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The medium and the message

posted Jul 18, 2012, 8:19 AM by Jerry Dawson
I'm thinking a lot lately about content and the way we receive (or deliver) it. I still think the analogy of us being in the equivalent of the silent film era - i.e. that we have a great new technology but it's got along way yet to develop - stands up fairly well. We're not at the stage of making one or two reel shorts anymore, as we were back in the early days (and I was putting near real-time video online back in '97); we're more at that stage of sophisticated art of pantomime that saw some great silent movies like 'The Crowd' or 'Napoleon'.
But there's a couple of parts where the analogy doesn't hold up. In 1920, the coming of sound and colour were widely predicted, but our predictions about new technological innovations have been less, well, predictable. Back in '97 we talked a lot about the convergence of platforms - remember web TV? Well these days it seems to be more a question of divergence - we have desktops and laptops and tablets and e-readers and phones - and not only do different device users have different requirements, but the same customer might want one type of content for one device, but another type for a different device. I really like my Dune Max, but I don't want to Facebook on it, even though I can now. I like reading newspapers on my laptop and graphic novels on my tablet, but sometimes I want to get away from all the screens and enjoy old-fashioned treeware.
So it's going to be a question horses for courses. But there's also another elephant in the room: investment in content, rather than the medium. Sure, converting all those movie palaces to sounds back in 1929 cost a fortune, as it has done getting the cineplexes 3D-ready in 2010. There's little in the way of impressive investment in the production of original digital content though, other than the traditional website or online games. I'm really curious to see when we get the first, original cross-media fictional content - part story, part game, part movie, who knows? - gathering a hundred million customers around the world.
Until then we seem to have skipped way forward in my analogy, and have arrived at reality TV. The medium defines the content and the message in some cases is only 140 characters...