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How the Medium affects the Message

11-05-2018
(The Technological Generations Theory - TGT) In the first part of this series of articles we described how a change in the device used to receive or send a content (say, an email or a video program) may change the destiny of a company that has dominated the market during a certain time period --say, Microsoft during the PC era-- when the main usage mode changes to another device, in that case the smartphone.

What TGT proposes is that “when any industry migrates from a certain form of predominant usage of its product (defined by the device applied by consumers to its usage, not the content used), the dominant players at the former generation will be replaced by newcomers. In many cases, the former dominant player will have to struggle in order to survive under the new business generation”. (See below for TGT link)

While TGT refers mainly to the hardware producing companies --RCA, IBM, Polaroid, Ampex but also Apple and the Asian manufacturers-- it acknowledges that a change in the device used will also cause a change in the way the content is absorbed by the final user. When TV appeared, radio moved from a fixed device status to mobile, reflected both in the transistor and solid state portable devices as well as becoming an unavoidable fixture in cars. With smartphones, TV viewing is morphing from a passive experience by a so-called “couch potato” to an interactive simultaneous exposure to multiple available sources. A consequence: the Internet streaming contact results in short attention span: if the content does not provoke an emotion in the watcher --be it pleasure or fear-- in a couple of seconds, they will move elsewhere.

This poses a challenge to the content producers: the length of the content must be reduced to a few minutes, instead of the twenty-four or forty-eight (now trimmed to 22 and 44) traditionally allowed to deploy a series episode. On the other hand, usage experiences multiply along the day, instead of a “daytime”, “prime time” or “late night” time slots that pleased the stationary TV set audiences. But, it’s not always easy to transform TV network episodes into “interstitials”; the TV networks have not found so far an effective way to cope with this issue, because of their longstanding legacy.

An additional hurdle has arisen: audiences now demand more action (in psychological as well as physical sense) to be delivered at each episode of a linear TV series, be it on broadcast or pay TV channels. A recent survey conducted by Prensario regarding the expansion of Turkish drama, at the expense of Hollywood series and Latin American telenovelas, revealed that a fast pace and frequent plot twists are now required. (See link below for more on this). So, a whole generation of TV script writers may become obsolete soon.

In the late Sixties, Marshall McLuhan unwillingly coined a catchphrase the made him famous but also ruined his academic career: “The medium is the message”. As Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be”, it turned McLuhan into a celebrity --Woody Allen exhibited him briefly at one of his movies-- but mutilated the essence of his findings. Sadly, McLuhan did not live enough to witness the advent of Internet; it would have thrilled him.

Half a century later we have understood that the medium ‘is not’ the message, but it does shape its perception. The “anyplace, anytime” motto currently applied to live Internet streaming appears to be a transitional definition, referred more to mobility than to the fact that you cannot deliver the same content format to a 80” HDTV set and an iPhone. So, the future is set for something else. The pioneer able to decipher this have chances to become the industry leader in the next technological generation, while the corporations enjoying the current consumption mode will be struggling for survival.

Of course, this is what makes this game so attractive. So, stay tuned.

For more on The Technological Generations Theory, see: The technological generations theory

For more on The Turkish TV industry is giving Hollywood a run for its money. How and why?
see: Part 1 and Part 2