I was fortunate enough to have attended the New Media BC’s Fusion Forum in Vancouver last week. I was exposed at this conference to ground-level developments on both the creative and business sides of the fast-evolving new media industry.
I realize now that new media is our collective path to the future of information and entertainment consumption.
With annual gross revenues of over $2 billion in British Columbia, it’s already an industry that rivals logging.
And new media is experiencing explosive growth while most traditional industries are stagnant or shrinking.
But what is new media? And why is it so important to the future of not only our economy, but also our collective culture?
In a nutshell, new media is all about leveraging new and emerging technologies to re-imagine the way we experience and consume culture and its artifacts.
New media covers such disparate technology environments as gaming, web, and mobile, and it challenges us to adapt our cultural and economic imperatives to them.
For example, the 30-minute comedy sitcom has been a cultural staple for decades, but its star is on the wane. Yet, the sitcom clearly offers considerable benefits to viewers: where are those benefits going to be realized under the umbrella of new media?
On that point, it’s important to realize that new media isn’t about recasting traditional media in new formats. That was tried before, about a century ago, and it didn’t fly.
When Edison introduced the moving picture, producers’ first instincts were to just shoot traditional stage plays as though the camera were a member of the theatre audience. They viewed this as a way to cut costs and increase distribution: you’d only have to run the play once yet you could hold performances any number of times.
Clearly this didn’t fly.
Film was its own medium, the original “new media,” if you will. It demanded its own artistic and business models.
Over the past 100 or so years, film evolved on both levels. It’s now an established, even entrenched, staple of the world economy. As an artistic format, it’s arguably been fully developed.
The business and art of film was the direct response to a new technology that was developed during a period of intense innovation at the dawn of the 20th Century.
Thanks largely to the evolution of the digital platform, new media is the eye in a contemporary storm of innovation.
As a result, new media will reformat our cultural hard drive.
While it will not kill traditional forms of media, such as film, television, and newspapers, new media will significantly marginalize them. After all, even older forms of traditional media such as live theatre and spoken-word storytelling, were not completely obliterated by film.
We can expect to see a few significant cultural shifts as a result of new media.
The first will be the mobilization of experience.
As a result of both larger cultural shifts and technological innovation, we’ll be more likely to engage with new media messages “off-seat” and on our feet. This could occur on the sidewalk as we walk to work, or it could be in the kitchen as we rush together a meal.
Another shift will be in the format of the content we consume. First, it will become smaller and lighter. Second, it will become both more and less rich at the same time.
Nokia studied audience receptiveness to different forms of new media and found that, as far as mobile video content goes, the absolute optimal length of a clip is 2 minutes and 47 seconds.
So, really, the goal of the new media producer is to reinvent that half-hour sitcom I mentioned in such a way that an audience member can consume it in under three minutes.
But just because television and film have ruled the roost for the better part of 50 years doesn’t mean new media consumers expect a rich experience.
Because the future of entertainment and information is all about the “snack,” super-lightweight experiences can be even more valuable.
Finally, there will be an increase in the commercialized nature of the content we consume, but the perceptible qualities of those messages will be less overt.
A strong trend, particularly in new media productions like Bebo’s Kate Modern, is the evolution of product placement in entertainment media. Sponsorships and embedded branding are also on the rise.
Thankfully, the days of commercials are soon to be over.
On this point, new media has largely been driven by business interests to date, as traditional media companies search for a business model they can establish and profit from.
This is not unlike the early days of film, when Edison’s partners and investors sought mechanisms by which they could recoup their investments.
It’s important to note, however, that it took a strong artistic evolution to truly develop the business model by which film could become profitable.
It will be likewise with new media, and many in the arts community are beginning to express an interest in some of the projects coming out of the new media movement. Peter Jackson, for example, was heavily involved in the game adaptation of King Kong.
Of course, the more broadly implemented offspring of new media — the “new film,” so to speak — will only survive on their ability to define and establish a profitable business model. And, in a sense, this is the holy grail of the current new media movement: the ultimate business model.
Free content subsidized by advertising of some form leads the current way of thinking right now. But it’s very early in this evolutionary procedure and I don’t think we’ve seen the ultimate business solution just yet.
I’ve personally been dedicated to a new media project for about a year now and it’s very exciting to be part of a significant shift that will impact both world culture and the global economy.
These are early days in the evolution of new media, however, as we’re still largely constrained intellectually and economically by ties to television, film, and other traditional media. I look forward to the day we completely break free of our chains to the past and experience a new method of cultural consumption.
Only then may we fully understand why audiences fled theatres in fear of being flattened by the cinematic train on Edison’s first demo reel. What will we run in fear from?
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, February 29, 2008.