Saturday, April 17, 2010

Unbundling media ...

(Note: the image above is of a 30gig flash drive that holds all the hits of my young life, from 1955-1969, every song that hit the Billboard Hot100 during that time.  It plugs in and plays anywhere there's a USB port.)

As Media Unbundles From Physical Devices, Our Experience With It Changes

From Online Spin:

You know you're old when your three-year-old picks up an old cassette tape recorder you have lying around, and asks: "Daddy, what is this?"

But wait, it gets worse. I explained to my son Julian, "It works like an iPod." So he asked, "But how does it work?" I replied, "You have to put a tape in it."

So Julian went down to the kitchen, pulled out a roll of duct tape from our junk drawer, and asked, "Now show me how it works."

This event is funny yet revealing. At one point, cassette tapes and players were common, tangible media devices that everyone connected with. Before tapes, there were records. After tapes, there were compact discs. Now iTunes and iPods seem dominant. Similarly, the common media platform for films used to be the film strip, then video cassettes, and then digital video discs. The key point is that all of these physical media platforms were cultural and generational artifacts, and they created shared, tactile experiences.

However, the next wave of media access is cloud-based media and streaming. My two toddlers most often go to YouTube to listen to their favorite bands, like the Wiggles, and to NetFlix Streaming to watch them. My toddlers are growing up with an expectation that all media are available on demand, most devices can play any media, and no media need be tethered to a physical storage unit. They are able to explore more media titles than I ever was at their age, and they do.

This trend has huge ramifications for media devices, and for the packaging and marketing of media. But even more interesting is how individual and shared experiences with media will change as their tactile characteristics and physical bundling decay. Early signs indicate that the perceived value of media titles will go down as abundance goes up -- except in extraordinary cases.

For example, when I was 10 years old, my music collection probably consisted of around a hundred cassette tapes. I was deeply connected to each one of my albums, the artists and the songs. I cherished them. Today, my music collection consists of tens of thousands of songs on a server, along with access to numerous streaming services. I have far less connection to albums and almost no connection to any physical media storage unit.

Second, interest and association with specific artists and media titles will become less potent forms of expression as everyone gains access to everything. For example, when I was in grade school, people who listened to Metallica were Metal Heads. People who listened to the Grateful Dead were Dead Heads. People who listed to The Cure were goth. Preference for any single genre of music inherently meant that one invested a great deal of money, effort and space for a physical media collection. Today, where large and diverse music libraries are the norm, preference to genre plays a far less significant role in how people are stereotyped, or how they choose to express themselves.

How is your experience changing as media titles unbundle from physical devices and become infinite and on-demand?