The Future of Media: 10 Observations and 10+ Theses

My colleague and friend Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti has recently assembled a score of observations and theses that beautifully summarize current developments in the media and give an outlook of things to come. I proudly present an english version, for further discussion. The wording of the 10 observations and 11 theses is Christiane’s, the summary prose is mine.

10 OBSERVATIONS 1. Entrance thresholds for content production and consumption are lowering.

Blog providers and other web-based services and tools greatly facilitate the production and distribution of content for individuals and groups. The necessary technology and infrastructure have become easily affordable. At the same time new search mechanisms, recommendation engines and tagging enhance the findability of relevant content. This leads to a complex interwoven system of media production, forwarding/exchange, review, rehash/mashup and consumption.

2. Media literacy is a necessary prerequisite for participation.

To make good use of these possibilities, great demand is placed on a wide range of media skills. For maximum benefit, the participant has to be quick, well-oriented and articulate. She has to be able to critically evaluate her findings, as well as to strategically place her own contributions. She must be capable of producing content in different formats and on different platforms. Knowledge of technological or legal aspects can be essential.

3. Traditional gatekeeping is eroding.

Powerful search technologies, modern methods of aggregation like RSS as well as collaborative filtering and recommendation mechanisms empower the individual and collective intelligence of the users and put limits on the traditional function of media professionals as gatekeepers.

4. The public sphere is fragmenting.

High-level news is becoming a commodity. At the same time, the transparency of the network heightens the importance of long tail phenomena like local, hyper-local and specialized content. Vertical communities of interest absorb a growing share of the users‘ attention. You can no longer count on a majority of people gathering in front of the TV set to watch the standard 8 o’clock news show.

5. Niche-production and networking provide new opportunities.

Due to the power of the network, niches have become universally accessible, and special demand can be met by immediate response. This means growing opportunities for specialized content production. At the same time, networking and aggregation make new product and brand identities possible (e.g. blog networks like „Glam“).

6. Authentic content is on the rise (again).

With universal comparability, widespread review and evaluation of products, and better content usually only a click away from the worse, quality of content and service will in the long run prevail. In a communicative network, the basic nodes are human beings. Therefore, authenticity of voice, responsibility and accountability become more important parameters of quality.

7. Journalism enhances its production cycles.

The molecular unit of traditional journalism follows a one-way street, starting with topic discussion in editorial staff meetings and ending with the dissemination of a polished piece and, at best, rudimentary user feedback. In a more networked environment, the production gets entwined with interaction, both direct (user response) and contextual (other media). Media producers can benefit from these opportunities by not only making use of post-production feedback (e.g. for quality control), but as well by letting consumers participate in the early stages of preproduction (topic identification, research).

8. Advertisement is a weak backbone for professional content production.

In traditional media, advertisement provides for a varying degree of revenue (up to 100 percent in commercial radio and television, 60-70 percent in most print media, only a few percentage points in public radio and tv). New media also rely heavily on the advertising market, the users have gotten used to free content. Even though paid content schemes have failed miserably and online advertising is on the upswing, the dependency on the advertising market is a long-term problem.

This is especially true in the face of a growing fragmentation of products, leaving certain topical areas which are notoriously ‚unsellable‘ to advertisers, or especially expensive (like politics or investigative reporting) without a working business model. Here we see a need to adapt and expand traditional public media strategies (like Germany’s ‚öffentlich-rechtlicher Rundfunk‘) for the sake of a working public sphere and democracy.

9. Visitors are replacing pageviews as the most important currency.

Measuring the relevance of an online medium by counting the number of its page impressions has always been a compromise with deficient technological means. But even replacing the number of PIs with the number of unique visitors is still under the risk of a blatant conceptual mistake: It’s not its potential reach that defines the market value of an online medium, it’s the preciseness with which it targets specific audiences.

10. Brands are used for related value creation chains.

With an even closer link to their users than traditional media, new media brands provide a great opportunity to expand their product range to non-standard or even non-media products (like online services, merchandising products, events, etc.). Conversely, non-media brands use the Internet to expand to product-related media (like product blogs).

10+ THESES

Main Thesis: The network is the medium

1. Consumers become producers

2. Skills and expertise are necessary and rewarded

3. Networks channel the information flow

4. The link is the network’s currency

5. The value of content depends on the value of its context

6. Journalistic values regain importance

7. Production cycles become production flows

8. Advertisement is going to discover the network

9. Advertisement reaches the long tail

10. Value creation chains are to be linked and combined