I just got back from a fantastic trip to Austin, Texas (the home of the South by Southwest Conference on interactive media, film and music and also the home of weird). Although I went down with some colleagues to focus on selecting content for the Open Roof Festival‘s upcoming 2012 season, I also learned quite a bit and came away with a few things on my mind – both in terms of entertainment as well as the future of digital media, social networking and how content is going to be developed, distributed and shared going forward. In particular, I walked away from the Festival with three things on my mind, and although none of them are new concepts or are mindblowing ideas, a renewed focus on them gave me some insights I thought are worth sharing. In no particular order they are:
It’s a word we love using in the entertainment/digital media world. “Convergence”. I must have used it about ten times per day when meeting various people in film, gaming, digital media, distribution and a host of other industries while at SXSW. But what does it even mean? My take on it is this: media is moving toward one focal point of distribution – through sharing and the merging of platforms – and there is almost nothing we can do about it. Not that it’s a bad thing. But, it’s important to note that the traditional models of watching a movie, listening to music, playing a video game, and so on, are all likely going to eventually come at us in one form and through one platform – digitally and through the internet, respectively. For example, I was speaking with someone at SXSW who is the business of acquiring content for a large film distribution company, and her role is to simply ensure that the VOD (Video on Demand) library is full. How do we get VOD? Ultimately, through the internet and in the form of digital media. This was not the case long ago. Other examples include the sourcing of music, not by CD or vinyl (gasp!), but rather, by a stream from the “cloud” where our digital music files are stored. Does this mean that convergence means Apple Inc. will essentially manage and sell to us every piece of media? Maybe. But the important thing to note is that, as we move forward, and as technology evolves, law will have to evolve to acknowledge the fact that the traditional lines separating modes of distribution and forms of content are blurring, if not vanishing altogether.
Location-Based Apps are the Future
SXSW is the home of the launch of many apps (most notably, Twitter) and the interactive element of the conference dwarfs the film and music side of things. Over the course of 4 short days, I was bombarded with trial downloads, advertisements, on-site activations, etc., for a wide range of apps, almost all of which focused on letting people know where I was, what I was doing and why they should be doing the same things. Many of these were only available in the US, however, some of them are coming to Canada shortly. The rise of location-based apps has a lot to do with the advent of GPS enabled mobile phones as well as the ease with which the SDK (software development kits) for the iOS and Android systems are obtained and used. Combine that with the fact that there is a tendency in our generation to let everyone know what we are doing, eating, saying, thinking and looking at all the time, and voila – you have the inspiration for developing an almost infinite supply of apps (many of which are redundant and/or useless) that will tell people what you are doing and where you are at any given moment. Some focus on people within your immediate range, others only on people you know. I will admit that this was particularly useful at SXSW – however, be prepared to see this sort of technology being implemented in other apps which, to date, have not necessarily sent out an automatic signal to others letting you know where you are. “Automatic” you say? That leads me to the final point of this post….
There was no point at which, over the course of 4 days, I did not know exactly what was happening at any second of the day. Largely due to Twitter and the fact that WiFi was everywhere (including on the bodies of homeless people) I was able, at any minute, to search or be updated on the following: what movies were playing; how long the lines were; what the weather was; who was or was not speaking; the best or worst events of the hour; what parties to go to; what parties sucked; which of my friends were around me; what to eat; who to follow on Twitter; who to ban on Twitter; etc., etc., etc. (you get the point). Some of you might be thinking, “Jordan, you are clearly living in the stone age – how have you not realized the power of this type of communication until now?” To them I respond – “I don’t know.” But I’d also say this: the speed at which we are now communicating as a result of the advent of mobile technology and the ease with which we can obtain important information presents a spectre of awe and fear. The usefulness of these types of communications is staggering – but also puts an incredible amount of pressure on people to do things quickly, to release information automatically, and to have no patience for process. Combined with the growth of applications showing where you are at all times and you have this potential outcome (also not news): you may never have any privacy again.
These are big issues, ones which I promise not to overindulge in or bore you with. But, being at SXSW, seeing what was happening and hearing what people had to say really brought these concepts to the fore and ones which I thought were worth sharing. The lesson? Go to SXSW – I promise, you’ll learn something.