This was originally published in Ad Age. They took out my Trump joke though. So this version is better.
A Prize Fight Over What Media Wants
The heavyweight fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor may have been the most pirated event ever. Is that because the distributors don’t understand the fundamentals of the media business?
Crowd Companies CEO Jeremiah Owyang privately wrote on Facebook, in a post that he allowed me to publicly share, “Many people were live streaming the fight on Periscope. All media wants to be freed.” While media has no inherent desires, people can’t resist the tendency to anthropomorphize it.
Owyang’s clever twist on the cliché puts the emphasis on media wanting to be “freed” rather than “free,” but the implication was that the $99.95 cost to view the fight in high definition in the US prevented this event from reaching everyone who wanted access to it. This led people to seek alternative ways of viewing the fight. For some, that meant a trip to the pub, but for others, it meant engaging in or abetting some form of theft.
What if one took Owyang’s exercise further and sought to find out what media wants? There are many kinds of media. Why should it have some singular desire? It’s like saying an underemployed coal miner in Wyoming wants the same thing as a hedge fund billionaire in Manhattan (actually, both probably voted for Trump).
If media did have aspirations akin to human desires, I picture a forum of different parties shouting over each other. There wouldn’t be any “Robert’s Rules of Order”; it would be like the British House of Commons. Here are some more varied takes from the media on what it might want.
Media wants to be valuable. What if media is okay not being free, and even enjoys a kind of serfdom, as long as it is given proper recognition for what it’s worth? This kind of media likes the niche it fills, and the value assigned to it helps it serve a purpose.
Media wants to be remembered. Some media might want to ingrain itself in people’s consciousness. The indelible experience becomes more important than how often it is consumed or how many people consume it. It will then want to forge whatever path it can to ensure its memory lives on.
Media wants to be forgotten. Some media wants to disappear as soon as it’s created; this liberates people to be more candid and less conventional. This is the kind of media that Snapchat popularized and many others have emulated.
Media wants to be loved. Media’s that puppy that constantly needs affection. Beyond generating likes, it needs to know that it touches the hearts of its consumers.
Media wants to be feared. Some media wants to live on the dark web. It’s tired of being loved. The only way it knows how to gain respect is to show how much damage it can do to business models, reputations, governments, and everything in its path.
Media wants to be influential. I love the bit in the movie “Shattered Glass” about how during Bill Clinton’s presidency, the magazine The New Republic was “the in-flight magazine of Air Force One.” Instead of just being remembered, this kind of media wants to change people’s minds and lead them to take action.
Media wants to be shared. Some media might want to be passed on continually. Perhaps it’s not influential. Perhaps it’s not even consumed – it’s one of those stories that people keep passing on ad nauseum without ever reading it. This kind of media wants to be a virus, infecting more hosts so that it ups its chance of survival.
Media wants to be analog. Some media wants a physical home, as it would rather be grounded than stored in a cloud. The Instagram picture wants to be printed. The Kindle book wants to sit on a shelf. The Pandora song wants to get dizzy spinning on a turntable. This media wants to touch consumers by allowing people to touch it back.
Media wants to be mixed. This media isn’t so precious about its current form. It wants to copulate with other kinds of media. It wants to transform and live as something else entirely. It’s the shape-shifter that lives for the chance at resurrection. It’s Buddhist tendencies mean it could be a cheetah one day and a butterfly the next.
Media wants to be preserved. This media is in it for the long haul, perhaps millennia. It envies Egyptian hieroglyphs, along with the 300,000 scraps of manuscripts documenting Jewish daily life stored in the Cairo Geniza since the year 870. Its finds fulfillment by outliving its creators.
Media wants to be free. This is still an option. But if it’s free, it’s not clear that it will be remembered, valued, loved, or feared. Being free, in this case, is a burden for media, and not all media will know what to do with its freedom. Not all media wants to be freed or to be free. It’s time to consider the various and competing needs of media if we are going to claim to know what it wants.