Friday, March 17, 2017

How Technology is Changing the Face of Entertainment

I was asked to write an article on how "Technology is Changing the Face of Entertainment" for ET Online, a version of which appeared on ET online on the 17th. However since the editing has butchered the piece and made it incomprehensible I decided to post the original piece here. 

Technology changing the face of entertainment

We live in an industry that is eternally optimistic, where everyone assumes the business of media and entertainment will continue to grow. Newspapers believe they are all powerful and television believes it is destined to perpetually be pervasive. The movie industry looks at China and believes we are going to jump from five thousand to thirty thousand screens. People look at OTT platforms like Netflix, Eros now, Amazon Prime and think they will mean additional streams of money over and above the conventional revenue model. Everyone believes that the entertainment industry is only going to get bigger and stronger and more lucrative thanks to technology.

What people fail to understand is that technology is disruptive and that the nature of technological impact is not incremental.  All traditional sources of earning revenue and consuming entertainment are under threat, nothing is sacred, nothing is unbreakable and ten or fifteen years later many of these things from newspapers to movie theatres may not even exist.

I work in an office, where most of my team is under 30 years of age. If you ask them, what was the last advertisement in print that you saw in the last seven days or even a noteworthy headline, they would not be able to recall it. They consume news and information on Facebook or Twitter or an app like ‘in shorts’ , and not from newspapers. When this generation starts driving 60-70 percent of consumer spends, they will not suddenly start reading newspapers overnight. Just imagine the consequences of this on the newspaper industry in the future.

Television has been the primary source of entertainment for the average Indian family in smaller towns for almost 3 decades. Restaurant, bars, malls and even movie theatres are not regular sources of entertainment. There has always been a fight for the remote control in single screen families. The transition which is happening in the span of five to ten years is about Indian families going from a single screen family to a multiple screen family. This is going to have tremendous impact on consumer behaviour. When everyone is sitting and consuming entertainment of their choice at a time of their choice, at a place of their choice, without having to worry about what content caters to everyone whether from the perspective of interest, taste, morality or demographic, why would someone sit and watch personalised content in a collective environment? Besides big movies, sports or award ceremonies what other content would be watched by every single member of a family from age 5 to 65 together? What does this mean to the TV a industry as we know it?

With regard to movies, the scenario is very similar. For a single movie experience, the costs vary from anywhere between Rs.1000- 2000 on a weekend for a family of 4 if we include travel, popcorn etc. Very rarely does a movie - like a Jungle Book or a Dangal - which is a shared visual experience for the entire family come along. But if you look at a smaller movie, which has something to offer but has a more targeted demographic, I don’t understand why it should be a Rs.1000 experience as opposed to a Rs.50 -100 experience for the one single member of the family' who is interested in the film. There may be hundreds of thousands of people who want to watch independent cinema but are unable to make this a 1000 rupee group experience.

The whole revenue model of the entertainment industry is going to change. The pillars of media and entertainment are all going to be destroyed in the next ten years, namely radio, television, newspapers, and movie theatres. When we look at things like NETFLIX; Amazon; EROS now, I don’t think these are ways for traditional media to make extra money; these are ways to destroy traditional media.

Some people believe that at least the larger visual experiences will continue to happen on large screens.  I don’t understand how that is true, except for live events, because the biggest funding in the west in the field of entertainment is in the field of augmented and virtual reality.  Today, you can go to a movie theatre, and watch the movie come alive by virtue of 3 D spectacles and it’s a great experience, but it isn't yet a fully immersive 360 degree VR experience. If the price of a VR handset drops in the future, to an affordable range of Rs.1000 or so, one would be able to sit comfortably in your living room and enjoy a truly immersive experience where you feel you are right in the middle of the action. I do not understand what the ‘big’ experience would be in future.

So when one talks of a technology and disruption, our perspective tends to be very conservative. I don’t remember who said it but this really stuck - when you look at a 5 year horizon the world doesn’t change much, but if you look at a 10 year horizon, the world seems unrecognizable. If you look at your life 5 years ago, things will not appear so different, but when you look at your life 10 years ago- from your gadgets; your music, your books, it seems you were on a different planet.  People rarely have the ability to look beyond a 3-5 year horizon and understand how rapidly change happens. If you were to extrapolate the rate of change on a 10 year graph, you will be able to realize that the world is transforming at an unprecedented speed.

One thing that will not change is that content will be consumed and the creators of content will be valued. We talk about how many people share a video of toddlers stumbling into a BBC interview on YouTube, and say that any and everyone can become a content creator. But even if you look at YouTube which is the biggest user generated platform, the people who are making money are actual professionals like Lilly Singh. They are modern day content creators (true creative voices) who do this for a living and all that technology does is just distribute the content these professionals create. 

So what is going to happen is that all the change is going to happen at the distribution level. The tools of content creation may change, and the ways of distribution will change, but what will not change is that there will be creative voices that are creating content. I feel that for anyone to be relevant 10 years from now, if you are in the entertainment business, the question that you should ask yourself is not how consumption or distribution will change, because no one knows and anyone who believes they know are lying. The question is how do you stay relevant in the process of content creation?  


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