I've found one of the best ways to keep track of the innovations and forces that are shaping the current state and future of the media and entertainment industries is just to watch the planning discussions unfold for the annual Futures of Entertainment conference that I help organize. The event—now in its fifth year—features a mix of people working in the media industries and marketing side-by-side on panels with media studies scholars for lengthy discussions about key patterns driving change in the media industries.
This year's event is Nov. 11-12 (full information about the conference is available here), and I thought it might be worth highlighting the issues and events that will be covered this year, as you think about the 2012 media landscape. Below, I've captured six issues we're focusing on this year, which I believe any media or marketing profession needs to be thinking through:
1.) The influence of key cities in driving media innovation: Our pre-conference session looks at major media innovation coming out of key cities like Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro. The collection of talent urban environments can provide—mixed with great new possibilities for transnational content distribution—is part of the factor, but why are cities like Mumbai, Rio, Shanghai, and others helping drive so much of this media innovation, and what can the rest of the world learn from what's happening on the ground in these places?
2.) The audience's role in circulating content: What happens in an environment where circulation is increasingly in the hands of the audience rather than the companies producing content? How does this change the relationship people have with media content? What types of new models rise up for media producers? And, at the same time, what are the new questions, challenges and concerns that rise up with a model that encourages more audience participation in shaping and sharing media content?
3.) Producer/audience collaboration: As organized communities of fans or customers find an increasing number of ways to talk not just about but WITH companies, what new models are arising in media production to better understand, work with, or address the questions and concerns of audiences? More importantly, which of them are actually new and actually give fans greater influence over the content they were once thought to passively "consume?" How can models be devised that give fans actual voice and appropriately compensate them for their labor but which also still allows producers their own voice? What ground has been gained by active audiences, and what power imbalances still remain?
4.) Crowdsourcing: At one time a fad for generating cheap ideas for audiences or generating easy "engagement," the excitement about the gimmick of crowdsourcing has started to wear off. Which leaves the question: how is this concept actually driving fundamental change? A range of independent media and event producers are today using crowdsourcing not just to collaboratively create content but also to find new ways to circulate content, fund content, and support "long tail" media content that would not have been financially viable in a previous generation.
5.) Location, data, and storytelling: Brands have adopted the idea of checking in and location-based participation, but we have only scratched the surface of what stories might be told with the data that can be created and gathered surrounding location-based technologies. Where is this headed? And what are the "bigger stories" this data can tell?
6.) Privacy: Finally, it's easy to get excited about the new possibilities these trends can afford, but we have to be equally careful to consider the downsides and dangers of these new developments. In an era where innovation is driven by audience participation, collaboration and engagement, data collection, and other activities that invites the audiences to move from more passive to more active modes of engagement, there are major privacy concerns to consider. What are people willing to compromise for deeper engagement, more robust stories, and more personalized service?
These are the questions on my mind as we prepare for next month's conference, and I suggest that anyone working in media or marketing be following these issues as well.
Sam Ford is Director of Digital Strategy for Peppercom Strategic Communications, a research affiliate with MIT's Convergence Culture Consortium, and an instructor with Western Kentucky University's Popular Culture Studies program. He was recently named 2011 Social Media Innovator of the Year by Bulldog Reporter. Ford was previously the MIT Consortium's project manager and part of the team who launched the project in 2005. He is co-editor of The Survival of Soap Opera with Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington and co-author of the forthcoming book, Spreadable Media with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green. Follow him on Twitter @Sam_Ford.
[Image: Flickr user John.P.]