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Pull #4: How Technology is Changing
the Media Conversation

Posted On: July 21, 2015

The following content is from Pull, an online series about how technology is transforming the conversation.

Pull was produced in partnership with TVO’s The Agenda. Originally published in Summer 2013.

Technology’s Seismic Impact on the Media

Opening Doors

To understand how big an effect technology has had on media, consider your smartphone. You can watch videos, listen to music, or read the newspaper on it. Ten years ago that would have seemed like science fiction.

For media conglomerates and advertisers, the technology revolution has been like a tornado, turning some businesses upside down and obliterating others. Streaming music files gave birth to file sharing and Napster, laying waste to the idea of video or record stores. Artists used to tour to advertise their record. Today, it’s the other way round. The big money is in touring.

Technology has had a massive impact on the business of media, although some might argue that the deck chairs have simply been rearranged, with services like iTunes replacing Sam the Record Man. But, at a deeper level, the idea of media has changed. Today, anyone with a smartphone can produce media. In fact, over 50 per cent of high school students are shooting photos and videos and uploading them to YouTube. Is that media? Does it compete with the NBCs and CTVs of the world? Take a hip, young personality like Jenna Marbles and her billion YouTube hits and ask whether media companies or advertisers would like to connect with her. Control is shifting. It no longer belongs just to the big guys in corporate corner offices.

You could say control has shifted to the family room or its 21st century equivalent, the home media centre. The media business model used to be fairly straightforward. Media companies produced news, dramas, and game shows, which included commercials. They pushed that content out to the masses. They had control. Today, that control is shifting. People can watch what they want, when they want. They pull the content they want. Commercials? Well, the fast-forward button has left advertisers scrambling.

In a pull world, even the news model is turned on its head, as content aggregators cherry-pick the top stories and promote them as their own brand. Services like Newsala bring together breaking news as it’s happening from social media sources on the ground, creating an alternate public news voice. Then there are mainstream reporters tweeting links to their articles hours before a newspaper hits the street. Often, the news in the morning paper seems old, like yesterday’s news. In a digital world, it is.

Advertisers have had to innovate, embedding commercials in YouTube videos, on online news sites, and with product placement in movies or video games, or by tagging content.

So, who controls the media in 2013? Advertisers, large multinationals, or us? Consumers appear to be winning the battle. Yet at a deeper level, something else is happening. Advertisers and media companies are observing our behavior. They’ve always done that, in a way, through services like the Nielsen ratings and focus groups. But today, every click or choice we make online can be tracked. Big data, the collection and interpretation of online traffic, is helping Google and others understand your online behaviour, possibly even better than you do, providing you with customized media choices and messaging, all under the banner of convenience. Maybe the idea of personal control is simply a reassuring tale we tell ourselves around a digital campfire in a looming Orwellian night.

Consumers and Advertisers as a Two-Way Street

Tony Chapman, founder and CEO of Capital C, doesn’t see it that way. For Chapman, big data is a win-win, giving consumers a more targeted message about what they want and need in exchange for their personal information.

It’s a kind of media “New Deal,” where advertisers can hyper-target individuals, based on the data they are gathering: I will tell you a little bit about me in exchange for your brand demonstrating how you can help me.


Pulling Your Audience In

If you’re a national newspaper, like The Globe and Mail, discussion of hyper-targeted messaging might sound a little scary. But even a giant like the Globe is not immune to change in our hyper-connected world; they understand that top-down message delivery just doesn’t cut it anymore. So what did they do? Teena Poirier, director of the Content Marketing Group, says they created the Catalyst Group, where they invite engaged Canadians to discuss the stories or topics that are relevant for the modern The Globe and Mail reader and user.

Author Henry Jenkins sees a new participatory culture forming, one where many more people are making — and sharing — content. It’s no longer just big companies pushing information out, but increasingly content is being spread by friends and family.

Jenkins, however, sees storm clouds, specifically a participatory gap. What about people who can’t afford a smartphone, or computer, or an online account? Will they simply be left behind?

Perhaps even more troubling is the idea that if media conglomerates are losing control, who minds the asylum? Newspapers and television news programs adhere closely to the idea of journalistic integrity. A number of bloggers, by comparison, often ignore the idea of journalistic integrity, simply reporting on rumour and innuendo. So who takes responsibility for integrity, accuracy, and civility? Tough questions. Tell us what you think. Join the conversation on Pull.


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