Mark Pesce on the death of mass media

I can’t possibly summarize this more than excellent essay (keynote speech) by Mark Pesce, but it is a must read.

What is describes is how the new hyber-distribution models for music and film, have created a new psychology, which make mass media a secondary reality, and friend-forwarding the primary reality. Mark uses the hypothetical example of a contemporary 15 year old, then fast-forwards five years in the future, showing what it does to the music and film business.

On the way, he presents two illustrative case studies of The Secret and Steal This Film.

Go and read it, now!

Here is a thought-provoking extract, discussing the impact of YouTube on mass media:

“It’s not that YouTube is competing with you for dollars – it isn’t, at least not yet – but rather, it is competing for attention. Attention is the limiting factor for the audience; we are cashed up but time-poor. Yet, even as we’ve become so time-poor, the number of options for how we can spend that time entertaining ourselves has grown so grotesquely large as to be almost unfathomable. This is the real lesson of YouTube, the one I want you to consider in your deliberations today. In just the past three years we have gone from an essential scarcity of filmic media – presented through limited and highly regulated distribution channels – to a hyperabundance of viewing options.

This hyper-abundance of choices, it was supposed until recently, would lead to a sort of “decision paralysis,” whereby the viewer would be so overwhelmed by the number of choices on offer that they would simply run back, terrified, to the highly regularized offerings of the old-school distribution channels. This has not happened; in fact, the opposite has occurred: the audience is fragmenting, breaking up into ever-smaller “micro-audiences”. It is these micro-audiences that YouTube speaks directly to. The language of micro-audiences is YouTube’s native tongue.

In order to illustrate the transformation that has completely overtaken us, let’s consider a hypothetical fifteen year-old boy, home after a day at school. He is multi-tasking: texting his friends, posting messages on Bebo, chatting away on IM, surfing the web, doing a bit of homework, and probably taking in some entertainment. That might be coming from a television, somewhere in the background, or it might be coming from the Web browser right in front of him. (Actually, it’s probably both simultaneously.) This teenager has a limited suite of selections available on the telly – even with satellite or cable, there won’t be more than a few hundred choices on offer, and he’s probably settled for something that, while not incredibly satisfying, is good enough to play in the background.

Meanwhile, on his laptop, he’s viewing a whole series of YouTube videos that he’s received from his friends; they’ve found these videos in their own wanderings, and immediately forwarded them along, knowing that he’ll enjoy them. He views them, and laughs, he forwards them along to other friends, who will laugh, and forward them along to other friends, and so on. Sharing is an essential quality of all of the media this fifteen year-old has ever known. In his eyes, if it can’t be shared, a piece of media loses most of its value. If it can’t be forwarded along, it’s broken.

For this fifteen year-old, the concept of a broadcast network no longer exists. Television programmes might be watched as they’re broadcast over the airwaves, but more likely they’re spooled off of a digital video recorder, or downloaded from the torrent and watched where and when he chooses. The broadcast network has been replaced by the social network of his friends, all of whom are constantly sharing the newest, coolest things with one another. The current hot item might be something that was created at great expense for a mass audience, but the relationship between a hot piece of media and its meaningfulness for a micro-audience is purely coincidental. All the marketing dollars in the world can foster some brand awareness, but no amount of money will inspire that fifteen year old to forward something along – because his social standing hangs in the balance. If he passes along something lame, he’ll lose social standing with his peers. This factors into every decision he makes, from the brand of runners he wears, to the television series he chooses to watch. Because of the hyper-abundance of media – something he takes as a given, not as an incredibly recent development – all of his media decisions are weighed against the values and tastes of his social network, rather than against a scarcity of choices.”

2 Comments Mark Pesce on the death of mass media

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