The future of the media industryThe whole media landscape is one that is undergoing swift and dramatic change. If you are to successfully continue making and distributing video work, you really need to appreciate what these changes may be, how they might affect you and the kinds of things that you can be doing to increase your chances of working in the media industries.
The current and future media landscape
It is impossible to predict with any certainty what will happen in the media industries over the next few years. It is useful, though, to think about some of the readily-discernible changes that seem to suggest what the media landscape of the future might look like. Time and space do not permit a really detailed analysis of what these changes are but we do want to provide you with what we think are some of the current trends in the media industries and how you might respond to them. You will notice that we make few real predictions about the future: it is up to you to keep your eyes and ears open as to how these areas are changing and as to how such changes will continue to affect you by regularly consulting the resources at the end of this chapter
Recent years have seen an increasingly widespread access to broadband Internet access, a steadily-increasing number of websites that are capable of screening high-quality video, the rise of user-generated sites such as You Tube, My Space and Google Videos, increasing numbers of blogs, on-demand audio and video and massive improvements in the size and portability of external storage media. All of these developments have profoundly affected video production. Although the landscape is changing quickly and dramatically, there does appear to be some patterns emerging around production and distribution.
In terms of production, the chasm that previously existed between professional and domestic camera equipment now seems to be bridged. One of the main trends has revolved around the increasingly sophisticated nature of video cameras: the ever-increasing quality of the video image, more highly specified but increasingly user-friendly camcorders and increased miniaturisation. Allied to these changes in hardware has been the move from analogue recording formats such as, S-VHS and BetaSP, and previous digital recording formats, such as MiniDV, DVCAM and DigiBeta, towards High Definition (HD). Even more recently, the move has been towards the development of hard drive recorders that completely dispense with tape. So, access to cameras that can produce broadcast-quality video is now much easier than ever before and the cameras themselves are much easier to use than ever before. Such is the sophistication of some cameras that it is possible to shoot great video almost entirely by accident. Of course, as video students you know that cameras such as these are merely tools: the craft of video production remains the same. People make videos, not technology.
At the post-production stage, good quality, user-friendly editing software is now widely available. Basic non-linear editing software, such as i-Movie and Windows Movie Maker, is included as a matter of course as part of the software bundle with every new computer. More sophisticated, higher-end editing software is more readily available, either to download from the Internet or at a rapidly-reducing price, and is increasing in sophistication all the time. Computer hardware and operating systems are designed and built to support such software, meaning that the software works well and rarely crashes. The increasing capacity and decreasing cost of storage media has enabled the editing of video at the resolution that it will be output: previously, it was necessary to produce an off-line edit at a reduced compression rate prior to completing the on-line edit at the output rate. Increasingly sophisticated post-production software such as Shake, After Effects and Magic Bullethas meant that professional image manipulation is easier and cheaper. Output to different storage media means that there is now a portability to projects that previously did not exist and, with wireless technology, the means of distributing those projects quickly and easily.
We are already seeing an increasing emphasis on content being able to be delivered via the Internet and played out on anything from extremely large screens in the home and in public places to, on the other hand, much smaller portable equipment such as mobile/cell phones and mp4 players. As a video producer, you need to be able to produce material bearing both viewing options in mind as we would anticipate a continuing growth in video programme output via both of these technologies.
In terms of what that content might be, you may remember the Sheila Curran Bernard quote in chapter 8 about much current documentary output: “Like junk food, it may be temporarily satisfying but offers little in the way of actual nourishment” (2004:5). The trend towards short, bite-sized ‘junk food’ videos on websites likeYouTube, will almost inevitably continue but we predict that the quality, both technical and creative, of the best of these will continue to rise. For a similar reason, we would argue that there will be a continuing relevance of longer, more nourishing narrative pieces on TV, in cinemas and on the Internet. It is, though, around narrative that some of the big changes will occur. Web usage and gaming has changed the way that many, especially young people, interact with the moving image. Coming from gaming, and coupled with wider political and social moves around ‘choice’, will be an increasing demand for interactivity. It is likely that more value will be placed on the ability of the viewer to guide already existing narratives and, increasingly, produce material that will fit into and construct the narrative itself. As a result, these narratives are likely to be less generic than traditional broadcast output and to mutate into more hybrid, less-realistic forms. One final move is that, removed from the tyranny of producing to the requirements of major producers, many video makers are now moving into more art-based, cutting-edge explorations of what video technology can accomplish. The accessibility of equipment mentioned at the beginning of the chapter means that more and more people have the opportunity to experiment with the technology and move into what was previously the preserve of an art-school or film-school elite. This is a trend that we think will continue.
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Despite the huge growth of television channels on terrestrial, cable and satellite networks, in distribution terms, the Internet is already becoming king. It really is worldwide and its future promises to be the tool that will allow for continual and increasing convergence. By this we mean that all of the currently-separate entertainment technologies, such as home DVD players and recorders and digital receivers, will either be defunct or will be fed by wireless signal from computers. Current mediums and modes of distribution such as scheduled programmes on television channels and DVDs are already starting to look as obsolete as the VHS player that used to sit underneath the television in the living room. On-demand entertainment is already here and has been one of the big successes of recent years. For example, in the UK, the BBC’s iPlayer had over 75 million programmes downloaded within its first year
Such distribution technologies that enable the creation of personalised viewing schedules have profoundly changed the viewing experience: from the ‘traditional’ television experience of watching – usually in the home, in a social setting - to one that is now not restricted to the home but is available just about anywhere and as an increasingly-solitary activity. All this, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days per year.
As output increases to meet the demand of these new channels and distribution technologies, budgets tend to reduce, material is turned around more quickly than previously and at a minimum cost. The argument that these new contexts of production (see chapter 1) have led to reduced quality is backed-up, at least by those arguing this position, by the supposedly poor quality of many of the programmes currently seen on television (normally reality shows such as Big Brother) and those short, humourous videos on, for example YouTube, with the highest number of hits. Pessimists argue that these could be viewed as a contributor to the so-called ‘dumbing down’ of television and, by implication, society. However, we can say with some certainty that, whatever the distribution channel, even on websites with hundreds of thousands of videos, the work with very high production values, good narratives and attention to detail is the work that really stands out for video professionals (the people who will give you a job). High-speed broadband is now common place and, with moves to bring developing nations on board, there really is the sense that a global audience could soon be viewing your products. This dramatic change in distribution will have profound effects on the videomakers of the future, the means by which video is accessed and how it is paid for.
One key fact that you need to address is how to get this global audience to actually see your work. One of the more formal techniques is known as search engine optimization (SEO) but more informally, getting a groundswell of audience interest in your videos and making them ‘go viral’ is another. There appears to be absolutely no rhyme or reason to what makes a video go viral. It really does depend on the collective whims of the millions of potential viewers. Remember, too, that while you may well get worldwide exposure for your home video (real or staged) of the cat falling on granny’s head, you will be unlikely to get a job from it.
On an optimistic note, associated with this proliferation of programming and distribution channels will be a proliferation of media jobs which will require a new kind of workforce. It is worth distinguishing between what we might term high-end production (film and video production with major broadcasters such as the BBC) which is characterised by higher budgets, specialist equipment and highly-trained, specialist staff, and low-end production within primarily commercial satellite, cable and Internet channels. The requirements for each will be different: the first tends to require specialism, the second tends to require generalism. On a more pessimistic note, it appears that these generalist jobs, with their associated lower pay and more job insecurity, appear to be the type of jobs that are currently proliferating.
In addition to the changes within working practices within media institutions, there are also broad patterns of institutional ownership and control emerging. The institutional power of the major media organizations appears, on the surface, to be waning: media production can, and frequently does, now take place in people’s bedrooms, traditional television audiences are down, buying of DVDs is down while viewing of product on the Internet and purchasing via the Internet is expanding rapidly. The Internet is still a huge, relatively-unregulated space where anyone with a modicum of technical and design skill can have a presence, however, from the relative anarchy of the early days of the Internet, there seems to be move towards colonization by major media players, those who appear on the surface to be most threatened by the anarchy. So, mergers between traditional broadcasters and online companies (such as that between AOL and Time Warner in the 1990s) and acquisitions (such as News International’s purchasing of My Space in 2006 and Google’s purchasing of YouTube in 2007) are not uncommon as companies jockey for position and a share of the likely future market and subsequent profits. There have also been attempts to regulate the Internet through, for example, new discussions and proposed new regulations around free access, sharing and copyright. It is this ease of access to material that indeed proposes one of the industries greatest threats as the temptation to access material without paying for the right to do so increases.
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