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Redifining Content Consumption

To understand how content will be consumed in the 21st century, the terms of reference need to be reinterpreted

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How we consumed content was pretty predictable until the Internet browser sprang on our computer screens. Then a bit of hell broke loose. Our static behaviour — newspapers in the morning, radio in the car, TV in the evening, and movies at the neighbourhood screen — was disrupted. Suddenly, we were reading and watching a lot of stuff alone, by ourselves, leaning into the desktop. We thought we had added a fifth medium, namely computer/digital, to our traditional choices on consuming content.

That’s how the debate was framed for nearly a decade, i.e. would digital screens wipe out traditional media platforms? But this binary choice was woefully myopic, because it failed to see the tsunami that would be unleashed by the iPhone in 2007, Twitter in 2009, Facebook in 2011, Instagram in 2014, Snapchat in 2015 … and we are still counting breathlessly for new social media disruptors to be invented.

In fact, now there is a fallacy in asking the “traditional versus digital” question. Because even traditional has become digital — TV, radio, newspapers and movie prints are all electronically processed. So all media is digital now. Therefore, to understand how content will be consumed in the 21st century, the terms of reference need to be redefined.

Today even the linear vs. non-linear narrative has become obsolete. Now the real options are between consuming content on an intensely engaged mobile device versus a static screen in “community mode”. Instead of traditional vs. digital or linear vs. non-linear, it’s now mobile/single vs. fixed/community. As soon as you understand this distinction, you will figure out the question asked at the top of this piece —‘How Will We Be Consuming Content?’

Let’s begin with the typical kinds of content we consume every day. I can put them into five broad buckets: news, information, sports, entertainment, friends & family (i.e., private content). I will keep it simple and give you my bet on how each of these verticals could be further spliced and consumed from here on.

News and information will almost entirely be consumed on a mobile device, one on one. A notification, either from our preferred website or a social media friend, will “ping” on our handheld device, which is always within a 12-inch radius from our bodies, at all times of day and night. We will click through to read the piece or see the meme or watch the video. If we want more, we will press search. And off we will go into an ocean of choice. There will, of course, be an exceptional “big bad breaking news” situation when a devastating earthquake may have struck, or Donald may have Trumped Hillary, or any other crash or disaster may be unfolding live on our screens — it may be such a “once in a lifetime” event that we would like to watch it with our friends in our living rooms. Just for that exceptional moment, the “mobile one on one” rule will be violated. But then exceptions only prove the rule.

Live sports, like ball games and cricket T-20s, that people want to bet on and cheer and shout along with, buoyed on gallons of beer, will predominantly be consumed on a static screen in “community mode”. And Spielberg, Salman and SRK spectacles will always be preferred on large immobile screens in darkened multiplexes.

That only leaves the private stuff from friends and family. No prizes for guessing here — that will be the exclusive preserve of social media, from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat to heavens-know-what-else.

In short, that’s how we will be consuming content in the 21st century — powered by social, intensely single on our mobile phones, but occasionally stepping out into the community for a shared static screen experience.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Raghav Bahl

The author is founder of Quintillion Media

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