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By Nicole Magoon and Juerg Kronenberg
Media is blurring its shape. Lines between media types are disappearing, consumers are creators, and entertainment is daubing tech and retail all over itself. Content is ever present, consistent across platforms, and individually personalized. As our physical world blends with virtual worlds, entertainment realities are changing, too. The media and entertainment industry doesn’t have a choice; it must change. Consumers have upped their baseline expectations as technology has evolved, and competitors for consumer time aren’t limited to traditional media.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated many of the trends of the past 5 to 10 years, including the outsized growth in digital media consumption and consumers’ ability to access content from just about anywhere. Increases in consumer participation and the exponential development of technologies like 5G will accelerate the disruption, driving six big shifts in media and entertainment. Some build on existing trends, and others read like sci-fi. All of them are very real, and they’re reshaping our world.
Faster download speeds on phones have raised the bar on “I want all of it, right here, right now.” In the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic, streaming viewership on phones grew more than 40%. Think about that. At a time when people were sitting at home in front of their huge screens, they still wanted to watch video on the tiny screens they carry around all day.
In addition to demanding the content they want, where they want it, and when they want it, consumers also expect that content to be interconnected. That’s where we start to see cohesion become critical across media platforms, and media start to blend into other sectors, such as retail. Because we love lists of three, let’s consider three aspects of omnipresent delivery.
Instant gratification: If a consumer wants your content, it had better be available right now, on the device at hand.
Unified platforms: Successful intellectual property engages audiences across formats and channels consistently.
Live commerce: Media increasingly incorporates shopping experiences because consumers Want. It. Now. Shopping experiences will grow and spread. We’re going to see shoppable ads in streaming services, and eventually shoppable content baked into the entertainment itself.
Everything is about the individual consumer and his or her niche communities. Companies that can use data to personalize and customize their content and delivery will win hearts and minds (and money). This shift, like omnipresent delivery, isn’t a new one, but it’s increasingly becoming a baseline expectation, and the sub-shifts are growing stronger.
My squad: Consumers build their media engagement around their identities, particularly in an online world with hyper niche communities.
Customized curation: Recommendation algorithms powered the success of many services now considered digital giants (Netflix, Spotify, TikTok). AI will take this to the next level, with features like mood-matched recommendations that are not just right for you, they’re right for you right now.
Personalized creation: Curation is one thing, but as media becomes more interactive, audiences will want content just for them.
One of the most exciting things to come out of a more connected world was, well, the world. Content exposure increased, global connections increased, and a demand for authenticity and an understanding of the diverse world we live in increased. A more interconnected world means the ability to reach niche audiences with locally tailored content—and the ability to hold the media accountable for diverse, global representation.
Access everywhere: One great thing about the Internet is that it dissolves many global borders. Consumers seek out international content, music and shows reach across borders and cultures, and media markets are converging.
Blended content: International styles are blending to create fresh, cross-cultural experiences.
Mirror to the world: Audiences want to see the world’s diversity reflected in the music they listen to and the videos they watch.
Digital media doesn’t just mean the big guys have more nimble ways of delivering content—the little guys have it all, too. Not only are individual creators leveraging increasingly professional tools and easy uploads to pour passion into platforms they’ve never had access to before, but established content also lives on. Creators can edit, remix, and mash content, post it on social feeds, and watch it evolve as other producers put their own spin on it for the world to consume.
Democratized platforms: If there’s someone you want to reach, there’s a platform to do it—whatever kind of creator you are. Audiences are spreading their attention, and viewership extends well beyond professionally produced content.
Passion economy: Just as there are ways for consumer producers to reach people, there are ways to turn that reach into money. Ad-supported platforms mesh with the traditional media mindset, but individual sponsorships, product collaborations, and funding platforms are all viable financial sources.
Living content: Parents warn their kids that what they post on the Internet lives forever, and they’re right, it does, but in more than a static form. Fan edits, remixes, and adaptations take original material and run with it, giving control to more creators. The tools to do this get better every day, and so does the content. Big producers that embrace this, rather than fight it, will connect with bigger audiences.
If you hear “metaverse” and think video games, you’re not wrong, but it goes beyond that. The idea of living in a metaverse has only increased as commerce, culture, and multiplayer role-playing games have converged in virtual worlds. As virtual worlds have developed, they have incorporated concerts, shopping, and other experiences that were once thought of as only physical. These worlds create alternate lives for their users, and the idea of alternate virtual environments will slowly infuse daily life beyond gamers.
Secondary world: In the classic metaverse, digital users with personalized avatars can share experiences and engage in self-expression in a virtual world. Advanced digital tools will transform live experiences into larger-than-life virtual events.
E-sports: In-game experiences are becoming our reality. Video game tournaments will gain the prominence of live sports as competitive gaming is professionalized. Physical viewing and “real-life” fandom and betting experiences will layer on top of players competing in in-game metaverse experiences.
In-world economies: Real money underpins digital economies. Game developers depend on in-game purchases of digital equipment and supplies, and as more people spend time in the metaverse, this revenue stream will grow, supported by the growing acceptance of cryptocurrencies.
Virtual environments exist online today, but they’re beginning to merge with our physical reality. Augmented reality (AR), in particular, supported by AI, is likely to be more transformative than virtual reality (VR) in the near-term, given the ability to seamlessly layer AR on top of our daily life. The next wave of technology will expand the potential for human-machine interactions, blending on-screen experiences with our physical world.
AI-powered environments: Intuitive, responsive technologies will elevate our daily interactions by anticipating our needs and desires. Immersive and interactive entertainment will imbue our environments.
Virtual gatherings: The pandemic has accelerated digital community engagement. But as virtual worlds become more common, and as augmented and virtual realities improve, it will become easier to sit in the same room with people across the country or across the world.
Blended reality: Our digital and physical lives will lose their separateness as we expand our definition of reality and digital interactions hold near-equal weight as in-person ones.
Some of these shifts are happening faster than others. One lens to measure their pace and strength is venture capital (VC) investment, which doesn’t capture investment by incumbents, but can show which technologies are drawing investors’ interest.
Trends such as emerging metaverse and beyond reality garner some investment, but it isn’t as much—which isn’t surprising. The metaverse is more “in development,” and video game companies are the best positioned to invest there. The investment data shows all six shifts are underway. Whether you’re a media executive, an investor, or an increasingly involved consumer, think about how they’ll affect you.
Those who understand how these shifts could reshape markets and open new opportunities will gain a competitive edge, while those who sit comfortably on traditional business rhythms will scramble to catch up.