How much time is a minute? 60 seconds? 1/60th of an hour? In today’s digital world, that is enough to upload 300 hours of content on YouTube or 43,000 Instagram photos, and it is happening right now. With massive smartphone penetration and a huge drop in data costs, we seem to have discovered an insatiable appetite for content, and the entertainment industry is expanding at the speed of clicks and scrolls. The global entertainment market is expected to achieve a valuation of USD 2.14 trillion by 2020. No one could have envisaged or predicted this 12-13 years ago.
Let’s go back in time a little, to 2005. YouTube was celebrating its first birthday, Facebook only had 12 million users, and Netflix was still delivering DVDs to your doorstep in envelopes! Within 10 years, these entities, and many more new platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, etc., have acquired user bases in billions. The rate of technological change is astounding, but the startling fact is that this transformational juggernaut has just about started – and is gathering speed every moment.
Consumers are forming different engagement models with these new-age models based on their interests and peer groups, and are experimenting in ways we have not seen before. Consumers are seamlessly moving into a world wherein they engage with multiple screens and look for convergence of their interactions based on their social and personal need states.
With unlimited choices through web-series, original content, movies, reality content, and many more avenues, all vying for user attention, the content creators have to keep innovating to scramble to the top.
Technologies are expected to impact the entertainment sector in three core areas – the kind of content, the revenue framework, and the style of audience engagement. Let us see how.
The kind of content
Sacred Games, a Netflix Original from India, is a watershed in recognizing another trend. Content now has a global audience, and language is just an enabler in the storytelling process. Content creators are excited about being able to tailor-make stories and narratives to the multiple screens that consumers have embraced. They are excited about the possibilities that technology enables in being to understand this consumer and have real-time feedback with no layers diluting the same.
Last year, maverick film director Steven Soderbergh launched an interactive, standalone app-based web-series Mosaic. The 7.5-hour show allows users to follow the episodes from the perspective of different characters and has ‘in-app’ choice moments to make choices for the characters or ‘discoveries’ that are supplementary materials for the main story, including police reports, voicemails and emails between characters, and news clippings. You’re also free to go back and watch the story from perspectives you missed the first time around.
Unfriended, on the other hand, is a movie based on a screen-life concept introduced by acclaimed Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (of Wanted and Night Watch fame), in which the entire story unfolds on a central character’s computer screen. This amalgamation of ‘real experiences’ and the ‘virtual world’, Timur explains, is the only way “to make movies about today’s world and today’s heroes”.
Concepts such as AR/VR have already established their potential as a source of unparalleled entertainment experiences. We are on the cusp of creating varied experiences from story-driven content to large spectacularly rendered stories to experience-driven entertainment; technology will undoubtedly prove to be the building blocks of entertainment designed for the future.
The revenue framework
While OTT platforms will continue to thrive on advertising and subscription-driven revenue models, newer, digital currency-based mechanisms such as cryptocurrency are also expected to completely turn the tables on the intermediary-heavy revenue channels of the entertainment industry. Content creators conventionally had two options to reach out to mass audiences – either align with major labels and agree to unfair compensation or resign themselves to a life in the shadows. However, the power of the internet coupled with blockchain technology has changed all that by tackling the problem of ownership and the proprietary nature displayed by distributors and institutions over their content databases.
Creators can now truly determine how their content is being used, sold, and distributed. Through the introduction of individual blocks and smart contracts specifying details of Intellectual Property transfer, copyright terms, etc., the entertainment cycle from production to distribution can be significantly disintermediated, apart from enhancing its transparency and security. In fact, through dedicated blocks run by service providers, audiences can ensure their payments directly reach the artists, providing for greater incentives for content creation and a strengthened and holistic engagement between content creators and consumers.
The authentic attribution that comes in because of blockchain tech will be the paradigm shift for creating new AVOD models which will be very different from the opaque impression-driven models that hold sway today.
Evolved audience engagement
In the pre-internet world, an individual fan, however ardent he/she may be, had very little value. His/her value was recognized as an anonymous element in terms of box-office collections or reach/impressions.
However, today, the number of proactive, enthusiastic fans a piece of content is able to create determines its long-term viability, rather than fizzing out just as a hype. What if these fans could actually become equal partners in a streaming service, sharing the burden of promotion with the artists while monetizing their involvement and passion? Will not that fan be providing a valuable service to the content creator and other fans as well? Such ‘super-fans’ or influencers are expected to play a massive role in determining the popularity of a content offering in the future, expecting monetary measures or key recognition from the artist, access to unique material, or even public rewards from the entertainment industry.
While some fan-streaming services might go on to become big, others remain just a hobby; overall, this model will also result in a vast amount of overall social media fan activity.
High-speed internet, falling costs of content creation, and the ease of reaching out have meant that the lines between content creators and consumers are blurring each day. Add to that the technological breakthroughs, and we can truly visualize ourselves on the threshold of an entertainment ecosystem where we have everything in our pocket to make, distribute, and monetize content, with cost and knowledge barriers, as well as middlemen, fast becoming superfluous.
The ‘true democratization’ of the entertainment world, probably a utopian vision even a decade ago, is fast becoming a reality.
Deepak Jayaram is Co-founder and Head of Strategy & Innovation at MinersINC.