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Something's Gotta Give

Last year, global media spending was forecast by McKinsey to top $2 trillion. The investment was evident in television, as 2019 saw more than 500 original scripted series in the United States — a 52% increase from 2013 when streaming services went mainstream and a 153% increase from available series in 2009. Gaming also showed a sizable uptick, with more than $43.4 billion in sales last year. Collectively, this represents a massive amount of content vying for our attention. We've read about the often-disturbing implications of this information overload in eye-opening books like Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne's Tools and Weapons and from think tanks like danah boyd's Data+Society

As the race for attention escalates, mental well-being and personal productivity have taken on new challenges related to tech. Innovators are looking toward new avenues as a result. With so much content available to overwhelm us, they see less opportunity in escapism, and more in insight and action. 

In the television space, Discovery Communications and its collection of unscripted, educational series takes on the essence: don’t just view, do. Discovery CFO, Gunnar Wiedenfels, recently told Bloomberg, "We're not in the game of spending $5 million an hour to generate scripted shows. We're in the game of passionate audiences that we super serve in smaller niches." The strategy appears to be working, as the company's free cash flow has grown by 28% year over year (2019 vs. 2018). 

In the health sphere, companies like Whoop differentiate themselves in a another crowded market by providing actionable perspective through curated lessons and personal analytics. Other newcomers like Mirror and Tonal use data to fuel smart home workout equipment, along with the community-focused Peloton, which at the end of last year had more customers than SoulCycle and a higher retention rate than Equinox. 

For these companies, insight becomes the product. And we're seeing this play out with the growth of genres like perspective-shaping podcasts, which have risen
 sharply in popularity over the last year. And lifestyle guides that provide recommendations for how to live better lives — see wellness powerhouse Goop, which started as a newsletter and is now worth $250 million, or renovation empire leaders Chip and Joanna Gaines, who have recently acquired an estimated $18 million combined net worth. These innovators owe their success to goals that focus less on gobbling our attention, and more on providing niche, personal value.

The abundance of addictive content fueled by the streaming wars, social media and short-form videos like Tik Tok (fun and
dark as the memes may be) are the antithesis of what we need right now. The rise of content options in parallel with user and creator burnout rates prove the current media landscape is not sustainable. Something's gotta give.

We don't need more. We need better. There is a huge opportunity for companies — in media and beyond — to innovate as insight agents that help people learn, discern, act and give back. 

We’re seeing some intriguing early efforts. What do you think will be next?

Chris Perry
As always, if you find this newsletter valuable we would be grateful if you encouraged others to sign up by directing them here.
What We're Reading
Content Experience
Change or Die: 50% of Media and Entertainment Execs Say They Can’t Rely on Old Biz Models, Survey Finds
By Todd Spangler, Variety

With media and entertainment sectors continuing to be whipped by winds of digital disruption, many industry execs believe they need to change the ways they’ve done business — or see their companies perish.

Media Forensics
False and Misleading Information Is Spreading Online About The Aussie Bushfires. Here's What's Real and What's Not.

By Cameron Wilson, Buzzfeed

Many Australians are finding out information about the bushfires through social media networks, but some accounts are spreading information that is false, misleading or unverified. BuzzFeed News is keeping track.

Platform Dominance
The Human Screenome Project Will Capture Everything We Do on our Phones
By Tanya Basu, MIT Technology Review

Byron Reeves, a professor at Stanford University, and two colleagues recently announced the launch of the Human Screenome Project. The project aims to more accurately capture our digital footprint using an eyebrow-raising technique: background software that screenshots a volunteer’s phone every five seconds while it’s activated. The idea is that just as the Human Genome Project and genomics changed our understanding of diseases, big data could give us a better idea of how technology is linked with social problems.

Synthetic Content
Dating Apps Need Women. Advertisers Need Diversity. AI Companies Offer a Solution: Fake People
By Drew Harwell, The Washington Post

Artificial intelligence start-ups are selling images of computer-generated faces that look like the real thing, offering companies a chance to create imaginary models and “increase diversity” in their ads without needing human beings.

Platform Dominance
Podcast Groups Aren’t Just About Podcasts
By Taylor Lorenz, The New York Times

Podcasts have given rise to fan universes once reserved for popular TV shows. And many of those fandoms live on Facebook. Groups for podcasts like “Crime Junkie” and “Shameless” have ballooned to tens of thousands of members, and in some cases more than 100,000. And those are just the primary fan pages.

Media Forensics
The New Trick to go Viral on Instagram? Make a "What Disney Character Are You?" Filter
By Chris Stokel-Walker, Input

If you’ve opened up Instagram Stories in the last couple of weeks, it’s likely you’ve encountered a friend staring bewildered at the front-facing camera lens on their phone while some sort of Sims-like interface hovers above their forehead, rapidly rolling through a panoply of options, like a jumped-up Las Vegas slot machine. The “What X Are You” filter is seemingly everywhere now — and canny filter creators have recognized its power to make them go viral. 

Platform Dominance
7 Reasons Why Video Gaming Will Take Over
By Mathew Ball,

For years, gaming has been evolving into something all-encompassing. For millions, it’s a hobby, an obsession, an in-home and out-of-home experience, something they read about, write about, talk about, and watch.  

Emerging Technology
The Making of Mojo, AR Contact Lenses that Give Your Eyes Superpowers
By Mark Sullivan, Fast Company
In the coming decade, it’s likely that our computing devices will become more personal and reside closer to—or even inside—our bodies. Our eyes are the logical next stop on the journey. Mojo is skipping over the glasses idea entirely, opting for the much more daunting goal of fitting the necessary microcomponents into contact lenses.
Deep Take
“Rated False”: Here’s the Most Interesting New Research on Fake News and Fact-Checking
By Denise-Marie Ordway, Nieman Lab
Journalist’s Resource sifts through the academic journals so you don’t have to. Here they collect the best of 2019, including research into the effectiveness of fact-checking, why people are susceptible to fake news, and the changing volume of misinformation on social media.
Copyright © 2020 Weber Shandwick

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