The Future of Media, 2015-2030

Feb 20, 2010 by

The worlds of print, audio, and video media are in flux. The resources required for companies to be successful in the future world of media will depend on the shape that it ultimately takes. Those who make investments based upon accurate predictions of the future landscape of media will likely have better returns than those who invest in less success players. The following is my opinion on where media will be headed in the next five to twenty years.

Print

While the world of print media is being revolutionized, the approach taken with the iPad and Kindle is likely not the correct one. Magazines are producing “apps” for the iPad hoping that they can revitalize their sales by adding interactive content and video. I feel that this misses the point as to why people are buying fewer monthly magazines. While video might be nice, people buy print media because they are interested in learning about things in the dense matter that is only possible through text. The problem with magazines and other “periodicals” is that they are produced with a set frequency - periodically. The reason I no longer buy computer magazines is that they report on events and product releases weeks after they actually occur. The Internet has made it possible for me to learn about events nearly instantaneously. While I believe that there will always be a market for quality journalism, I feel that there is unlikely to be a market for publications updated on an infrequent basis.

Instead, I imagine magazines of the future taking on a blog-like model. The idea of selling monthly “issues” is tied to the notion of printing. The journal Health Affairs already releases articles on an as-needed basis. I imagine that the periodical of the future will continue to be beautifully laid-out, but will be delivered a few pages at a time on a continual basis, rather than as a monthly bundle. Tablet devices will enable people to read this content. People are used to subscribing to magazines, and it will be possible to bill subscribers to access to these “streams” just as they are billed for periodicals. Going digital means breaking out of the notion of having bundled releases of print content that are released on an infrequent basis.

Video

In the long-run, I imagine that some of the distinctions that exist between short-form and long-form video content (i.e. movies and TV shows) will disappear. People will likely continue to watch long-form content in theaters, as it is not worth while investing the time to go to a movie theater to watch short-form content, and watching movies in a theater provides a fundamentally different experience. When it comes to home watching, I believe that the way in which long and short-form content is received will merge.

Television stations show three types of content: nationally-syndicated content, local content, and and advertisements. Most of the major television networks (ABC, Fox, NBC, and others) are offering their content online via streaming already. The availability of local content online is a bit spottier, but it is very technically-feasible for it to be offered. The Internet has a major dearth of live content, but the reason for this is not technical, but instead because it is likely omitted to encourage viewers to watch live television. The Internet-based distribution of syndicated content is often delayed by a day to a week for this reason, as advertising rates may be better for television viewership than for online viewership. As online viewing becomes the norm, these differences in advertising rates will disappear, and it will become possible to watch both live and pre-recorded content online. As networks display this content to viewers directly, the power of local television stations will likely diminish, and they may have trouble sustaining themselves solely on advertising revenues from local content (i.e. the nightly local news).

This transition will likely decrease the demand for “cable” and “satellite” television services, although it likely will have no influence on the demand for the content that these providers offer. Cable operators over the last decade have been transitioning into being Internet Service Providers. “Cable” television will likely become an add-on that can be purchased and viewed over the Internet. This will free cable companies from having to worry about the hassle of maintaining an infrastructure for all their customers, and will enable them to sell content to people using other Internet Service Providers, located in other regions. HBO already offers its content online, albeit it only provides access to pre-existing HBO customers. This is an artificial barrier that likely will eventually vanish.

Long-form content will increasingly be viewed over the Internet as well. There are now Internet-enabled televisions that allow people to watch films as if they were playing on a DVD player. That is, the movie watching experience involves sitting on a couch and not at a computer, and is otherwise identical to watching from non-streaming media. Amazon, Blockbuster, Hulu, and Netflix all already offer Internet-streamed movies, and Apple offers movies for download. Moving to an all-streaming model will eliminate worries of availability and inventory for movie purveyors. Streaming will succeed as it provides more diversity and convenience to the consumer than the movie store or DVD-by-mail business models, and likely has less infrastructural costs than those other models.

Music

The path that music will take will likely be very similar to that taken by video. The company Lala, which was recently acquired by Apple, has enabled people to listen to their entire music collections over the Internet. As people increasingly have mobile data access and the speed of mobile data networks improves (with 4G, and likely future developments), people will increasingly listen to music on the go by accessing music stored on the Internet rather than on their mobile device. This will open up the possibility of people listening to a potentially infinite collection of songs while moving. The repertoire of a device will no longer be limited by its onboard storage capacity. Furthermore, a move to cloud-based music will make it a bit more difficult for music piracy to occur, as people will transition from interacting with files to simply interacting with songs.

How will it all be sold?

As our society increasingly moves to a system of accessing media directly from the Internet, we will likely see a mixture of advertising, buy-to-own, and subscription business models. The model that will ultimately succeed in the long-run remains to be seen. It is short-sighted for companies to short-change online media services in order to attempt to give physical media a boost. That is, there is no reason that films and television shows should be delayed in their online release; if studios are worried about online viewing cannibalizing more profitable DVD sales, they should simply offer the content online at a higher price shortly after the release (or with more advertising). Content that is likely to be reused will likely be more amenable to a buy-to-own model, while content that is likely to only be experienced once will likely do better under advertising and subscription business models.

The future of media is bright, but it will clearly yield both victors and losers. Success and failure will likely be determined by companies’ abilities to instantaneously deliver high-quality content. The future does not demand the ability to view a paper-like magazine on a screen; the future demands that the magazine be reinvented for the screen.

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