“The medium is the message,” Marshall McLuhan once wrote. But the tech philosopher also had another apt quote: “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”
Media is the way in which we consume and shape society and culture. Traditional media categories are being reinvented in radical ways by technology. Let’s take a look at three media categories courtesy of Digital Native’s Rex Woodbury: film & TV, books, and music.
“Movies and TV shows get made today in a surprisingly similar fashion to how they were made 50 years ago. Studios and production companies buy the rights to scripts, attach directors and stars, and then hire a vast army of cast and crew to assemble the finished product,” says Woodbury. Directors are celebrated as auteurs while editors are still relegated along with other crafts as below the line and, therefore, worthy of less respect (see Oscars 2022 telecast),” Woodbury writes.
“Technology has augmented filmmaking, but it hasn’t reinvented it,” he continues. “Technology’s biggest impact, rather, has been reinventing distribution.”
The most obvious impact is the streaming revolution and knock-on explosion to content demand. There are emerging ways for fans to own pieces of IP as NFT tokens or to buy participation in a new piece of content. Woodbury notes that, as film and TV become more data-driven — and more measurable — companies like Parrot Analytics become more important as well.
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The traditional gatekeepers of old media — music publishers, broadcasters and movie studios — are being challenged by internet driven distribution platforms that have the power to disintermediate the middle-man. The same is possible for print media, too, where platforms like Mirror enables authors to crowdfund to write their books. Owners of tokens in the novel will share in the profits of the work.
There’s also innovation happening in what a book even is. Woodbury has spotted that serialized fiction has been popular for years in China. “Many books are updated daily, with readers paying in bite-sized chunks for the next portion (typically per 1,000 words). Readers are able to give the author real-time feedback: the next ‘chapter’ can incorporate immediate feedback from fans.
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“This model leads to ever-longer books: one of China’s most popular books is ongoing, but has reached 10,000 chapters and is 46 times as long as the entire Harry Potter series,” says Woodbury. “This also leads to compelling economics for authors: a popular serialized fiction author named Zhang Wei earned $15.8 million in micropayments.
“This model is coming to the West. Radish is a startup that offers ‘bite-sized fiction,’ allowing fans to discover and consume serialized stories in their favorite genres.”
Similar dynamics are happening in music publishing. Woodbury singles out Splice, a platform where artists can sell royalty-free sounds as component parts, “atomic units that can be assembled by other creators into fresh works.”
Other similar platforms include Artlist, Epidemic Sounds, and Royalty Exchange. Artists that work through Epidemic Sounds can earn between $1,000 and $5,000 per track. Not only that, but after each quarter, Epidemic also divvies up $2 million in bonuses to artists, proportional to how their creations perform.
Splice has four million users and costs $9.99 a month, giving access to two million sounds, all royalty-free. They have paid out $40 million to artists and “pens the doors for literally anyone to become a producer.”
UGC Powered Up
User Generated Content can be text, audio, or video and traverses different categories. But Woodbury argues UGC is a uniquely “internet-native” form of content that is inescapable and ever-growing because it’s becoming easier and easier to create.
Take CapCut, an editing app that powers many TikTok trends. CapCut was downloaded over 250 million times last year — the ninth most downloaded app globally ahead of Spotify.
“What VEED does for video, Descript does for audio. Editing a podcast on Descript is like magic — I can type in a sentence I want to add, and Descript synthetically generates my voice to speak that sentence. Or, with the click of a button, I can remove vocalized pauses like ‘um’ and ‘like.’”
Those involved in the reinventing of UGC are part of a long list, including some of the biggest companies in the world: Roblox, Unity, Snap, TikTok, and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine.
“The trend is clear: UGC is the lifeblood of internet platforms and will only grow in volume over time. Technology is making UGC easier and faster for everyone, opening the floodgates to creation.”