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In the new age of ubiquitous connectivity the message is the medium


In a month where Facebook launched its TV app with Samsung as a launch partner, we have to ask what this means for TV and then every other channel.  What if social media was just becoming the aggregation layer we accessed content through?

The concept of a “media channel” is about to explode. For decades we’ve had tight vertical channels named after the specific device we consumed it on, but we’re about to see all media become digital and we need to turn our thinking 90 degrees. We now have layers of content, not devices.

Media has stopped being about how things get to us, who made it and where it appears, it’s becoming an endless fight for eyeballs and which aggregator owns the eyeballs.

Twitter is now broadcasting live sports. Apple has a Radio station, YouTube has 2,000 Channels with over a million subscribers, Facebook has launched a TV app and is likely to become the largest TV channel ever known overnight. Change is everywhere. Things like the  Amazon Echo are becoming a whole new media channel, while print publishers are heavily into SnapChat.

It begs the question: what’s happening to media channels?

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In the same way that Airbnb is the largest accommodation provider with no properties, Alibaba is the largest retailer with no stores and Uber moves people around with no cars owned, we’re seeing a movement where ownership of the customer interface is most vital and where all media is becoming digital, and that means companies spreading across types of content rather than among discrete channels or technologies. 

What we’re seeing in 2017 is a vast shift in how we think of media and channel. Advertising, and the content it subsidizes always split vertically, from newspapers to outdoor, television to movies and from traditional to digital.

Everything new from social to mobile we’ve added on as a new vertical silo.  But when all devices do everything, where the line between radio and streaming, TV, and video bends and blurs, we need to think differently. 

Our experience today is seamlessly stitched by a series of screens. We need to prepare for a modern landscape where essentially all media appears on a digital screen, where all content is hosted in the cloud and streamed and where each device is merely a context to consume personalized content and likely with ads placed at an individual level. 

A horizontal media landscape has profound effects on the worlds of media, advertising, and commerce, it creates vast new opportunities, new consumer behaviors and massive threats to businesses unable to adapt to a radically different communication landscape.

The Pre-Digital Age – Vertical Channels

Since the dawn of advertising and media, we’ve held the notion of media existing in channels. These were confined units, mainly separate business entities, and all named after the physical devices we used to consume media on them. 

On TV sets we watched TV, made by TV production companies, curated by TV channel executives that we navigated by TV channels that came to us either from national networks or from cable TV companies. 

On the radio, we listened to radio stations with radio programs from radio companies, with radio ads. Newspapers are a vertical channel of newspaper mastheads, editors, reporters, and ads. And finally, both magazines and outdoor media created their own distinct vertical silos.

The Early Digital Age – Incremental Vertical Channels

The muscle memory of building vertical channels continued when the internet was born. 

We replaced both the form and function of existing pre-digital units by first creating the internet vertical with ISP’s, online portals, web editors, digital journalists, digital photographers and of course digital advertising and digital media and advertising agencies.

With the popularization of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more, we added Social Media as a channel, we created infrastructure, roles, strategies, to deal with the precise new skills we needed to perfect media in an age of sharing.

Then came mobile and thus apps, mobile advertising, mobile ad networks,  mobile journalists making mobile content from mobile strategies.

The Post-Digital Age – A Paradigm Shift 

These channels have remained very compelling to those within them but ignore the reality of the modern world and of converged digital devices. At a time where I read magazines on smartphones, watch TV on Tablets, stream Vimeo on my TV, listen to the radio on my Echo, it makes little sense.

We’re currently in love with terms like “mobile” and “social”, which make little sense when all digital media is intrinsically shareable and social, and everything digital can be accessed from a mobile device.

To explain to a 5-year-old nonchalantly swiping between TV shows on YouTube that they are not technically watching TV, would involve all manner of explanations that are technically accurate, but of no relevance to the child. 

And as screens like VR, wearables, in-car tablets, silly fridges, or devices and platforms like Echo and Siri proliferate, we need to be flexible to a whole new way of thinking.

In this new landscape, we need to reconsider every aspect of the past.

  • Content Makers
    TV vs streaming video is no longer a useful distinction. It means nothing. In the new media environment, we need only think of content makers. They may be premium content makers like Conde Nast, the New York Times, the BBC, the NFL or record labels or YouTube stars. And there will be user-generated content that we love because it comes from our friends, is funny or captures a feeling in the world. 
  • Publishers
    Publishers are no longer those who produce, curate, bundle and distribute content like in the past, they are simply those with the largest audience, the people who own the customer interface.  In the modern landscape, the top publishers will be a group that includes Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Google. The likes of TV companies, Magazine and news publishers face a fight on their hands to retain a relationship with eyeballs and could easily move upstream to merely become content creators/commissioners.
  • Data
    In the horizontal landscape, there exists more data that is more personal and specific than ever before. Mobile devices know who you are, where you are, and where you’re likely to be heading. They know the weather, the news, your recent browsing and your intentions. TV’s will increasingly know where you are, the shows you watch but will most likely tap into other personal data from more personal devices.

In the medium term, it’s likely that ads will not be served attached to the shows you’re watching or the content you’re viewing, but at a local level, specific to you and that time, unbundled from that content. 

The new players in the data landscape will be based around those that can aggregate content from different devices and build perfect consumer profiles to allow more relevant ads. They will be a thin horizontal player.

In the new internet age, context is king and no single platform wears a crown.

Featured Image: Hoxton/Paul Bradbury/Getty Images


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