The new dimensions of media: trends for the future
As the pace of technological innovation accelerates, futurist Tracey Follows explores some of the most profound shifts set to impact the media sector
This week sees the publication of a report on the future of media commissioned by Sky to mark three decades of innovation from the broadcaster. I was lucky enough to be given the task of authoring the report, and was subsequently invited by Mediatel to share some of the insights coming out of the research.
The report looks at both near-term and long-term trends in media using industry analysis and foresight, with consumer research insight too.
Available to download here, the study details five new dimensions of media - Empathetic Media, Immersive Environments, Innovative Interfaces, Smart Environments, and Trusted Sources. In this article, I explore three of these macro dimensions.
Immersive Environments have received a lot of attention and innovation dollars over recent years but one of the learnings we had was that rather than trying to heap more and more layers of innovation on unsuspecting consumers, immersive media can often be employed to bring old or existing content to life in new ways.
Innovative audio-visual techniques can help future generations discover or rediscover archived content. Whether it is excavating old audio recordings from decades ago, or reinventing the way in which visual content can be re-presented, innovative media can bring archived content to life for future generations.
Having said that, completely new content will be created, completely new experiences, completely new sports, and new cultural genres all lie ahead. The fact that drone racing has become as successful as it has today, is mainly due to the possibilities that new media brings.
It’s a point that Margot James MP, Minister for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, made in an address early in the year when she spoke about the projected value of the immersive media market globally and in the UK, and stated that one day immersive media may ‘even change how we play physical sports’.
Drone racing, for example, relies on broadcasting tech as well as the participation of an emerging fan base through media that is more interactive and virtual. One of the co-founders of the Drone Racing League with whom we spoke said:
“Live is really important because people are coming and watching live and interacting. However, it is also only one part of one overall content continuum...we also have a video game, a DRL simulator that teaches you how to fly a racing drone and even transforms players to pro-drone pilots overnight through our annual sports tournament. So a real fan has a complete ecosystem of consuming content."
One of the big take-outs of the research we did with consumers is that they often feel overwhelmed by content and they’re already anticipating potential harms from being overly immersed in new media enlivenments, or being prevented from extracting themselves from immersive media, having less control over it than they would like.
They are aware that multi-sensory media experiences will carry with them a newfound intimacy that needs to be properly managed. Perhaps that is why much of the virtual reality work going at the moment aims to record and include audience biometrics. We can expect a viewer’s physical, mental and emotional reaction to content to become part of the overall narrative when one is within the VR story itself.
The aforementioned issues may be one of the reasons that the Gen Z respondents we spent time with, were very open to someone other than themselves regulating their media habits and behaviour.
We found an interesting divergence between how Gen X and Gen Z approach media choice and selection. For the younger generations, they actively welcome a machine regulating their media.
Younger respondents don’t trust themselves and seem happy for AI to detect how they are feeling, and recommend what media would be most relevant and helpful for them to consume next"
This generation is so interested in their own behaviour and motivations, that any insights media can give them as to what they are consuming, for how long and when and why, is of huge interest to them. They cannot get enough personal insight about themselves that comes via objective, machine-based analysis.
In some ways, they have been weaned on digital assistance, and are so used to outsourcing decisions to machines and taking advice from them on how to act and what to do, that it may even be the case that this reliance on machines has brought about a generational loss of intuition and instinct.
Younger respondents don’t trust themselves and seem happy - seem relieved even - for AI to detect how they are feeling, and recommend what media would be most relevant and helpful for them to consume next.
As one of the younger respondents said: "It would be great to have friendly reminders not to be hard on yourself, to take some time out, to read a book. You could have that through the TV or the Google Hub. It could suggest that this content is great to watch with other people, to gather people around for a Friday night so that media is not used to isolate you but to connect you to other people."
It’s clear that so much of our media in the future will not be searchable by links and lists of content for us to scroll through, but searchable by mood and emotion intuited and recommended for us by digital assistance of some kind.
Content and emotion are becoming more closely linked, and will be inextricably linked in all future media.
With that in mind, people want reassurance that the recommendations will be for our common good rather than harm. One of the biggest recurring themes in the report is that of ‘trust’.
Consumers are uneasy about some aspects of the media landscape, and it is clear that there is a potential competitive advantage for those media companies making data transparency and security a key premise of their future offering.
This will be exacerbated as it becomes harder to police fake content and distinguish between what is authentic and what is not. And the distinguishing features between real and fake media are not always what we might think. Take, for example, the new AI newsreader appearing on air in China. As consumers pointed out to us, it is not the factual content of the news information that is how we register whether it is authentic, it is actually the delivery of the newsreader.
Truth is, even the news is emotional and an AI newsreader saying the words "it’s devastating" while reporting on a natural disaster is different to a newsreader empathising as they report on the same event. It is a reminder that the delivery of information is as important as the information itself. That is a challenge for automated, AI-driven messaging.
One of the conclusions is that a new industry category will emerge called ‘media forensics and security’ which will aim to protect a person’s digital imagery, identity and prove authenticity in a virtual world. This could be offered as a stand-alone service or may be offered as an integrated service by media companies who need to reassure uneasy consumers.
People feel left to their own devices at the moment, searching around for apps and tools to help them verify or protect what is true and what is real. But as more of our media becomes ‘prepared’ for us by machines who anticipate what we might next want or need, then it is more incumbent on service providers to take responsibility for the media content they connect their users to.
The report highlights most of the technological and societal developments we can expect to see over the next 20 years of media innovation affecting broadcast media in particular. But what becomes patently clear is that the dividing line between media providers of tomorrow is not between analogue and digital, legacy or future, audio or visual - it will largely be between those we trust, and those we don't.
Tracey Follows is the founder of Futuremade and writes on the subject of strategic foresight for Mediatel