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The media landscape then and now

August 21, 2015

As we approach next month's IBC media, I’ve started to think about our history and experience with media in the UK, what we’ve learned, and where the future of media is headed.

Back in the day:

Back in the day, media companies, broadcasters, et al were the least afraid of change. They were willing to experiment and try new concepts because the stakes were lower, there wasn’t a pervading fear of failure.

We started work with people like the BBC and Channel 4 about ten years ago, and they were among the first organisations to say “yes” to Agile. Working iteratively, in blended teams of both software developers and creative types, was second nature to them – it turns out that they picked up some great habits in having to constantly assess the relevance and success of their products; the content. They came to us looking to create these things that would allow people to interact with television beyond the CRT and LCD screens, and as such the early products called iPlayer and 4OD were born.

They pioneered the merger of traditional media and the digital age, they didn’t fight against it like some of the old-style journalism platforms did (and continue to do), they embraced the opportunity to create new things and were well aware that some things would be complete failures (and there were failures).

Shortly after all the software building was complete, we were asked to pitch the future of media, and frankly, we got it horribly wrong. We went all out, declaring TV tie-in with 3d printers in the home as some kind of extreme product placement was the answer.

we were asked to pitch the future of media, and frankly, we got it horribly wrong

Instead, what Channel 4 did, was employ an agile approach, starting at the smallest thing that would make the most significant change. Clever, they were, identifying the rise of social, and incorporating social pauses with climaxes to allow people to declare their horror/excitement/trepidation/bewilderment (and other more niche emotions like ‘perturbed’) on Twitter and Facebook.

The rise of data-driven content creation

And by jove did it work. Not only now were they able to get a picture of how many people were watching the programmes they were making, but through social media listening and a small amount of investigation they could work out instantly whether people even liked the content they were producing! They had, overnight, discovered the secret of getting a 360 degree view of their customer – the holy grail for companies in any industry.

Increasingly, the way in which people consume televised media has changed from sofa-with-a-cuppa to commute-with-a-coffee, and we have learned, through projects like BBC Stream, that data is king. Data is now more accessible than ever and as such fine tuning the content being broadcast is getting easier.

More than just broadcast, though, but in newspapers and read articles, too. Apple announced with iOS 9 the introduction of “News,” a personalised feed driven by a combination of machine learning and user-selected preferences. It’s not a new concept (see Flipboard, Wildcard et al) but Apple will make it synonymous with success. In fact, the algorithms behind your Facebook feed does the same thing. More of the things you like, less of the things you don’t.

It’s how all media will be consumed and it will be less about the quality of the content but how likeable it is, and the content creators will know. They will know what you like and they will use that information against you and your productivity.

Digital will soon stand alone.

BBC Three is doing a runner. Is it a sign of things to come? I wonder whether the Beeb is using the “Radio 1 of telly” as an experiment, working out what benefit in the creation of content they will see from having a complete picture, and I mean complete, of their viewers’ watching habits. The shift is representative of the demographic it appeals to – 16-24 year olds – who live online more than in the real world.

This generation don’t want to sit watching telly with their families

This generation don’t want to sit watching telly with their families. They shove their headphones in and watch something online instead. Now, though, the BBC finally knows that if it’s on, you’re watching it, because you won’t have wandered out of the room having forgotten to turn the TV off.

Maybe they will support the digital channel through traditional televised advertisements. Maybe they won’t. It’s clear, however, that the future of media will be defined partly by the technology we have at our disposal, and partly by our ever-shortening attention spans.

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