The coding revolution and what it means for media

18 Nov 2014  |  Steve Ackerman 
The coding revolution and what it means for media

Coding is now being taught in schools - and Steve Ackerman, managing director of Somethin' Else, says that the media industry is going to change forever.

In September a revolution began. Unlike most revolutions, there was little fanfare, no violence and potentially not even an immediate reaction. This is a revolution that will be 10 years in the making but could change this country forever.

That's because this year, for the first time, coding has been introduced into the national curriculum, with it forming a part of the school timetable for every 5-16 year old in the UK. We are the first G20 country to take this step.

If you work in media, marketing or any of the creative industries your first reaction may be to stop reading because the dreaded "C" word has been mentioned. "Coding" draws up stereotypical images of spotty boys drinking too many soft drinks and typing frantically in their bedroom as they hack into the Pentagon.

But the implications of this revolution could be far-reaching, exciting and genuine in its ability to bring about great change within media. My own company has been involved in this initiative, creating a new Doctor Who game for the BBC that teaches children to code (though, if they're immersed in the narrative of "Doctor Who and the Dalek" they may not even realise it).

The implications of this revolution could be far-reaching, exciting and genuine in its ability to bring about great change within media."

So why is this a revolution and what does it mean for media? Perhaps an important place to start is the current disconnect that exists between traditional media's view of code (something that just geeks do) and the reality that code is already central to our media consumption with our use of interactive entertainment, games and web based solutions.

Think this isn't true?

According to figures from the games trade body, UKIE, the games market's revenue now dwarfs the film market's by almost 10 to one. Look on the train, the bus or the plane you're next on and count how many people you see playing games with their tablets, laptops and smart phones.

If you're a user of BBC iPlayer, Netflix or any streaming service, you too are seeing code affect your media habits. And yet scan newspapers, television and radio channels and you'll see relatively little coverage of gaming, interactivity or the Year of Code itself.

One reason for this is that we are seeing a huge generational divergence in how media is consumed. The post internet generation is growing up with gaming, on-demand consumption, and interactivity built into their media DNA. They are a generation who understand the impact code has on their lives, but, not being coders themselves, do not yet understand the means of production.

The pre-internet generation - the generation who are the current decision makers, mover and shakers in the media world, and therefore the ones who shape what we read, see and hear on our media - are a generation who are playing catch up. For them, code is a mystery that can only be solved by developers. The result of which is that few creative ideas have interactivity or gaming built into them as a central element of the proposition.

But if coding becomes prevalent amongst the children currently in our schools, for the first time we will have a generation who not only have vastly different media habits, but who also have the ability to shape those habits more directly by employing code in the media they immerse themselves in.

The implication of a coding generation is that eventually they must become the decision makers of our media outlets."

If you've seen a child playing Minecraft, you'll understand this mentality and how this form of Lego for the 21st century not only stimulates children but encourages them to employ logic and problem solving (key code skills) in order to play the game. A generation empowered with code can take this same attitude but explode it on a much greater scale.

The democratisation of media tools has seen amateur users able to create media that only 10 years ago would have been the preserve of media professionals. Apps now allow children to make and edit movies and podcasts, create incredible art and produce polished websites.

The growth of code will see the next generation not only understand the creative process but also understand the code that sits behind it. The implication of this is a sea-change in professional creativity where the boundaries between producer and developer change radically, creating a generation of thinkers who are part creative technologist and part technical creative.

For future school leavers raised with code, we will see a greater understanding of the use of logic and problem solving, that in turn will have an impact on the media ideas that are developed. The fundamentals of how creatives "create", could be turned on their head.

The implication of a coding generation is that eventually they must become the decision makers of our media outlets. This generation will be one who understand how to integrate media of old with interactivity and who have been trained how to think creatively in a different way from the generation before them. This means a wave of decision makers for whom interactivity, gaming and multi-platform creativity is not a "nice to have" but an "essential" part of any media idea.

For consumers of media, this will see a greater amount of content that seamlessly integrates different media platforms, interactivity and gaming.

For the first time we may see code being viewed within media not as "other" but rather as "normal". We will see an understanding that views games and interactivity not as outside of traditional media but as the bedrock of media and its consumption. And if that is the outcome then those in government and elsewhere who are behind the Year of Code, will feel that their quiet revolution has come to pass and that the barricades have truly been pushed down.

Steve Ackerman is managing director of content agency Somethin' Else


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