Sunday, 18 November 2012

Impressions from Newsxchange #3 - a billion camera world, Millenial portrayal and the future of broadcast news

The final part of my impressions from Newsxchange 2012 is the text of my own speech at the conference, which was 1/3 of an Associated Press session on the future of news broadcasting. My piece covered the effects of proper technology on the creation and distribution of news. I don't do much work in the industry, so this was set up as a techie's impressions of the future.

Innovation in capture devices like the panoramic ball camera and Google Glass have been enabled by massive growth in the sales of smartphones and tablets, which next year are set to be the first billion unit a year computing category.

And when you have a billion smart devices shipping, you have the manufacturing capacity for billions of fast CPUs, billions of DRAM chips and billions of CMOS digital camera chips. And what's more, there are tens of thousands of people with the software and hardware design skills to bring those components together into an amazing computing experience.

But back to cameras. The human race has become obsessed with recording itself. 250 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day, tens of millions more on other social networks.

There is a substantial degree of narcissism in the behaviour of social network users, which I expect to drive great success for wearable technology. It will also, I expect, create difficult conditions for delivering World news to Generation Y and Millenial audiences.

The problem, as I see it, is that avid social network users are immersed in their own story arc, in which news is always breaking. Since being part of the action is always more impactful than watching from afar, there is now a substantial part of the developed market audience who will only dip in and out of the traditional fare of broadcast TV news providers.

It's important to mention at this juncture that this really is a relatively small proportion of the total global audience. Facebook may have a billion registered accounts, but a substantial proportion of these are duplicate or fake. More still are effectively inactive - the accounts of parents and grandparents experimenting with the technology. The average Facebook user does four things on the site daily - be that posting a status update, liking something or posting a photo. Advanced users are few and far between in 2012.

Other social networks are an irrelevance in the grand scheme of things. Deloitte data suggests that even Twitter counts only 40% of early adopters in the UK as members. Fewer than 20% of the mass market even have accounts. And the UK is traditionally an early adopting market. News organisations can get as excited as they like about Twitter, but it has a long way to go to threaten their existance.

Even so, the long term future is clouded by the problem that has also beset newspapers. At some point in the next decade Generation Y will be the force majeur in global spending. And if technology continues to advance as it has done, their media lives will be dominated by the personal timeline. This isn't a slight against TV, which I expect to continue to be popular, it's just that connected time will increase to the point where most waking time is connected and most connections are rich in the extreme.

In my view this will be an audience that is interested in many things. An audience that wants to be informed of things that are happening in the world the instant that they occur and will want to deep dive frictionlessly into detail where they find interest.

This is why the role of the news broadcaster and the journalist is as relevant now as it has ever been. Curating the huge volume of stories coming to light at any one time and providing a neutral view on their significance and further reading is something that only a trusted party can provide. Most Internet users are anonymous to the majority. News broadcasters are by their nature in the public eye.

But this can go wrong if the industry fails to get one thing right. Just as it seeks to portray news in a manner that is sympathetic to the attitudes and motivations of the subjects, the industry needs to consider portrayal for the audience of tomorrow.

Gen Y and Millenial portrayal is the most important thing that the news broadcasting industry has to work on right now. Get it right and it can be one of the most equitable parts of the future reputation capital based Internet. Get it wrong and eventually a true disruptor will emerge to take their place.

For me, that means two things. First, creating an operating and technology model that enables sources to be gathered and sourced from a huge range of channels and distributed back in economic fashion. That quite possibly means looking beyond today's broadcast hardware suppliers and instead seeking advice from the burgeoning software industry. Marklogic and Opentext may well be the Sony and Panasonic of 2020.

Second - and most importantly - it means ensuring that journalists must remain impartial and inquisitive. It's all too easy to pursue short term gain with shock stories, but this is an all or nothing strategy and exposes mainstream journalists to competition from the entire of the Internet's gossiping classes.

If the industry takes this path then it will devolve into a free-for-all of freelancers and the crowd will take over. Only in long term integrity and use of financial power (which however depressed the industry is, remains colossally greater than that of citizen or online journalists) can news broadcast endure.

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