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What is the future of media?

“Distracted from distraction by distraction” -T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Burnt Norton-

This picture sounds surprisingly suitable to describe an emerging trend in modern society when it comes to media consumption. In other words, people escape boredom (distraction) by plunging into (getting “distracted”) media content (“distraction”). Social media consumption is evolving due to technological advances and people are increasingly making time to consume easily accessible media content in innovative ways. This phenomenon explains the increase in the power of the media industry in developed countries and states it as a dominating trend in the future of the International media system. In the present work I am going to look into one of the most important features of today’s media system, that is to say Web 2.0, which makes it possible for users to actively take part in the creation of original content. Subsequently, I am going to examine how Web 2.0 practices have impacted the media system and I am going to make predictions about how this will evolve in the near future, focusing on four key areas in particular: ethics and regulations, advertisement, computer games and journalism and TV industry.

Nowadays there are many ways through which we can not only share but also create content and this trend is likely to increase in the future. In order to support my argument, I’d like to consider the role that social networks such as Twitter or Facebook play in content creation and circulation, especially as far as journalism activities are concerned. In fact, not only do these platforms allow us to be directly connected to the whole world, making it possible for us to immediately get to know about an event which has just taken place in another part of the world, but they also allow us to make comments and share opinions about it globally. But the main contribution social networks users provide is content creation and circulation. In fact, nowadays it is possible that a piece of news becomes viral throughout the world on Web 2.0 sites such as Twitter or Facebook faster than any official newspapers.

The 2004 O’Reilly Media conference first popularized the term Web 2.0, describing it as an interactive and engaging online space in which users were not just content users and consumers, but they were directly involved in generating content. Since 2004 the concept of Web 2.0 has had an extremely strong impact on the digital economy. In time, Web 2.0 has changed the way producers and audience consumers relate to each other.

One of the principles around which the concept of Web 2.0 revolves is the customization of the user’s experience, the opportunity for users to select the information they find on websites.

From a vertical perspective this alters the interaction between websites providers and website users, whereas from a horizontal point of view, it leads to a collaboration between users. Thus, audiences have features of both consumers and producers and they have been recently labeled “prosumers”. As prosumption is thought of as an uneven and imbalanced cycle of content creation, a term indicating the way industrial producers use this content has also emerged, namely produsage. Web 2.0 practices have quickly matured and produsage models are not only considered as successful and legitimate processes for collaborative content creation but also supported by non-profit and commercial providers of third-party platforms.

In this diversified environment in which the boundaries between content providers and content consumers are more and more blurred, some new trends have emerged and they started shaping the future of the International media system. I am now going to look into four key areas within the media system where significant changes have already started happening and where so much more is about to come up in the near future. First area to consider is ethics and regulations. It is extremely important for both individual contributors and produsage communities to protect their integrity and to make sure that the fundamental principles of produsage are maintained. As academic Axel Bruns explains in his article From Prosumption to Produsage, in the near future the International media system will have to deal with ethical issues as well, regarding the questions whether harnessing of user activities by corporations should be considered as exploitation of prosumer labor or not. On the one hand, corporations such as Google ore Amazon claim that the goal of such harnessing is providing more accurate search results and more useful purchase recommendations to their users. On the other hand, the fact that these corporations often take advantage of user-created content to enhance their products, thus building a business on the basis of prosumer labor, should also be considered. But the fact that evaluation and coordination of users’ contribution is carried out by the corporation shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the firm is the only entity which has the comprehensive overview required to carry out this task.

The second area within the media system where significant changes have occurred since the advent of Web 2.0 practices is advertising. Because of the amount of content they display, social networks have always been an important area of investment for advertisers. As scholar Henry Blodget points out in his conference The future of digital: the next big thing, digital advertisement spending in the developed market is on the increase and in Asia it is growing at surprising speed (Figure 1). Digital ad spending tends to lag attention by about five years so if we consider the amount of time we spend consuming media each day nowadays, we still have five years of advertising catching up with that and in Asia and other developing countries this trend is on a steep increase.

The fields of computer games industries and journalism have also been affected by the emergence of such processes as prosumption and produsage. As far as the former is concerned, crowdfunding services such as Kickstarter or Pozible have been used for industry/community co-funding of games development. As far as the latter is concerned, social media spaces such as Facebook or Twitter play a very important role in data journalism activities, since they contribute to the rapid spread, discussion and evaluation of journalistic content.

Finally, Web 2.0 platforms and phenomena such as prosumption and produsage have had an impact on the TV industry, the fourth area to consider in this piece of research. As scholar Blodget explains, modern TV networks have started playing a key role in video distribution and this figure is likely to increase, to the detriment of legacy TV. The decline of Pay TV is accelerating and this is likely to continue over the next few years, as more and more people prefer to satisfy themselves with what’s available online through platforms such as Netflix and Hulu. On a demographic level, younger TV viewership is collapsing. As traditional TV market is fragmenting and becoming outdated, modern TV networks such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu are growing incredibly rapidly across all demographics (Figure 2). The reason is that they are more convenient, users can consume media content anytime, anywhere and at a better value. In fact, if we consider the cost of Netflix to a consumer per hour of consumption, it’s about one quarter the cost of the traditional cable tv subscription.

Because modern TV networks are reaching so many more people, the content budget are now beginning to rival and will soon exceed those of traditional networks (Figure 3). Five years ago, Netflix was not taken seriously by the entertainment industry nor the TV industry. But in 2017 Netflix’ content budget will almost rival ESPN.

“Distracted from distraction by distraction”, T.S. Eliot’s quote from Four Quartets, Burnt Norton, could be used to describe the way modern audiences use media content today, conceiving it almost as a way to escape boredom. The power of the media industry is on the increase all around the world and this is likely to be a dominating trend in the near future as well. In the present work I explained the concept of Web 2.0, defining it as an interactive and engaging online space in which users are not just content users and consumers, but they are directly involved in generating content. Subsequently, we illustrated how Web 2.0 practices have shaped the International media system and, drawing on data and current phenomena observed in today’s society, we made predictions about how this will evolve in the near future. The common trend that can be observed in all the four areas that we have examined in the present work (ethics and regulations, advertisement, video games and journalism and TV industry) is a growing involvement of consumers who actively participate in the creation of media content, with the consequent need for new regulations that protect the integrity of individuals and produsage communities. Another factor that we observed across the four areas is an increase in the consumption of media content through social networks and the consequent rise of opportunities for advertisers. Finally, we illustrated how the change in the way people consume media content has led to the rise of new TV platforms, with the consequent erosion of the prestige and popularity of traditional TV. The media industry is an ever changing world, which is both shaped by us and which is able to shape our behavior in return. In order to make the most of the new opportunities the media system offers, it is vital to always be one step ahead, in order not only to adapt to changes but also anticipate them and take advantage of them.