Thoughts from the Media Futures Conference 2009

I took part in a panel discussion at the Media Futures Conference last week (#mfc09), organised by the multi-talented and well-connected Nico Macdonald.  A wide range of media gurus from BBC, LBS, C4, ITV, PA, Techcrunch, Enders, Bloomberg and many more contributed their, often radical, ideas on the future of media: covering consumer behaviour, technology and funding models.  There was a focus on broadcast entertainment and news, but the conclusions are applicable I believe to all media businesses and those who supply them or use them to reach key audiences.  Here’s my take on the main themes: watch this blog for more thoughts as it all starts to sink in.

1. The sushi consumer

We have all heard about shorter attention spans, and the rise of multi-tasking, among the middle-aged as much as teenagers.  However, despite spending more time in front of screens, humans still want to share and chat and play and interact with other humans, and media content is frequently both the launch pad and the raw material for this discussion.

2. How media spaces work

Old media was heavily siloed for different purposes – the TV in the living room for passive entertainment, the radio to distract from tedious tasks like driving or ironing or pretending to revise, print media for escape, relaxation and personal exploration of an interest.  More recently, the laptop is considered a research, buying  and communicating device, and the mobile a portable, intimate store for contacts, pictures, games and chat.  These devices are starting to overlap (see point #3) but there is still a distinction between passive entertainment spaces (TV derived); spaces where consumers can search, learn, create, share, connect, play and chat (laptop-derived); personal, portable spaces (mobile and PDA), and personal readers for reflection, relaxation and retreat (print and portable e-readers).  Each serves a different need and requires different content.

3. Converging devices

Technology is rapidly enabling the convergence of TV, radio, laptop, mobile and e-readers.  Many businesses are enabling greater interaction between TV and web, either by adding web-style interface to the TV screen, often with touch or gesture control, or by synching TV content with live web interaction and gaming. Portable e-readers and mobiles can now synch automactically to web and TV, making it easy for consumers to chat about a TV storyline on laptop or phone, or access their e-reader library online.

4. Business models

Old media was funded largely by advertising, with a chunk of licence fee plus some revenue from consumers, and cross-subsidy from large media groups.  Now advertisers have many more routes to reach audiences, and the dip in ad revenues will not be restored when the economy recovers. News has always been a loss leader, but in future large media groups will have to dramatically downscale their cost base, and cannot continue to compete with Google and the BBC. Scale will be a handicap rather than an advantage, and the power will slowly shift to independent niche information businesses who can identify groups prepared to pay subscriptions or memberships in return for both targeted content and, more importantly, opportunities to connect with their like-minded peers.  The organisations that survive will be those who are driven by curiosity and experimentation rather than false hope or paralysing fear.

5. Media evolution

In future media brands will not just be about content.  They will need to add emotional depth by incorporating narrative, games and play.  They will have to offer opportunities for chat, creation and sharing.  They must be more personalised, and even move into the realms of real-life interaction.  Media brands will be more about creating a meeting place for conversations to happen than simply providing a vault of content.

I’d be keen to hear views from others who were at the conference – or even those who weren’t – on some of these ideas.

Carolyn Morgan runs a consultancy business, Penmaen Media, which creates practical digital media and marketing strategies.  If you’d like to discuss how these ideas could affect your business and how you can use them to drive revenue growth, please contact us.