The End of the Shared Media Experience?

Will an On-demand World Take Away Our Water-Cooler Moments?

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The impact of the internet and emerging digital technologies on how people consume and interact with media has been profound. Everyone talks about it. The impact on the media and advertising industries has been just as profound.

Media's past was anchored in content people consumed at the same time in the same place, such as movies in theaters, or at the same time but in different places, such as shows on TV and radio and news in papers and magazines. Media is now shifting more and more toward an on-demand future. Even today, with a little bit of work and money, most people can access virtually any kind of content they want wherever, whenever and however they want it.

The on-demand future certainly sounds like it will be a great convenience for consumers. People no longer will be tethered to appointment-driven media. No more will media companies and distributors totally dictate the time, platform and place where media is consumed. An on-demand, personal media world certainly will be different. It will be more and more about you and less about us.

The differences start at convenience and personal relevance and extend into exciting possibilities for new marketing and advertising models. Hyper-targeted ads, customized entertainment and personal sponsorships are only the beginning. With consumers able to consume more content more often, many see this new world as an extraordinary shot in the arm for the media industry. More demand for more content means more advertising, more sponsorship and more subscriptions. But will it really mean that?

Consuming personal media on demand is a lot like "bowling alone" (I'm careful in borrowing from the title of Robert Putnam's book, but it was too fitting not to use). In a world where everyone has a bowling alley in his own house, it is certainly true that you can bowl a lot more with a lot fewer distractions and a lot more convenience, but it's just not the same. Sharing the media experience with others, whether in place or time or after the fact, is a big part of what makes it special. That is what drives the water-cooler conversations. That is what drives the gossip. That is what drives the special connections people feel to media and its participants.

Of course, it's not just consumers who lose in that world. Advertisers and media owners lose as well. Media that is not shared may not be as memorable or engaging. If it's less special for consumers, advertisers will be less likely to pay up for it. The shared experience and scarcity of event-driven media certainly can translate into tremendous advertiser value. Just look at the Super Bowl or the Oscars. Look at the water-cooler talk those events generate.

It seems inevitable that media will shift to on-demand consumption. Does this mean it is also inevitable that the media industry generally and the advertising industry specifically will suffer? Is advertising destined for the same kinds of disruptions the music industry is enduring? Fortunately, I don't think so.

Just as technology is disrupting the shared experience of value in one part of the market, it is creating shared experience elsewhere. We need look no further than the extraordinary explosion of social tools and networks on the internet. Tens of millions of people are connecting and sharing with each other every day.

Central to the future of media will be a world where these tools and networks enable consumers to share their singular, on-demand media experiences with each other. Media companies and marketers ultimately will enable and profit from this sharing. So the good news for the future: Yes, you will be able to bowl alone if you want to, but you won't have to. You will able to have on-demand media and also share the experience.
Dave Morgan is the founder and chairman of Tacoda and was most recently an AOL exec VP.
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