraries fully to the Internet, because if they dont, they will find their content being shared freely no matter what stopgaps are put in place. At least if they open up their libraries they can use advertising embedded in their content (either as a trailer or ad, or product placement), and offer subscriptions or syndication.
While the art of prediction is certainly a precarious one, some of these trends, many well on their way to being formed, will come fully to fruition. Also, we at nextPix hope to influence the future of media by offering a positive influence both in terms of technology and content. We believe that the future can be shaped, and those of us with the courage to do so can enhance the quality of todays media experience and increase the opportunities for media professionals in the future.