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From the Newsroom to the Living Room – there’s a Revolution Going on

Mark Flanagan examines recent tren

We’re only two-thirds of the way through 2011 and already it’s clear that the prevailing theme of the year is the power of people and technology.

As your friend and mine Leon Tolstoy put it: “the most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events.”

In 2011, from Tahrir Square to Tottenham and Fleet Street to Downing Street, the role of digital media as an agent of change amounts to nothing less than a social revolution.

It’s clear that the authorities, and elements of the mainstream media, are unsettled by these trends. In the UK, The Daily Express took time out from writing about Celebrity Big Brother to claim that “social media is being used to cause the riots”. Most commentators mistakenly referred to BlackBerry Messenger as social media rather than just a function within a mobile device.

In England’s cities this summer, as in the Middle East last spring, social media demonstrated its capacity to spread both positive and negative messages – as well as uncorroborated rumour. Equally understood is the power to do good – as evidenced by the use of twitter accounts such as @riotcleanup to gather the people of London together to aid the clean up process.

Prime Minister David Cameron initially suggested that in future the Government might block social media services like Facebook and Twitter as a way of preventing further riots. Sensibly, the government backed down from this, in favour of closer co-operation with social networking companies. I have to say that it would be perverse for a Government which celebrated the use of social media to affect change in Egypt, would consider closing it down as soon there’s trouble in its own backyard.

In July, a friend from Norway explained to me how social media had helped people share their stories and deal with their grief following the events in Oslo and Utøya Island. You can’t help but be moved by the raw personal stories from which were told in real-time on Twitter, Facebook and You Tube.

The power of people and technology was also evident during the flare up of the News International phone hacking scandal. There’s no doubt that online pressure forced big-name advertisers to withdraw from the News of the World and brought forward its closure. The Evening Standard’s Gideon Spanier described the episode as “a powerful illustration of how consumers and pressure groups now use social media to put pressure on brands”.

The big question is: did #hackgate amount to a fundamental shift in the balance of power away from traditional media towards the empowered individual?

David Carr of the New York Times certainly overstated it when he wrote “Democracy, aided by sunlight, has broken out in Britain”. However, there is a real sense that the century old dominance of the “one-to-many” mass media has run its course.

This recent special report in the Economist puts in to a historical context.

“The news industry is returning to something closer to the coffee house. The internet is making news more participatory, social, diverse and partisan, reviving the discursive ethos of the era before mass media. That will have profound effects on society and politics”

So, while reports of the imminent death of newspapers may be exaggerated, there’s no doubt that the tectonic plates have shifted.

If you still need convincing, then just follow the money. Major advertisers, and the agencies that buy for them, are accelerating a move away from print and toward more sophisticated and efficient media channels.

Huge amounts of ad dollars are heading towards Google and Facebook, where advertisers can pin-point messages and content at individual users – based on their interests and behaviour.

This revolution has extended to the living room too.

The marketing world is a-buzz with talk of the rise of so-called multi-screeners – the people for whom media convergence is now a daily reality. I guess this now includes me. At home, I routinely check emails, post to facebook, tweet or use an app whilst simultaneously watching TV. My wife calls it my ‘knitting’. Rather more bluntly, the writer David Brooks has described us gadget obsessives as ‘masturbating monkeys’.

Recent research by scientists published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity warned about the long-term effects of ‘multi-screen viewing’. The study found increasing numbers of ten and eleven year olds watching the TV while using iPads, smartphones, laptops and hand-held gaming computers, all at the same time.

The new multi screeners are embracing devices like Apple TV, through which you rent and download movies, watch You Tube or listen to your music seamlessly via your main TV, alongside your regular channels.

Sony’s new Bravia Internet TV allows you to watch the BBC iPlayer, Lovefilm movies and access all the main social networks. Samsung’s @internet TV goes further with its own apps store and Skype access (that’s right, video calls on widescreen in your living room).

The next thing to watch is the fusion of gaming with TV and the social media experience.

Microsoft is positioning its Xbox 360 less as a video game console and more as an “all-in-one entertainment device.” That’s streaming video alongside top notch gaming – including the Kinect motion gaming experience. The potential Xbox 360 audience is huge, with more than 53 million consoles sold and more than 30 million Xbox Live members worldwide. So watch out for content creators and distributors to build applications and reach that audience.

In the other direction, you will see more traditional broadcasters taking their content into social media space. Channel 5 has embedded its TV catch-up player Demand 5 on Facebook, which is also acting as the voting platform for the new series of ‘Big Brother’. The arrangement makes sense – 5 keeps control of the video ads within its player, while Facebook gets additional broadcast quality content.

So, we can conclude that the world is a crazy place and that the media is completely topsy turvy. The one constant is that good content and the right messages are what matters most. Don’t get fixated on platforms and technology.

Finally, in other news, here are some other major developments since the last Portland Quarterly:

  • Over 10m people joined Google+in the first two weeksChinese social network Tencent saw Q1 profits rise to nearly $1bn
  • One third of all items posted to Facebook are from mobile devices
  • One Facebook ‘Like’ for a retailer leads to an average of 20 more site visits
  • Twitter users post 200m tweets a day
  • Mobile photo sharing company Instagram has over 5million users –but just 4 employees
  • Nearly 25%of all phones sold around the world in Q1 were smartphones
  • Over 20m iPhones and 9m iPads were sold in Q3 2011
  • eBooks are now outselling paperbacks in America
  • Three times more people watch music videos on YouTube than download music

Who knows what else will have changed since you started reading this article?

Mark Flanagan is Portland’s Partner for Digital Communications

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