When they said “content is king” a decade ago, it was impossible to estimate the extent of media fragmentation happening now. There is a little content creator trapped in everyone, and they have been unleashed by the power of the smartphone and the distribution capabilities of Web 2.0.
Traditional TV channels and new video streaming platforms jumped on the bandwagon with wanton abandon and now global audiences are invariably spoilt for choice.
Ten years ago, I was invited to speak at the All-Africa Media Conference to celebrate the ‘coronation’ of content. I told them that they were all wrong, and that as far as I knew, the customer was still king. Needless to say they’ve never extended another invite. I guess I was cancelled.
Clear lines between news and entertainment
Traditional TV networks grew into gigantic global corporations mostly through reputation. They invested heavily to convince us that they had done everything possible to provide accurate news and the best shows for our viewing pleasure.
They commissioned extensive research to verify their stories and scuffled through mountains of audience data for programming insights. They did what it took to maintain a stellar image, including sustaining batteries of lawyers on generous retainer fees.
Traditional media was founded on the highest standards of editorial practice, which included upholding clear and distinct separation between news content and entertainment. Fact and fiction were not cooked in the same pot as it were, and Chinese walls are erected between teams to ensure that neither side was contaminated with the components of the other.
Web 2.0 changed everything
Enter Web 2.0 – with a host of social media, video sharing and self-publishing platforms – and these very standards were turned on their heels. Web 2.0 democratized content creation, bringing opportunity and fame to those who otherwise could not find a voice. Everyone and their dog jumped in on the action, invested in a smartphone with a decent camera, downloaded a couple of free apps, and away they went.
When eyeballs started turning towards these cute clips on social media and video apps, big media scoffed at the nonsense, saying that it would be of no consequence. Little did they know that it would get to a point where 500 videos were uploaded on YouTube every minute, and the sheer magnitude of the content would crack the solid foundations of the old institutions.
Old media bowing to new pressure
However, new content creators have a code, which is to have no code. The democratization of media production and channel ownership has given rise to freedom of expression in ways unimaginable in previous generations. We don’t have to go through the scrutiny of stuffy editorial boards when we dispense the useful advice that we dreamed up last night.
And look! The traditional news networks are doing the same thing. They’ve got non-journalists hosting news features and interviewing talking heads so that they can spin burning issues that their die-hard supporters will swallow hook, line and sinker.
Producer reputation still matters
Box office numbers have taken a hit since the pandemic ravaged the world. However, the same pandemic acted as a catalyst for streaming services which again leveraged on the distribution capacity of Web 2.0 and the connectivity infrastructure that is wrapped around the entire planet.
As old media reels in the wake of the unfathomable fragmentation that has ripped apart outdated viewing habits, it is crucial to note that reputation still matters. The prize will go to the content creators and media producers that continue to invest in their reputation through quality production, veracity of information, appealing entertainment, fair play, responsiveness, and most of all by establishing clear lines between facts, conjecture and pure fiction.