Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Here's To the Media Pioneers - OR - Hey You Get Off of My Cloud

Media change is a naturally organic and healthy process spurred on by creativity, innovation, technology and social behavior. The process isn’t new – it’s as old as Guglielmo Marconi and PT Barnum ¬– but the cycle of change and adaptation is increasing with media proliferation, wireless connectivity and device portability. Media channels have traditionally competed for mass attention and sponsorship. Now, instead of competing, media channels are being woven together as all media is becoming interactive.

As a kid I remember early broadcast TV being really primitive. Just before my time, radio stars with silk voices and sandpaper faces found themselves suddenly and unexpectedly out of work. Television was taking over the broadcast drama format and radio had to either change format or loose listeners. You will notice that radio didn’t vanish. It simply evolved in new directions.

Even so, TV programming was pretty awful at times before it was even experimental. It took pioneers taking risks to build an amazing media institution that has lasted more than seven decades.

The same is true of the Internet but this is much harder to see because it is still so rapidly evolving. Did you know TV is interactive now? The trouble is that almost no one less than thirty years old really cares much and most people over the age of 45 can’t take advantage of the benefit. The interactive experience of television doesn’t rival the adrenalin rush of a multiplayer Halo match zapping aliens to kibbles. Most of the folks who struggled to program the VCR don’t enjoy scrolling through menu selections. We’re witnessing the dawn of information portability, access, personalization and content creation wherein "the masses control the media." When TV is interactive, on demand, on mobile phones and user created, is it really TV any longer? Not as most of us, including sponsors, advertisers and networks understand TV. According to the Advertising Age 2007 budget numbers, 56B on TV vs. 11B Internet, online hasn’t replaced television by a long shot. To witness how television networks, programming and hardware have developed over the past decade however, it would be hard to miss the influence of interactive media. TV is evolving in new directions.

Here on this media battleground enters the wireless device. It was the rapid adoption of SMS text by teens that created the vast mobile market. Not the media and not the wireless carriers, it was, the people that drove the shift to mobile. The growth of SMS was as organic, unplanned and unexpected as the iPhone’s domination of the wireless web that strains AT&T’s network. By now it is no secret that the new social zeitgeist has far outpaced the strategy of the media oligarchy to monopolize consumer interest. Mobile messaging and social media are inherently connected, interdependent communications media phenomena. The social network model has smoothly and rapidly embraced the mobile channel while so many entrenched channels are struggling and competing in silos. Coincidentally, we're in something of a global “recession” and an environment where taking risks on new media can be akin to martyrdom. As always, marketing trendsetters are the few visionaries and change agents, willing to take a punch to drive in a new era. These pioneers must convince the many, change averse, sheepishly employed guards of the status quo, propping up rotting sacred cows, creating barriers to new media availability. Most pioneers die on the trail, there are few known heroes and many casualties. Right now, the speed by which media attention is shifting to the mobile platform may also shear a few bystanders.

Consider that a generation – the largest since the Boomers – has been raised on wireless interactive communication. 260+ million people in the US out of 300 million men women and children have wireless devices – more than half of which text and roughly 30 percent have wireless web enabled handsets. After more than 70 years of media supremacy, TV doesn't have the market penetration mobile phones gained in just half a decade. Now there’s tremendous opportunity for those who embrace media channel convergence on mobile platforms and applications with originality. We are rapidly approaching the tipping point where the me too approach – e.g. "we are also considering a mobile iPhone application"– has become a far greater risk than learning by inventing something new. In my opinion, there are already too many ‘apps for that’ thank you very much. There are however, several innovative case studies in the “nascent” mobile media history dating back to 2003 that are truly groundbreaking and worth learning from.

We owe our thanks to those pioneers who came before us risking their fortunes and reputations to shape the industry where we have found our careers. We owe it to the entrepreneurs that reinvent their way through massive social shifts and disruptive technology changes to keep tens of thousands or even just one person employed. We owe our thanks to the unsung garage and basement dwellers that work to reinvent technology and media every day just for the passion of inventing, enabling communications and the satisfaction of possibly one day making a contribution.

We the media and technology professionals have something of a common history, and a debt to our forbearers. We owe it to the industry to value integration over channel specialization. We owe it to ourselves to demand better than a “look me too” approach. We owe it to our society to promote new media technology invention and clear the path to innovation of yesterday’s sacred cow carcass.

1 comment:

manofID said...

My hat is off to the media pioneers and visionaries, Barry. Great point about the advances in mobile in only the last few years-a success story that took broadcast TV over half a century to achieve.

I still believe there is a huge learning curve in consumer usage for smartphones, whereas TV is pretty easy. You turn it on and there it is.

So I say keep innovating, reinventing, testing and pushing the envelope and learn ways to work with and integrate mobile into TV.

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