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may 15, 2006:
users converging with creators
the rise of the usator, the advent of distrib- uted selection, and the attention economy’s impact on music and media commerce

Faced with the seemingly endless number of issues on my Future of Media talks, I recently wrote this short essay in an attempt to summarize the really important stuff, to focus on what really matters and to describe which trends and developments I think will have real impact.

1. the advent of the usators

“Usators” is a portmanteau I made up; it describes the concept of users becoming creators, users who are not just receivers but also senders, of one-way monologs becoming conversations. During the past 9–12 months, some of those People Formerly Known As Users or Consumers are now becoming (co)-crea- tors, too. What’s more, the context they are creating is itself becoming content.

usators

As evidenced in the recent developments at YouTube, Flickr, MySpace, Delicious, Pandora, Last.fm, LinkedIn and a good many of the latest so-called Web 2.0 ventures, many consum- ers of digital media are no longer just receivers – they may also become senders or re-senders of content.

world

This phenomenon, of course, has vast consequences for broadcast media. Radio and TV will never be the same. (The BBC makes a great case study on this, for example). Consequently, the very definition of “content” – and yes, the underlying copyright mantra – is changing, too; being creative seems to be no longer reserved for expert producers, a.k.a. professionals. Some users are now becoming usators (again, this is a term I coined, solely for lack of better words), themselves producing content, remixing and mashing up content – in fact, by doing this, they kind of become content themselves, since they create their own values in this system simply by the very nature of their participation (think eBay, Skype, MySpace et al). In a way, it feels like the emergent “art” of tagging, bookmarking, collaborative filtering, and online profiling is becoming just another type of content, one that would obviously not even exist without the users being part of the system to begin with. Suddenly, media that engages and involves the users – i.e., media that broadcasts not just for, but with or even through them – has gained a lot more momentum over one-way, topdown, or centrally served media. MySpace compared to MTV,YouTube compared to CBS, Boing Boing compared to Rolling Stone, Wikipedia compared to the Encyclopedia Britannica... Media is now also turning two-way, interactive, and nonlinear, with many new gradients that surface between being a “producer” and being a consumer – and “also” is crucial word here since these developments are not really replacing Media 1.0 as we know it; rather, these are shaping up to be additional options for the user, making for a larger menu to feast on. However, they do severely cut into the advertising revenues of “old media,” something that is certainly a major concern and source of headaches for many media companies. The result: Content is king, but since “content” now also in- cludes the user as content – in other words, the usators’ addedvalue creations – we are facing a circular debate here, so this is really a moot argument. The bottom line is: You must engage your users the best you can, and turn them into yet another tier of content, and you will do well. Think professional media > prosumer media > amateur media, all next to each other, and interwoven in many new offerings such as DVDs, TV, and on-demand.

wikipedia

hit content

My prediction: I think that the BBC will swiftly emerge as global media powerhouse by integrating those digital natives and usators into their programming, across the board – and not just in the UK. As a uniquely credible, trusted, and truly global brand, the BBC will continue to blur the line between public and commercial broadcasting, and will be the first broadcaster to also be a one-stop digital media reseller.

2. distributed selection is around the corner

User empowerment is here, beyond Marshall McLuhan’s wildest dreams. Now, in parallel and as virtual adjuncts to the professionals, the users and usators can also be the ones who decide on what’s hot or not: slick new user rating tools, digital reputation schemes, tagging, bookmark sharing, and blogging in general all drive this new trend higher and higher. And again, it’s not like the role or importance of professional programmers or editors is seriously diminished, either: It is just being supplemented (and therefore admittedly pressured) by another type of amateur editor – the mass of people who may spend five seconds leaving a quick comment or tag, for whatever that’s worth in the long run. While I may not entirely subscribe to the “wisdom of masses” theory (in music, in particular), I do see solid value in averaging user ratings and tags – after all, this is how companies such as Gracenote have created a huge pool of very powerful data. Many of the what I call “next generation music companies” will be based on the belief that giving the users more power means that they will give it right back to you, in form of loy- alty, support, and attention (i.e., cash). In the very near future, these newcos will use public rating and tagging tools, and “conversation-metering,” to find out what’s out there, where, and why, rather than trying to tell the listeners what they think they should pay attention to. A&R people will – once again – truly listen to the network buzz, and the art of metering the buzz will be just as important as having an ear for the music. We will see a whole new generation of music companies sourcing their acts from and on the

deer have guns

Net, period – and this will, of course, be in close interaction to what happens in real life, because the Net will very soon simply become all-pervasive reality, like water or electricity.
My prediction: New artists and bands will be “born and raised” on digital networks and on the corresponding streets, stages, and venues around the world. Many fans and eager online talent scouts will do the work of thousands of part-time A&R (*artist & repertoire) managers. And Google will charge new bands to be found and heard by the “right” people.

3. getting attention, not distribution, is what matters

Having Distribution (or, in radio, a frequency slot, or owning a cable or a wireless network) is no longer a big deal. But being good at getting, retaining, and converting attention is. If you still think that simply having a network of retailers and outlets, or a popular radio frequency, or a high-powered cable network, or a highly priced wireless license is going to make you king of the hill by default, then think again, because today, everyone has or can have distribution – and many of them are using your expensive networks for free. Today, it’s neither only owning the network nor only owning the content that would make you king; it’s what actually happens within, on, through, and via your network, or with your content. Read: The conversations, the interactions, the relationships – in other words, getting and retaining attention. We are finding ourselves being catapulted into a world that is no longer based on content or on distribution, but on an ecosystem built around content that is already distributed by default. In a way, we may have come full circle, back to what it used to be before there was any way to record and mass-distribute media: The experience is what really matters, the meaning,

monetizing attention

the context, the relevance, not just the pure offering in and of itself. What music is remembered without its context, its time and place?
My prediction: Marketing is therefore evolving into “attentioneering.” New companies will pop up that will have their ears to the ground, and that will help “the creatives,” the media producers and owners, to reach their users/usators by snagging their attention at the right time and in the right place. I predict that media companies and creators will actually pay people to pay attention to them, i.e., users will get paid to download a track, watch a movie, and play a game. This will be a rather bizarre but inevitable reversal of the ludicrous RIAA witch-hunting we are still witnessing today: Download our music, talk to us, and we will give you a lot of good stuff for free.

4. copyright condenses

In a much faster, more eclectic, and infinitely more diverse world where previously separated forms of media increasingly converge, a much shorter term of copyright is inevitable (and needed). Look around you: Our world is becoming a very mad place of seemingly contradictory trends that are all happening at the same time. For example, nation-states or purely national concerns are starting to matter less and less, but at the same time, quasi-national, “tribal” – or shall we say communal – concerns such as energy, health, and the environment are becoming equally important to people no matter where they live. Life keeps speeding up at a dizzying rate, and the media companies of the future simply won’t need copyright terms of 75 years beyond the life of the author. We will have 8–15 generations of media users behind us by then, and plenty of money can be made from 25–30 years of exclusive ownership protection, I reckon. As content creators, writers, composers, and artists, we just need to get used to very fast moving media phenomena that will only exist in a “moment” (in overall terms), ride those waves while we can, and then move on to be part of, or create, the next one. In this context, improved opportunity recognition will be a vastly desirable skill. Much like Clive Davis and Ahmed Ertegun had a good ear for great songs and artists, the new trendspotters and “producer moguls” will have a nose for creating instant media explosions that are not just music, or just film/TV, or just games, but will constantly cross over from one sector to the other. Trend spotters and opportunity recognizers will be (behind) the new Trumps, Gateses, Murdochs, Turners and Mottolas. Look for new leaders to emerge who “simply get it” and can smell a hit 18 months before it’s actually here.
My prediction: Designated futurists will become part of the strategy team within every major media company within 12–18 months. (I do certainly like that idea!)

5. mass markets morph into a mass of niche markets

If you’re American and over 50 years old, you may still recall the days when 63% of your fellow Americans faithfully watched Gunsmoke on the tube – the peak of the united-by-TV feeling and the tube-driven national identity. In music, when looking at Neil Young, Santana, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and other major music brands that sport this kind of global mass-market appeal, I would dare to conclude that in addition to their obvious genius their vast success was also due to a severe distribution bottleneck that simply did not allow ubiquitous and economic access to many other artists as well. In other words, not all music by all artists was equally available (as it is today!). And while these artists were (are) truly fantastic, the lack of strong, niche-market driven competition – or using a Chris Anderson-inspired term, “viable long-tail alternatives” – that people could also listen to, is part of what really created the mass markets that the record labels loved so much and grew fat on. Today, everyone’s taste is becoming more eclectic: Many different kinds of food, new music from all over the world in an ever increasing melting pot of styles, and the increasing global cross-pollenization of cultures is evident everywhere. The range of interest in media content now is as diverse as the crowd in a New York City subway car! In the future, while we will likely still have mega-stars of some sort, the days of ubiquitous, global, and long-lasting media dominators such as the Beatles, Elton John, and the Rolling Stones are long gone. The world has simply become more complex than that, and more options means fewer mass-mar-ket hits. In my opinion, this development is definitely not due to a lack of good artists, as is often alleged; it’s simply a cultural trend driven by technology – having more choices has unchained diversity, and therefore the dollars are spent more evenly. Not a bad thing for the 98% that never made it to the top!
My prediction:
In 2006, the next hot music style is not An-glo-made (i.e., from the U.S. or the UK) – in fact, this may already be here...in the shape of Reggaeton. In 2007, the first Chinese music star breaks globally. And in 2008, so-called “world” music makes up more than 7% of the total industry turnover.

6. media is a two-way conversation

The media of the future is not the monolog passed down by the über-wardens of Hollywood; it’s not a sermon delivered from above; rather, it’s a conversation. It’s no longer all top-down, centrally served, dispensed-on-a-schedule, wrapped in remote-access-control-as-we-see-fit software. It may not even be A&R’ed, either. It’s simply grown. Media of the future is not just from “me the producer” to “you the consumer.” It’s also an interactive process, an ongoing, two-way conversation, not a stale and linear product. And who can pirate (as in “steal”) a process? Who could steal conversations? Going forward, media companies are not just creators of content but also conversation curators, offering platforms for exchanges. This may mean that soon the term “broadcasting” becomes as meaningless as the term “record company.”

7. marketing 2.0

The burden is now on the media itself, i.e., what we create must be found worthy, and what we offer must have real merit. It’s no longer the consumer who is subjected to artificial scarcity mechanisms such as record distribution, or some default advertising programs that he or she has to suffer through. Users and usators are no longer targeted with weapons of mass advertising; rather, they now decide and tell us what they want to receive, whom they may “allow to find” them. In fact, as evident in much of the old-style, quasi-military advertising lingo (“targeting, penetration rate, launching a campaign...”), we must now no longer assume that we need

the future is conversations

to conquer the customer, to nail him while we can, to get his attention and squash him into submission – i.e., get him to buy something he probably doesn’t need. This old view of media has all too often been the idea of the customer as some kind of elusive enemy who needs to be pounced on the very moment we can see him. In the future of media, effective advertising simply consists of boosting the enablement factor that the user enjoys, maybe even giving him the tools to switch you off – handing control over, fair and square. Mass advertising will diminish greatly as mass media shrinks and shrivels and as media is both becoming unbundled (i.e., songs rather than CDs, and clips rather than shows) and re-bundled (i.e., included in access subscriptions and other services). To finish this off, here are five more predictions:


1. Google will launch an application that allows you to program your digital radios, TVs, and mobile services via epg.google.com: Search, find, program, get – all in one go.
2. Skype will launch a service that will see bands and artists paying consumers to download and “taste” their music and provide ratings and feedback to them – some music fans will make a living as professional music raters.
3. CNN will offer ad-hoc, live video and image feeds from camera-phone equipped “stringers” from all over the world.
4. A consortium of Asian telcos and wireless operators led by SK Telecom will offer $10 billion-plus per year to get a flat-fee, all-you-can-eat license for music on digital networks.
5. Within 24 months, a compulsory digital music license will be tested in some European countries, followed by a pan-European scheme.