Growing our connections

Growing our connections Growing our connections

Media innovations could bring greater value—and intimacy—to how we consume content

A few years ago, while working for a popular sports broadcaster, Barry Libert, chief executive officer of Open Matters` had a radical idea. He suggested a unique replacement for a popular television personality. “I said ‘Fire him and give everyone the opportunity to broadcast their kids soccer games—let them be their own broadcaster’,” he recalled. “Not everyone likes [the TV personality], but everyone loves their kids.”

Although the suggestion may have been somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it was in response to the dynamics of the current media environment. Digital tools and platforms allow anyone to create videos and gain a popular following. But these forces of change are about more than the ascendance of DIY content. Innovation is changing everything we know about media. From social networking to education to news consumption, the ways we engage with information, entertainment, and each other are evolving rapidly—and for the better.

Digital will connect us all

Digitization is at the heart of this transformation. According to a Business Insider Intelligence report, digital—which includes computers and mobile devices—has increased its share of U.S. media consumption in each of the past five years. Similarly, the time spent on mobile phones grows each year. (Today, according to the Pew Research Center, over three-quarters of Americans own a smartphone.) This trend will surely continue, as young people, who are more likely to use digital platforms, increase as a proportion of the consumer population. And smartphone use is also proliferating around the world; by 2020, 70 percent of the global population will have smartphone subscriptions, according to Ericsson. Put simply, by 2030, nearly every adult will be a digital native with internet access at his or her fingertips.

By 2020, 70 percent of the global population will have smartphone subscriptions

How we access and engage with this digital content will change too. According to Libert, chief executive officer of OpenMatters, “platforms are the future.” These hubs have several key advantages: their user networks are already much larger than legacy outlets and they allow individuals to create their own content, which has proven to be incredibly popular. Most importantly, though, platforms are a one-stop-shop for media engagement. When social networks also host content, users can chat with friends, read the latest news and watch their favorite comedian’s latest video all on one site. But that’s not to say innovation has plateaued; by 2030, these platforms could look much different than they do today. According to a Business Insider Intelligence report, messaging apps, more than social networking sites, will soon be at the core of digital activity. There could be more than 2 billion people using messaging apps by 2019.

By 2020, 70 percent of the global population will have smartphone subscriptions

Step inside a new world: Virtual and augmented reality

The growth of virtual and augmented reality is redefining media in the 21st century. These emerging technologies make for thrilling entertainment platforms capable of powerful gaming and storytelling. Viewers don’t just consume content, they are a part of it. Here’s a primer:

Virtual reality

Wearing a headset, helmet, or even using gloves, users experience a fully-realized artificial world—separate and apart from their normal physical space. The equipment facilitates full immersion in a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment. Users become active participants—walking, flying and experiencing panoramic views.

Augmented reality

The technology uses similar principles as VR, like computer-generated simulations, but integrates them with normal reality. For example, in the summer of 2016, hundreds of millions of people downloaded a smartphone app that helped them find animated monsters in real-world locations. Mixing location-tracking, cameras and digital gaming, the app was perhaps the first mass adoption of AR technology. But we may still only be at the beginning of knowing AR’s full potential, said Peter Csathy. “[The technology] is going to be used in ways that most people can’t understand now.”

The content revolution will be customized

No matter which platforms emerge in the coming years, there is little doubt they will change our consumption habits. And the big transformation is on-demand media. In large part, this transition has already happened in music. Nielsen reported in 2014 that Americans streamed 164 billion tracks, and the figure doubled the following year, with users listening to or watching 317 billion streams of on-demand services.

Video, said Peter Csathy, chairman of CREATV Media, is seeing a similar trend. Online video platforms today give consumers the option to watch highlights of the nightly news or order their favorite shows online. Bundlers allow consumers to pay for channels a la carte. Subscription services offer a vast library of content that isn’t set to a schedule.

Legacy players facing this new world already are feeling the pressure. According to a 2015 Nielsen report, TV viewing by all age groups in America peaked in the 2009-2010 season, and has declined ever since, as cable companies continue to lose subscribers—at an accelerating pace.

The proliferation of screens will certainly contribute to these trends. “Everything will be a screen,” said Gerd Leonard, chief executive officer of The Futures Agency. “I can project my content on anything from my kitchen stove to the wall of the shower.”

Are you ready for the next wave in media and entertainment?Take this quiz and put your knowledge to the test.

  • question 1

    In 2016, the total revenue for subscription streaming services was around $5.8 billion. What is the projected revenue for 2019?
  • question 2

    In the United States in 2012, there were 171.6 million digital video viewers. How many are there expected to be in 2020?
  • question 3

    Around 3.2 billion people subscribe to mobile broadband—that’s how we access the internet with a mobile device. How many new subscriptions are added each day?

But new technologies that go beyond today’s devices also will emerge and transform the media landscape, particularly virtual reality (VR). From gaming and entertainment to education to immersive social networking, the applications for VR are immense. And while the technology may feel alien now, demographic shifts are likely to fuel its widespread adoption by 2030, said Opaque Studio’s Mariana Acuna. “It will continue to grow with the younger generations because they’ve grown up with the technology.”

Nonny de la Pena, Founder of Emblematic Group, discusses the power of VR as an immersive storytelling tool

There are unquestionably some concerns about our networked future—chiefly privacy—as platforms come to know everything about their users. Europe has been more active in developing public policy to address this issue, passing a series of data protection laws. Citizens of other countries thus far have not demanded the same type of safeguards.

Yet these developments present significant benefits as well. For businesses, increased interconnectivity means more customers. In 2016, for example, one popular video-streaming site expanded into every country in Africa, a market with hundreds of millions of potential subscribers. New consumption habits also mean alternative revenue streams. Leonard argues that advertising will fundamentally change as platforms become more familiar with their users. “The [network] will know me so well, that it will lead to advertising that would be useful to me.” He argues that advertising will become more content-driven and personal, leading to greater brand engagement.

Nonny de la Pena, Founder of Emblematic Group, discusses the power of VR as an immersive storytelling tool

The medium is the message: The rise of messaging apps

Messaging apps are platforms that keep users in touch—and can bypass the costs of texting. They also have broad utility, allowing users to chat, watch videos, play games, listen to music and make payments. As mobile phone penetration increases and younger generations become a larger share of the consumer population, these apps will become more popular, changing the way we communicate, consume entertainment and even do business.

Technology that drives human connection

This new world also will be a boon for users. Social and content platforms—which will increasingly be one and the same—will become ever more intimate, thanks to the rise of video and VR. “Instead of sending messaging or images to one another,” Dawson said, “we will experience being in a common space.” In these democratized spaces, anyone can be a content creator and distributor, and users will be able to get any media on-demand. “You have great choice for content,” Csathy says. “You can customize what you want, when you want it—and it’s much more cost effective for you because you have pricing choice.”

But digitization isn’t only about chatting with friends or binge-watching TV; it’s also about learning opportunities. Video content and immersive tech will “give people the power of experience and to practice things in a virtual world before doing them in the real world,” Dawson said. Imagine an oil rig technician gaining skills safely by training on a headset, or a high school science teacher taking a class inside the human gut.

A headset and stationary bike allow users (left) to move through a VR environment atop a digitally-rendered galloping horse (right)

A headset and stationary bike allow users (top) to move through a VR environment atop a digitally-rendered galloping horse (bottom)

And then there is the prospect of platforms’ ability to buttress social movements. “It is reasonable to argue that the potential for social ‘changemakers’ armed with today’s digital platforms in partnership with large and growing virtual networks can dramatically improve the human condition,” Libert notes in an article for University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Meanwhile, new immersive technology can be a tool for activists by engendering empathy. This type of intimate media consumption, which is unique to VR, could affect change by helping viewers live other people’s experiences.

Through digitization, new interfacing technologies, on-demand options and ever more connected platforms, the face of media is changing. Although this evolution is not without challenges, it will dramatically shift how we engage with media—and each other—for the better. “Some will choose to disengage,” said Dawson, speaking of the future of interconnectivity, “but many will choose to have this far, far richer sharing of their lives and interests.”