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Old dogs and new tricks January 14, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing, web 2.0.
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Saturday night, after watching No Country For Old Men (great movie, very heavy though), my band of reprobates and I descended on Jimmy Watson’s to down a few bottles of Dry & Dry (dry vermouth, dry ginger ale). One of the crew is a good mate from England who spent many years working in traditional media, think newspapers, Sky TV, etc.

We got into a debate around the future of advertising and entertainment (because on Saturday night we clearly had nothing better to do…), using The Sopranos as a case study. My friend is not old, but older than I, and definitely from a different school thought. He does currently work in marketing though and has lectured at universities on journalism – he is by no means an idiot. With this in mind I was astounded by how little he grasped of the web 2.0 world, convinced that changes in consumer behaviour only came about because traditional advertising and media companies decided to alter the lay of the land.

I initially thought he was taking the piss, but upon further exploration he was deadly serious. His argument centred around a rather bizarre core, stating that if advertisers and media companies didn’t remain in control, then productions such as The Sopranos would simply cease to exist because of a lack of advertising dollars. My point that a market for quality entertainment would forever exist, citing everything from Homer’s Odyssey to Quarterlife seemed to fall on deaf ears; sure levels of production quality are bound to vary from project to project, but people don’t tune in for the lighting, they tune in for compelling characters and stories they see something of themselves in.

My friend’s issues ran deeper than the quality of story-telling though. Once of his fundamental concerns was, essentially, “Who will pay the salaries of the people who book the ads if nobody comes and books the ads?” I told him nobody, because we don’t need the ads, and that seemed to trigger a small nuclear explosion inside his head. In the mind of my educated and intelligent friend, it was inconceivable that ad-centric business models in traditional media would not survive ad infinitum. More than that, he couldn’t conceive of people who weren’t part of these establishments being the ones that changed everything, even though he himself uses things like MySpace and Facebook.

It reminded me of a moment I had a month or so ago on a tram going to work. I was reading RSS feeds on my BlackBerry, everyone else was reading a newspaper; I was the odd one out, but somehow had not removed my head from my ass recently enough for this to come as anything other than a surprise. It is so easy to get lost in the Brave New World of Web2.0 and forget that Facebook is still pretty novel for most, that the things we spend so much time discussing are not even blips on the horizon of the general public.

In the end, I opted to change the subject. After all, it was Saturday night, and my choices were to persist with my ad-hoc oral essay entitled “Everything you know is wrong”, or I could order another round.

Better make it two then…

N.B. For a thought-provoking look at how consumption of media is changing, check out this post on Fred Wilson’s blog.

*Update* The inimitable Bob Lefsetz hits the nail on the head.

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Comments»

1. Ben Dyer - January 17, 2008

Interesting, isn’t it, the role “media” play in contemporary understandings of the entertainment/ad industry?

Of course it’s inevitable that something as mundane as the delivery mechanism should command such a disproportionate mindshare, given the technology-driven medium fetishism of the last 150 years, but I think that’s about to change: it seems to me that the exciting thing about the Web–and version 2.0 is nothing more than CERN’s circa-1990 World Wide Web for the HTML-illiterate masses, with rounded edges and animated JavaScript drop shadows–is precisely that it is _not_ just another shiny medium for us to enjoy (…and pay for).

The key here is that the Web exhibits the same fundamental topologies of power and control as speech, only orders of magnitude larger (and, in the temporal sense, somewhat less fuzzy). Communication is inherently bi-directional and essentially instant, while audience is limited more by who cares enough about you to listen than by, say, the North American market penetration of HD-DVD playback systems within the B demographic, or the uptake of PlaysForSure DRM-compatible devices in the EU.

There will be a few more new tricks for all of us to learn, but I think ultimately the result of the Web’s expansion into everyday life will be that the medium becomes ubiquitous, therefore uninteresting, therefore invisible, and finally we’ll get back to creating and consuming content, not media.

2. David Gillespie - January 17, 2008

Ben, in our chat this morning (Disclosure: my employer is a client of Ben’s) about this, you said you figured out what bugged you about “Web 2.0” and the talk about social revolutions around it. I’d like to hear more on that – either here or on a blog of your own. It *seemed* to revolve around notions of wanting to retain some sense of the walled garden, but I know your motivations are more altruistic than that.

I do question the notion of the web mapping out, as you say, “the same fundamental topologies of power”. The changes we’re seeing in traditional media businesses are being brought about because that power structure has been disrupted. I think we’re certainly seeing attempts at regaining control, but that is happening through litigation and acquisition rather than innovation on the part of the media companies.

In terms of audience, would it not be better to say it is limited ONLY by who is interested as opposed to who owns the player for your specific format? That in itself is key to disrupting the way a lot of these companies operate, and as we move away from notions of regions and more towards global markets, the ways fans of a particular product or brand can interact with it only get more interesting.

As a complete aside, I can remember calling up Channel 7 perhaps ten or more years ago to complain that they hadn’t aired the full first season of friends; that’s something my kids are never going to need to worry about.

3. 04ben - January 18, 2008

David, I love the concept behind Web 2, but wish those involved in it would stop telling us all how clever and innovative they are, because the main features Web 2 has brought in were essentially the reason Tim B-L invented the web in the first place. The World Wide Web as developed at CERN was essentially social (and professional) networking for the scientific community, and the fact that everybody else missed the point in “Web 1.0” doesn’t in any way diminish the magnitude of CERN’s accomplishment.

My point about the topology of the web was that by being a read-write, decentralized system, it resists the kind of concentration of power you see in the broadcast media. This is similar to (person-to-person) speech, in that access is universal, and group interaction is easy. This fundamentally disrupts attempts to replicate traditional media distribution models in the online space, and I think that’s probably a good thing.

Similarly, my point on audience was that as access to the web becomes universal and standards become more open, distribution is not limited to people with a certain type of playback device or application. I think the recorded music industry is a fair example of this: we’ve had wax cylinders, 78s, 45s, 33 1/3s, 8-track tape, cassettes, CDs, DATs, Minidisc, DVD-A, SACD, MP3, AAC, ATRAC3, WMA, and many others. While I’m much too young to remember the technical debate over the optimum angular velocity for a shellac platter, there has been significant technical debate over which digital format offers the best compromises between quality and file size, and which latest-generation optical format offers the best quality for those of us with electrostatic headphones capable of -3dB at 45kHz…

However, all of these recent debates have missed the point entirely–people don’t _listen_ to (recorded) music any more, they use it as a soundtrack to whatever else they happen to be doing concurrently, and that use case requires near-universal access to their collections. At the moment, that’s what the iPod is for, but soon enough we’ll just be streaming it from the artist’s site via our broadband-equipped phones, or from web-based playlists set up by our friends, or from some kind of RSS-like aggregation service that gives us latest stuff from all the bands we’re subscribed to. And it doesn’t matter if the record companies can’t make money off it, because somebody else will, and the world will keep turning…


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