I have a media problem. And it’s not what you think. I’m not a junkie. I don’t have Twitter intravenously streaming into my veins, and I can (happily) sit through a dinner without checking my phone. But I do lust for deliciously engaging long reads, and I giddily share infographics about curious, esoteric facts (like the sleep patterns of geniuses…well done NYMag link bait team). By way of example, it’s not a full morning for me until I get at least 15 minutes of streaming KCRW to soothe my California heart.
Despite my insatiable thirst for more information, more media, more visuals, more sounds, and ironically, despite the prevalence of 100s of different channels online and offline to “consume” such content, it’s harder than ever to read / listen to / watch what you want, when you want it. And that’s if you can find something good enough to transport you on a mini journey away from daily distraction.
Was enlightenment always so cumbersome? Perhaps. But what of entertainment? When can I lean back again?
The first issue is that content is siloed by type. Listen to music through Songza, Spotify, Soundcloud and my KCRW app (great overview on music fragmentation here). Download podcasts through aggregators or iTunes. Watch shows and films on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Vimeo, YouTube, HBO GO and the good ‘ol tube. Read…well, read everywhere: NY Times app, Twitter links, Flipboard, Kindle magazine subscriptions, email digests, etc. Talk to people through WhatsApp, texting, Skype, GroupMe, Facebook Messenger. Browse beautiful photos and visual eye candy on Instagram, Tumblr, back to Flipboard. And I haven’t even start on the real world. That’s enough rabbit hole clicking to make even an easily distracted mind forget why he or she turned on the phone to begin with.
Content providers are building walls, not roads. They make money when you spend time on their site or app, incentivizing them to act more like cable networks that lock you in with set programming than multimedia creators and curators. “Changing the channel” remains costly, and yet its easier than ever to do so.
Incentives are not aligned. Consumers are looking for ways to spend their time, have emotional or intellectual experiences through content and connection. They are more or less agnostic to the platform or provider as long as its meeting their needs. Content providers are looking for ways to keep that person engaged with them as long as possible, even if there’s something more relevant elsewhere.
This unaligned incentive is exacerbated by mobile phones and tablets, where people are increasingly spending their time. According to Mary Meeker’s recent analysis on internet trends, 68% of mobile monetization comes from the app (virtual goods, in-app advertising, subscription, & download revenue) not the ads (browser, search & classified advertising revenue). In other words, the more time you spend in the app, the more money the app makes. From the perspective of the content providers, sending a customer away to a different site or app is incredibly costly in the short term, even if it does increase the value a content company brings to the customer. So the content providers, the experts who would be able to curate, aggregate and help time-crunched media hungry folks aren’t really incentivized to do so. Instead, they are looking for more bricks — better content and stickier experiences — to build walls to keep you in.
Where are the roads? Where is the revenue model for quality multimedia curation? There are some brilliant roads being built with APIs, like Songkick’s integration into Spotify to let you know when the band that you were recently listening to is playing your neighborhood. There’s also classic linksharing on blogs whose monetization is made easier by companies like Outbrain. These roads are often powered by affiliate programs, revenue shares, and kickback structures that have worked for ages in e-commerce and are starting to spread across the media landscape. Separately, social media enables curation and fuels referral traffic across the web; however, what’s surfaces is often driven by recency, not quality or relevance. Miss 20 minutes on twitter, and bye bye hidden gem.
Call it media FOMO. Call it intellectual wanderlust. Call it fear of boredom. Whatever you want to call it, I have a media problem. And I’m not alone.