Media’s Big Bifurcation

My media consumption over the past week (beyond music and the written word) consisted of three things:

  1. Niche industry-focused podcasts on my commutes to and from work
  2. High-production-quality serial video content when I want to unwind in the evening
  3. Hours spent with a group of friends playing Fortnite

So, I made that third point up. But an increasing number of people are doing one or many these three things, and the media landscape is being rapidly altered as a result.

Specifically, the massive amount of money being spent by Amazon, Netflix, HBO, Hulu, and others are rapidly bisecting the media world along the axis of engagement and interactivity. Please note that I’m intentionally (and ignorantly) excluding all written content from my definition of media here and for the remainder of this post.

The world right now, and into the near future, looks something like the image below. Content distributors-cum-creators with massive warchests and seemingly endless appetites are making up an increasingly large portion of what I call ‘neutral’ content consumption. Neutral content is content that doesn’t require any interaction by the viewer during consumption – mainly video and music. The pile-up of creators in the neutral media space has pushed smaller shops to compete elsewhere. The amount of $$$ competing for the next big series has led to an explosion of creativity by innovative companies who are fighting for viewer’s time at the poles of entertainment interactivity.

Each of these segments below serve specific consumer wants. The long tail of content / interactivity permutations == the long tail of niche consumer jobs-to-be-done == the highly-specific and tailored desires of young urban populations.

Media World v5

As the major players fight for programming rights and distribution power in neutral entertainment, nimble start-ups and creative game houses alike are finding unique ways to capture viewers looking to fill different pockets of time and intention than simple television provides. Both segments of this newly bifurcated market will grow as the power and heft of the major media houses grow – the growth and heft of the dark blue mass in the graphic above possibly means that we are guaranteed to see faster growth in the orange and green segments.

At the high-end, unique media properties like HQ and Fortnite have exploded in popularity by satisfying consumers’ needs for highly interactive + communal. Consumers of this type of content want to have shared experiences. These products allow people of all skill levels, ages, and backgrounds to participate in mass phenomena in ways that simple unidirectional TV viewing never enabled.

Experiences with high interactivity are inherently low stakes and have rewards that provide outsized create enjoyment versus their nominal utility gained. Media at this level taps into humanity’s desire for unique, shared experiences built upon simple surprise and delight.

Technologies that thrive at this end of the spectrum are slightly less platform agnostic than those below them, and I think this will only increase as VR and AR technologies eventually move past infancy and vertical content platforms develop around specific devices.

Immersive entertainment is also increasingly aided by the ability to share experiences afterward on third-party video platforms. I won’t pretend to fully understand the drive behind watching other people play video games, but I know that there’s an enormous amount of money behind it.

At the low end (green boxes), lightweight media consumption has gathered around the burgeoning podcast multiverse. Content at this end of the spectrum can be vertical industry-focused, serially formatted, general news coverage, and just about everything else you could imagine.

Pure audio devices like Apple’s Airpods feel like they were designed for podcasts. To a certain degree, the rise and prevalence of wireless audio-only is the driving force that has moved sound to become a strictly passive mode of consumption. I think voice as an input probably best works when its use is completely integrated into our environment, and I’m excited to see this take shape. Traditional early tech adopters have helped Airpods go mainstream, and I don’t ever want to go back.

I think the need for passive entertainment is also increasingly driven by the ~1-2 hours a day that urban commuters spend taking public and alternative forms of transportation. I take a bus service called Chariot to work in the morning, and every single person on the bus has a pair of headphones in, and they are each listening to The Daily or the latest Serial knock-off.

Passive entertainment serves the job of filling time that would not easily be spent doing something that required significant concentration. Passive entertainment is platform agnostic and makes up for its lack of a communal experience with viral word-of-mouth feedback loops incubated in offices, apartments, and every in between.

We’re at a time of great experimentation in all media models. The massive pile-up in the middle of our media consumption patterns has driven both producers and consumers to find more innovative ways to compete and consume. Companies are creating never-before-seen content at the high end of interactivity, and pure-use modular devices like Apple Airpods are enabling effortless consumption of passive content at the low end. The future is so bright.

Notes:

 

Author: Ben

Numbers and words guy

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