Last week I was asked by a media friend in Israel if I would contribute to a paper about where media will be in five years. My answer was that five years is a long way off, and way too distant a horizon to be thinking about media. (But it's still a hellova a measuring stick to use when trying to figure out Soviet farm production goals.) And, anyway, when thinking about where things are going, rather than trying to plot specific points along the digital highway, I tend to limit myself to just trying to figure out the right direction, to try to see what's going on and hazard a guess as to where the media world might be heading. And to that end, I have a compass, which as opposed to the normal one needle with four points, has only three points: 1. First-person Communication; 2. TheCurve; 3. Open-Source Media. Let's look at them one at a time.
1. THE ERA OF FIRST-PERSON COMMUNICATION: We're living in it. And have been for about two years. It's a world where everyone can publish and everyone can distribute. And this, of course, is what is crushing what used to be called traditional media.
In the Era of First-Person communication, celebrities, athletes, politicians and anyone else who can make themselves part of the news now can communicate directly to their audiences, without having to go through the traditional media. They can do it through blogs, if they have the time, and the writing or video ability; they can do it through micro-blogging applications like Twitter and Facebook; and they can do it through real-time social networking applications, like Foursquare.
2. TheCurve: As I've written about throughout this blog Technology moves things to the extremes — and that's going on right now in the media/content world at a continually accelerating pace. This means content consumers will be continue to seek the most high-end content, stop randomly grazing and be more selective about their consumption of medium quality content (the stuff created for the lowest common denominator), while far more of their time will be spent consuming the lower-end First-Person Communication directly from the news makers. (Like Shaq's tweets.)
3. THE OPEN-SOURCE WORLD = OPEN-SOURCE CONTENT = VOYEUR MEDIA
The open source paradigm's migration from the tech world to the content world has had enormous effects, especially in journalism and the world of short-form video.
Again, because everybody can now publish and distribute their own content, and because the tools for gathering and producing content are now so inexpensive and readily available — our smart phones, our iPhone's, digital cameras that shoot video with stills, etc. — we now live in a news world of infinite eyeballs. And as we've seen with the Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger stories, this has made millions of us participants in voyeur journalism, which naturally flows directly into celebrity and gossip journalism.
The immediate battleground for this trend in media is the sports world — and not just because of Tiger. It's because the sports world has been a remarkably closed ecosystem, controlled by the leagues and rights holders, that's inhabited by players and a sports media that, for the most part, all have their interests aligned with each other. Ah, but now onto the field has come a group made up of Everybody Else (as in "Here Comes Everybody," to use Clay Shirky's book title). And the interests of Everybody Else are not aligned with the rights holders and players, the way traditional media's interest are. Now Everybody Else is acting solely in their own self-interest, which for the most part is their interest in getting noticed and gaining status. The result is that now Everybody Else is looking to capture video and still images to blog and micro blog about their favorite and least favorite athletes. And the result of that has been the tabloid-ization of sports coverage, led by TMZ and Deadspin.
TMZ's, Deadspin's and other non-rights holding independent media are unaligned with the rights holders and players — because they don't care about the biggest thing that's kept the traditional media in sports, and in politics, in check: Access. They don't want to sit in the press box. They want to enjoy what's happening between the lines, and they want to write about what's happening outside the lines: They want to be in the bars, restaurants and police stations. And they want to be monitoring the athlete's own First-Person Communication, and creating their own content from there. And that's what makes them so interesting.
Because these outlets don't care about access, the leagues, athletes and other movers and shakers of the sports world have no control over them. They can't kick them out of the press box, because they're not in the press box. They can't stop talking to them, because they've never talked to them.
("The Daily Show" enjoys the same enormous advantage over the network and cable news divisions — not because of the web but because of... their green-screen. Their green-screen is The Daily Show's middle finger to the politicians of the world. It's what says, "We don't need no stinkin' press credentials that you could take away from us if you got angry with anything we say, which would make us toe the line. We don't need to get your permission for an interview, or for a camera location... so screw off. You've got nothing you can take away from us to force us to play your game by your rules.")
And that's the same thing that makes Deadspin so popular.
Whether or not the traditional news outlets want to go down the tabloid path is immaterial, because they have no choice, and they're already well on their way. But how far down the path will they go? It's quite a conundrum for them: If they don't move in this direction they will lose more and more of their audience to those media outlets catering to user generated gotcha content. But if they do follow this path it will put them in conflict with the leagues and rights holders with whom they are partners.
This is going to get really interesting.
And, once again, this is where First-Person Communication comes back into play, as moving forward, the unwilling subjects of everybody's eyes and video cameras will have no choice but to engage their audiences in direct communication through their own blogs and micro-blogs, and like political candidates with their war room, they'll have to constantly be prepared to explain (and often apologize for) their behavior.
(On the other hand, as we all begin to live our lives more publicly, the standards for behavior will no doubt change — "defining deviancy down," in the words of Patrick Moynihan, who probably didn't realize that he was describing the 21st century media world — and so perhaps there will be less apologizing than we might expect.)
So, my compass continues to point to an expanding and ultimately infinite number of sources for content, with consumers continuing to value most those media outlets that don't just bring them content — most of which they can get a thousand other places — but bring them the tools and applications that work best for the consumers of content in ways that make it easy for them to find and filter what they want, aggregated content the way they want, personalize it the way they want, and share it the way they want. (As I've written before on TheCurve: http://tinyurl.com/Open-Source-Journalism
But wait! What about the iPad?
What about Steve Jobs controlling content providers access to consumers by not letting anyone put an app. on the iPad?
And what about Comcast choking off the pipes?
And what about Rupert's walled gardens?
What about the forces of control?
Well, that's why my compass right now says media is quickly moving into the intersection of greed and anarchy — and that's where a really big and scary battle is about to be fought. And in that battle, I'm betting on anarchy to, if not win, then continue to do some real damage.
Why? Two reasons: (1) Because I think an infinite number of little guys who can network with each other can continue to make the big guys bleed — they're a guerilla army, and the topography of the digital battlefield favors them (you've seen The Matrix, right?) — and (2) Because the infinite number of little guys have one really big guy on their side (at least for now) and that's Google. Google likes and understands the open-source media model, and Google likes and understands that it's no longer really about the content — except in very rare events — and that it's about the tools and applications. (Oh, ESPN's content and digital guys realize this too, which is why, unless someone there really screws up, ESPN will remain ESPN.)
Anyway... that's where my five year compass points. At least for the next two to three years.