Media Has No Future — It’s About Programming

It’s been a typical week in my household with myriad activities and deadlines to manage — from work and school to the basics of the commute, not to mention simply eating and sleeping.

As a result, one thing has become painfully obvious to me: There is precious little flexibility in our schedules anymore. Although the marketer in me is able to spot a glint of optimism in this harsh truth.

We still manage to consume a volume of content, across no less than seven different electronic devices; this consumption would have been inconceivable just 10 years ago. How is this reconciling?

On average, U.S. adults spend 21 hours consuming content online every week. That’s almost a full day from a tightly scheduled week dedicated to online content consumption.

Inelasticity of Media Demand
This demand for content is an immensely powerful insight into what the future holds for media; and, it shapes the way I envision what media may become. The reality, or more rightly, the paradox, is this — with the help of the technology we now employ to search, retrieve and record preferential content, consumers are establishing much greater control over programming, the very thing that it would seem is, or should I say has, been controlling us.

Any prognostication on media’s future requires us to examine two trends.

  • Generational Media Consumption Gaps: The media consumption behavior of the generation we are currently raising are contrasting from those of Gen X and Gen Y/millennials.
  • On-demand Technology: Technology is evolving to help this generation better search and sort out the long-tail content, or precise programming they are looking for, on their terms and on their schedule.

Generation Tech
Names for this nascent generation are already being bandied about — “Generation Z,” “iGeneration” or the “Net Generation” — but while an official title is still in the works, their media consumption patterns are quickly forming.

This generation was born and raised on the Web. They are the first generation to lack any real understanding of analog and its limitations. Everything is digitized, which means every granular bit of content can be referenced with a touch of a button, a keystroke, or the slide of a finger across a hypersensitive touch screen. Consider the impact on a toddler’s expectations when she first learns how efficient it should be to call up the exact piece of content she is looking for.

Now consider the long-term impact this conditioning will have on the way media companies and brands will need to manage programming. This cannot be understated. Gen X, and to some extent Gen Y, still exhibit some remnant behavior that stems from the linear structure to their daily programming they were raised, or preconditioned, with.

Even well into the 90s, we woke up, watched a little TV, and then we were off to an environment devoid of any meaningful connectivity, only to return home to satiate our need for content throughout the evening hours via predetermined programming. This behavior made it easier for media companies and advertisers to manage programming. In varying degrees, Gen X and Gen Y are still beholden to their environments when it comes to media consumption.

But “Generation Tech” is liberated and expects to watch, read, listen to and share what they want to, when and where they want to. Programming will cease to be a schedule-based exercise and will become completely dependent on the quality of content available to the audience.

Programming on Demand
The technology required to accommodate this impending behavioral shift already exists. Google, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and other media technology hybrids are already planning for a world where programming is distributed directly to the consumer.  The only obstacle that remains is institutionalizing this technology. This will require a confluence of change:

  1. Shifting media companies’ investment from distribution to original content;
  2. Accelerating investment in emerging distribution technologies by consumers;
  3. Abandoning infrastructure used by a still sizable boomer and Gen X audience.

The intentions of these rising “media” companies are not closely guarded secrets. They understand acutely that original content will be key. And the shift in consumer investment is already underway.

Research shows smartphone household penetration has climbed to 69 percent in 2012. But even more surprising, tablet penetration has grown to 37 percent, and Web-enabled TV has climbed to 16 percent. These shifts are expected to continue with rapid pace, and the driving force behind this accelerated change is “Generation Tech.”

According to the same study, households with kids aged six to 12 are three times more likely to buy 3rd generation iPads than households without kids. The younger the family, the more accelerated the behavioral change. The gap in breadth-of-connectivity on various devices (from smart phones to laptops) between households with six- to 12 year-olds and households with preschoolers averages an astonishing 10 percent. That’s a significant intragenerational difference pointing to rapidly approaching changes.

Impact on Advertisers
How do brands plan for a world of media where distribution is amorphous? “Prime-time viewing” will become forgotten marketing jargon from a seemingly ancient past. Media buyers will no longer focus on things like day parting, as time-based programming won’t matter outside of live events.

Understanding the importance curation will play in the audience’s ability to maximize media viewing is key. Curators will enable consumers to filter through exabytes of content to find what they are looking for — at the moment they need it.

Brands must embrace becoming the programming. This is the future of media wherein brands own the distribution channels to the audience and with it, gain the ability to connect with their core consumers.

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David Germano
David Germano

David is the VP of Content Marketing for Empower Media Marketing, and runs Empower's Content Marketing division, Magnetic Content Studios. For more than 14 years, David has been helping brands develop sustained content marketing strategies and operate like media to build their own audiences. David is often speaking on the topic, and is a guest contributor to Content Marketing Institute.