Ruptures in the Mediascape

Every decade or so there are significant shifts in the media landscape.

In the early 80’s we saw the birth of cable, the 90’s the beginning of the World Wide Web, less than a generation ago we witnessed the explosion in social media and the criticality of mobile phones as revolutionary creation, consumption and distribution platforms/instruments.

We are now in the midst of what maybe the most significant rupture in the mediascape whose implications on business and society are only beginning to be sensed. A rupture that is not just driven by advances in technology but a very deep wrinkle in the very fabric of every element of how media, messaging, content, information is created, designed, distributed, consumed, shared and trusted.

Surprisingly the streaming wars are unlikely to be as intense and in many ways will be more of a challenge to marketers as they lose opportunities to reach people as the four dominant global streaming contenders ( Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Apple+) will likely remain advertising free. In individual countries the Big 4 maybe joined by a couple of other country specific players. ( HBO Max and Peacock are likely to be somewhat scaled players in the US assuming that their parent companies of AT&T and Comcast can invest in them and also fund/defend against 5G since connections are their bread and butter business).

1) From the Dynamic Duo to the Seven Marketing Mongrels: While the Google and Facebook family still dominate in a majority of the non Chinese landscape, they have been joined by five very viable options in Amazon and four fast growing and scaled platforms of Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest and Snap whose stock prices have now been on an absolute tear providing them with ammunition to buy a range of companies and continue to attract and retain talent from the big giantsTikTok is the fastest growing platform amongst these and it’s impact is seen in both its massive year to year growth (almost a 10X growth in revenue in 2020) but also in how an entire eco-system of content creators, partnerships, and e-commerce integrations is emerging.

All seven of these platforms are continuing their journey from pure breeds to mongrels. The old designations of search, e-commerce, social and mobile are very yesterday and should be dropped pronto.  These are multi-media, multi-able marketing and business platforms. They integrate commerce and lead generation; they can be micro-targeted or scaled up. They can provide a blend of content creators and influencer networks to accelerates marketer’s distribution footprints and storytelling and content possibilities.

In the United States these Seven Marketing Mongrels are being joined by at least two other major players which are Walmart and Target which are investing deeply in becoming media companies. Here too, one will see the blending of messaging, utility, distribution, commerce across the consumer/customer journey.

2) Expanding from Colonization of the Eyes to the Colonization of the Ears: TikTok is the first stream which requires you to turn the sound up. Music is integral to the experience. We are now in a world of sonic explosion from the dramatic rise in usage and value of podcasts, to the aural hardware competition between Apple, Bose, Sony, Sennheiser for headphones to feed your ears to the Harman Kardon, McIntosh, Bose, Burmester and Bowers and Wilkins battle to make your car the best concert hall. Voice with Alexa, Siri and Google is now increasingly the new interface. And let us not forget the current “it” platform of Clubhouse which is a strange new fusion of live and on demand call in talk radio.

Sounds are intimate and they stir memories and in the form of music take you where you want to go. Sounds are fluid, flexible and make for a very agile cost-effective fabric to stitch and make the marks of a Brand. As voice grows as an interface and machine learning progresses to a level where seamless translation between languages as well as other advances become broadly available many new possibilities will arise providing utilities, customer support and much more. For more on the new sonic landscape click here.

3) The Out of Home Media Renaissance: Modern technology hurt every legacy media from newspapers to magazines in particular and radio and television to a lesser degree but enabled OOH, the previously stepchild of media which was usually dealt with by “specialists” in some basement room. But now boards have become screens that are brighter, cheaper and everywhere. The human painters and poster hanger uppers have been replaced by real time programming where messages can be personalized down to weather conditions and locality but can be scaled up to national levels as the screens are increasingly networked. And given when you are walking or driving you usually are not also looking at media on your phone it actually is a media that garners the most valuable commodity which is attention and with screen sizes of epic proportions creates a wide canvas of messaging possibilities that reward this attention with creativity. Finally, as we spend more time in the digital, augmented and virtual worlds it will be one media which will dominate IRL (in real life).

Smart companies will integrate OOH into the mainstream of marketing and media strategy and no longer leave it isolated.  It is the ultimate mongrel media in its abilities to chameleon like shape shift from local to national, from static board to moving video. Its ability to channel a selfie into a towering image on Times Square also makes it a key social media enabler and enhancer. Nothing is more Instagrammable. More on the future of OOH here.

4) The “Cook/Zuckerberg” war is not just about different approaches to privacy and business models of Apple and Facebook, but also about how key messaging is to the future of the two companies:

For those who have been to China and used apps like WeChat it is clear that messaging apps in the US are infants compared to what they can grow up to be. WeChat integrates every aspect of life from banking to ride hailing to social media and more. It is a landscape and an eco-system built around a gushing river called messaging. If Facebook were ever broken up my bet would be that Mark Zuckerberg would end up running WhatsApp which is where most of the potential growth of his company is. This is why he invested $5.7 billion for a 9.9 percent stake in Jio Platforms in India. He probably hopes that WhatsApp, the dominant messaging platform in India will evolve into a WeChat for India ( Many Chinese apps including TikTok are now banned in India). Tim Cook is also major player in messaging with over 1 billion iPhones in the world all with Apple Messaging/Facetime.

With the exception of gaming, people spend more time on messaging apps than any other app or platform. The future of Fintech, identity and mobile commerce are going to be deeply integrated with messaging.

To be competitive in the future focus on messaging strategies, partnerships and opportunities.

5) The Rise of a New Content, Creator and Distribution Eco-system: The acid of modern digital technology and networks is burning apart the muscles that held content and distribution together and that enabled a hierarchy that separated the esteemed publisher/ editor/creative director from the masses and that allowed windowing, fixed programming schedules, unnecessary bundling and “quality control”.

The questions we will all be grappling with are:

Who is a gatekeeper? What is a media company? Who are creators? Who do we trust?

Andreessen Horowitz now A16z, a multi-billion-dollar firm that invests across industries, announced in January that it's building a new and separate media property. "We want to be the go-to place for understanding and building the future, for anyone who is building, making, or curious about tech," it said in a blog post.

Also, Elon Musk interviewed the CEO of Robinhood in Clubhouse (both a16Z comp-anies) which became a newsworthy event and put Clubhouse on the map with a massive spike in sign-ups. These and other recent events upset many journalists including some highly innovative and future forward ones like Jessica Lessin of the Information who in a very passionate piece entitled “ The Nightmare Awaiting the News Industry” questioned the lack of real journalism or transparency among other issues.

Then there is the reality of a new generation of creators on You-Tube and TikTok, the fact that for every journalist there are five public relations experts, that many writers utilize platforms like Substack to go directly to readers and monetize their work. Today the memes of Elon Musk and others scale far greater than any of the major networks. Kylie Jenner with her 140 million followers has greater potential reach than the Superbowl! The line between content creator and influencer and media company has blurred beyond recognition.

Today any investor or trader worth their salt looks beyond Bloomberg, Thompson, the FT and the WSJ by monitoring Stocktwits, Reddit’s Wall Street Bets and Seeking Alpha Pro. There is a wide chasm between the media behaviors of those in power and those who are the big audiences of today.

All photographs by Guy Havell

Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by HarperCollins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in and The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Business and Strategy named it among the best business books of the year and the best book on Marketing in 2020. Rishad is also a speaker, teacher and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at https://rishadtobaccowala.com/

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Rishad Tobaccowala