Media Observations – Accelerating Change

So no flying cars yet? Really? It’s 2014, guys. Where are the flying cars? We have the technology, so why aren’t they here yet?

The reason for this is due to a human fallacy we often suffer from: We think things will change really fast, but we also think things will change very specifically.

The rate of change and the scope of change are what I’m talking about here: People tend to think that one technology will advance very quickly, on a very narrow track, while in reality technology advances somewhat more slowly as it broadly affects many aspects of life.

Smart phones illustrate this point perfectly. We expect a massive advance in cell phone technology and wearable technology due to the smart phone, moving on and on faster than we can keep up with (which expectation is reinforced by magazines such as Popular Science, which show technologies that could technically exist soon, but really won’t until the existing tech fully expands out to all the areas it can reach).

But smart phones are advancing a little more slowly than expected. Each iteration of the iPhone has a few more features, but nothing earth-shattering. Except Siri. Siri’s voice is earth-shattering. *insert a longing sigh*

The thing is, it’s not that smartphones are not making advances. They’re just not making forward ones. They’re advancing laterally, sideways across the wide spectrum of human use. We can use them for more and more types of tasks, rather than using them for the same things but more powerfully or quickly. They become more versatile rather than more powerful.

What technologies do you see taking off in the next few years? Will they be innovations on existing tech, or something new entirely?


Media Observations – Radio

You know that one kid who doesn’t try to be the center of attention at parties, but stands next to the popular kids and laughs good-naturedly at their jokes while sipping his root beer?

That kid is basically radio.

Radio began its time as a mass medium long before television, revolutionizing the world as the first non-print mass medium. It was cheap and easy to get, and the world started to figure out what kinds of content could go through it effectively. News could be more efficiently conveyed through newspapers; magazines were still better for deeper content-related articles; books were still the best storytelling medium.

Radio just didn’t have to fight with anybody, or outdo anyone. It could essentially just do its own thing and be perfectly happy doing it.

As it turned out, music and spoken-word programs (Ye Olde Mystery Hour, anyone?), were the most successful genres of radio broadcast, and have remained so since its inception. That’s why radio has persevered in the face of television and the Internet. The first radios were included in cars, and cars are still their prime location, as driving limits us to only the most passive of media, such as music. We don’t have time to manage a computer’s streaming audio while driving, so radio and satellite radio have become the norms for music listening in cars (unless you have an MP3 player…as most people do).

What do you use radio for? What do you listen to on it?

Media Observation – Brand Recognition in TV and Movies

Dun, du-dun dunnnn, dun du-dunnnnnnn.

That was Indiana Jones. Did you get it?

If you did, it’s because of some really powerful branding, done through one of the most emotionally based media available: music.

Theme songs have been an element of television programs nearly since TV with sound became available for mainstream consumers. Whether it’s Glee, the Big Bang Theory, Family Guy, or any other well-known television show, the theme song is something designed to get your ears to perk up and pay attention, like a Pavlovian reaction. Ring the bell and the dog’s mouth waters. Play the theme song and the viewers gravitate to the sofa to watch.

Movie themes can be equally iconic, but are different in that they get very few passes to stick in the viewer’s consciousness. Some composers have proven themselves in creating striking themes that stick with just one go; one trailer may be the only shot the theme gets at becoming an earworm.

Some examples of movie-score composers are the famous John Williams, who has composed more memorable movie scores than perhaps any other composer, including Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter; Hanz Zimmer, who has written for a wide variety of movie genres, some of the more notable instances being Inception and the latest Batman trilogy.

What movie scores or theme songs have stuck in your head the most effectively? What ones do you enjoy the most?

Media Observations – New Music

There’s this great new dubstep group out. Seven Lions? Yeah, you’ve probably never heard of them. They’re pretty underground.

Not so much, actually. The hipster dream of being the only one to know about a band is quickly developing into an art form, as the Internet revolutionizes the music industry, letting more artists get their work out to an exponentially bigger audience for a potential fraction of the costs that producing music once required.

A new musician with a sound to sell doesn’t have to rely solely on a record label to get notoriety any more. Youtube, Soundcloud, Spotify, and other audio/video streaming resources allow for easy distribution, and music producing can quickly become a one-man show through Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) that replace the expensive audio-editing studios that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

It’s now more about the number of mid-range contacts you have than the one big name in your pocket. Those mid-range contacts get you gigs, which are one of the biggest money-makers for musicians now anyway (what happened to track sales? See the above-mentioned streaming sites).

Where do you see the music industry going in the next few years? What will artists and record-labels have to change to keep their heads above water?

Media Observations – Favorites

What is a favorite?

Your first choice, whenever available; the go-to media outlet or program; the set of feelings you get from one specific genre or plot element; all of these could be the definition of a favorite brand of media.

What seems to make a medium the favorite of its users or consumers could be explained with a media theory: Media Selection.

How much energy does it take to get access to? How aggressive or passive a medium is it? How much commitment is required to consume it? How much potential reward does it offer me?

We as human beings automatically consider these things when we make choices concerning what media we will take in as consumers. It’s not usually something we consciously think about, but rather automatically do. Is it convenient and fun? Is it comfort food for the brain? Then we go to it whenever we can.

This can sometimes lead to problems when we go to favorites that require no work for a great perceived reward. Videogame addiction is one example of this, being a medium that promises great personal reward, satisfaction, and entertainment, at little cost in most cases. Thus it is the go-to medium for many young men, who find the things it promises (accomplishment, prestige, recognition, power) attractive.

What is your favorite form or product of the media?

Media Observation – Predicting Media Patterns

Have you ever tried herding cats? Or chickens?

That has nothing to do with what I’m talking about, really. It’s just kind of funny to picture you trying.

Predicting media patterns is more like predicting the weather than herding feline livestock.

When one predicts the weather, it is often possible to predict within about a day or so what will happen, based on common cloud patterns and the current seasonal weather events. The temperature, the humidity, the air pressure, the local geography, and the wind and cloud patterns all are factors in knowing what weather is coming.

It’s the same way with predicting media patterns, which can range from foreseeing what digital devices will make their way into common societal use, to guessing what television programs or commercials will be successful.

Demographic locations; local, national, and world economies; excitement and interest; peer pressures within a given demographic; trends and popularity; these are just some of the many factors that apply to predicting the future of media-related patterns.

Some of these patterns are, to say the least, unpredictable. How, then, can one try to measure them to make an accurate prediction.

Are the weathermen always right? Of course not, and it’s often that way with media predictions as well. Surveys of public opinion, studies of statistical trends, and other methods can often give a moment’s glance at the situation, but sometimes everyone is in for a surprise. What is scheduled for success five years from now may never take off. What is said to be ridiculous has occasionally broken the prophecies of those who ought to have known better (the telephone, modern movie with sound, and automobile have all been in this category near their invention).

What predictions can you make about different media outlets, devices, or genres? I’d be interested to hear your ideas.

Media Observations – Censorship

Some may consider it the realm of conspiracy theorists. Others consider it more reasonable, considering the recent scares concerning the government supervision of our communications. Worries of the NSA’s listening ears, or the Patriot Act’s indiscretion have opened the public’s mind to the idea that the First Amendment to the United States’ Constitution has some clear exceptions to absolute free speech.

Congress is usually restricted, being allowed to make no law whatsoever to govern what passes through the media channels of the country. The exceptions to this are several, being principally censorship of matters of military operations in times of war, of national security, and of clear and present dangers to the public of the nation.

The trick here is that these terms are very open and potentially ambiguous. What the government believes is a matter of national security is likely not the same as what typical media outlets consider to be a threat to the nation. Clear and present dangers often require court mediation to decide the true nature of the communication, as the definition of “clear” and “present” are not always clear. The general idea, however, is that a public threat must be obviously dangerous to the public well-being, and currently active or spreading throughout the populace. Thus, even a past event, something that was once a clear or present danger, may still be censored if it did not penetrate to the public’s attention while it was still current.

This difference in opinion is where the media and the government clash most frequently, as reporters and news outlets may sometimes compromise the common good for a timely, informative, powerful, or controversial story.

How do you feel about the censorship the government applies to our media? Is it justified? Would you rather see censorship applied to more areas, such as generally disturbing or foul entertainment, or fewer, so as to avoid a slippery slope of censorship?

Media Observations – Sidewalk Chalk

I kid you not. Check it out:

IMG_0113[1] IMG_0114[1]

I find these things all over my university campus, and on the surrounding sidewalks between housing complexes.

When I saw it, one of the first things that I thought of was, “Wow, a new mass medium!” And then I remembered that children and artists have been playing with sidewalk chalk for decades.

Of all the mass media, I’m not sure where to categorize this, but the closest group it seems to match up to is general print advertising media. It’s not the most effective way to advertise, but it certainly is resourceful for college students who can’t afford real ads.

Let’s look at the cons first. That way we’ll end positively.

The cons are also clear: sidewalk chalk feels a little silly. It’s not very professional. While it makes an emotional impact by being easily understood and relatable to any new adults, it may not necessarily be the right impact to make for some companies.

It lends an amateur, cheap feel to whatever is being advertised. Sometimes that is OK, as with parties and other one-time events that advertise themselves this way (and even get somewhat artistic with their chalk design), but I cringe a little for Instate Angels sake. I’m not sure a financial company should be doing that.

Alternatively, it is extremely temporary. Any of the elements will eventually insure that it is washed away or brushed around to the point of unrecognizability. Snow, rain, and even sun and wind that frequent the Rexburg area insure that, in this town at least, the ad is going to have to be replaced by some small group of students very repeatedly.

The pros are probably obvious to the casual observer: university students walk with their heads down almost all the time, so burdened with the cares of the world as they are. They would readily see the advertisement.

Another pro is that this is something we can easily understand and remember. There aren’t many ads on the sidewalk, and by necessity they are simple and straightforward to the point that it’s just a name and contact information, which the mind can simply catalogue and remember.

Sidewalk chalk is a mass medium of communication? It certainly qualifies. Hundreds of students could see it repeatedly as they walk to and from classes and from home to school. It’s placed where they usually look. It’s simple and easy to understand.

It’s just a little silly, and somewhat archaic.

But in the right climate, and with a skilled artist, imagine what you could do for quality pull advertising with the lowest production cost imaginable.

Do you think this is valid advertising? Why or why not?

Tablet Newspapers – Why Isn’t This a Thing Yet?

In 1994, there was a tech company called Night Ridder, promoting a fascinating concept: the newspaper, but presented on a tablet computer. For their video, click here: Tablet Newspaper

Unlike a lot of other “envision the future” videos from the 90s, this one is not at all ridiculous. In fact, in my own ponderings on how the newspaper could be saved from extinction as a mass medium, I’ve often thought of how there’s no need to redesign the newspaper for the Internet; just take the pages from the paper, make them digital, and provide a means to download them (such as a mobile app for the advanced tablets we have now). That way the newspapers keep the advertising they need to stay financially afloat (and can potentially provide higher-quality, layered, and therefore more valuable ads), and readers already know how to easily navigate the articles. The articles themselves could lose their limiting page space and word counts, and could become as long or as short as the situation requires. The consumer’s payment for the paper may even become lower or non-existent if the value of the ads rises sufficiently.

This keeps the look and feel of the paper, which people appreciate much more than the poorly-designed, difficult-to-navigate web pages that most news sources currently provide. The digital nature of it would allow for higher quality content to be displayed, avoiding the cheap newsprint and pulp and giving a clean, sharp, powerful appearance.

My biggest question is this: If the technology for this sort of development is already in existence (and it definitely is), then why haven’t even the major national news sources adopted it exclusively for their online content, abandoning or extensively modifying the web-sites they now have? The idea is in limited practice with some papers, and there are a variety of apps available for mobile devices that provide a similar service to this, but why would newspapers continue to then shoot themselves in the foot with free, unprofitable online content?

The answer is likely the competition for money. If one newspaper adapts, then their publication may no longer be free online. If the other newspapers do not adapt at the same time and continue charging nothing for their online publications, the public could decide to go with them instead.

This idea was already fully fleshed-out in 1994. In 1994 I was three. Why isn’t this a thing yet?

What do you think? What causes could be hampering the newspaper’s adaptation to tablet or “digital paper” form?

Media Observations – The Dying Newspaper

Print media in general is in trouble. Books and magazines still hold some kind of value for society, but the one print medium being hit the hardest is the newspaper.
The limitations that cause newspapers to fail as a media outlet are numerous. Here are a few.
Newspapers are limited by physical laws. Whereas other media sources are digital and can be downloaded in seconds, newspapers are a print media, and are therefore limited in time, resources, and cost. While they can be delivered daily, the Internet can do the same thing for (almost) free in seconds.
Newspapers are limited by their content. Reporters have to search ravenously for relevant stories to write about. They have to write immediately, that same day often times, so that the news can stay relatively fresh.
Newspapers are limited by production costs. Once again, a physical media requires physical production. This costs time and money. As efficient as newspapers can ever get, they will simply never compare with the ease of production that the Internet offers. Paper, ink, working with the chemicals to get the right colors, the plates and stripping process, the technical difficulties that can ensue at any point in the operation, the employees necessary to run every phase of the printing process, the wasted prints necessary for calibration; the newspaper is an old dinosaur, wallowing the the tar pits.
Newspapers are limited by their advertising. As the value and viewership of newspapers as a mass medium drops, so does the payment they receive for the ads they run, and most of the profits a newspaper makes are off of its ads. Newspapers have two main sources of profit, namely their consumers/subscribers and their advertisements. People are simply not willing to pay an excessive amount for a newspaper any more (given the free options available), and so with roughly 80% of their profits coming from ads, and the value of those ads dropping like a stone, newspapers no longer have a viable option to remain financially afloat.
Newspapers will continue to be limited in these ways until they unanimously choose to adapt. If the newspapers at any given level of news (international, national, state or province-wide, or local) can bring themselves to move to an online format, finding ways to incorporate their ads as a requirement to get to the news itself, and leaving behind the roaring, rumbling mechanical dinosaur in the warehouse, they could save themselves as news sources to the world. The problem with this is that if one newspaper does it before the others, that paper will fail, as consumers will look to the sources still bereft of online ads before going to the one that requires them to be seen first.
Can the newspaper be saved? Only those who run them can decide that, whether they will unite and save themselves and each other, or continue to compete and gradually become extinct.
Does anyone read the newspaper anymore? Do you?