In the Future of Content…Many Things Will Stay the Same

One of the most consistent lessons that we fail to account for when we try to predict the future is the most obvious. In the future, many things will stay the same.

What, for example, is the 6th highest grossing film of all time internationally?

Wait for it.

Wait for it.

Furious 7.

Yeah, the seventh film in a franchise that began in 2001. That’s how recently we’re still making popular entertainment.

The highest grossing film of all time domestically is The Force Awakens, one of the latest in a well-established franchise.

In the age of bifurcated visual media, the record for the highest rated television broadcast of all time was set with 2015’s Super Bowl. And the previous record holder was the previous year’s Super Bowl (which beat the record held by 2012’s Super Bowl).

We are not through creating massive, high-scale, super expensive, high stakes content. And we won’t be for a very, very long time. Just because we’ve found an economic model to support more low stakes tables, doesn’t mean the high stakes tables are going anywhere.

The future of content that I talk about with all these little creators reaching little audiences making middle class incomes isn’t a replacement for the current game, it’s an expansion pack.

There was a time not too long ago when the top selling vehicles in the country were the Humvee and the Prius. We’re a big country. We want everything.

Another thing that’s going to continue to happen is the consolidation of media. Yes we’re used to hearing about big companies like Comcast swallowing other big companies like NBC/Universal, and that will continue, but Facebook swallowing up the lion’s share of social media is another thing that’s not going anywhere.

This is good and bad. It’s good in that we can have major social experiments like finding out at scale that if you mention in your timeline that you voted, other people are more likely to vote. Great. A low-hanging fruit way to positively impact voter turnout. It’s bad in that because it’s consolidated, so if Facebook decides one day it’s not going to show one side or the other that their party voted, they could have a measurable impact on an election. (In fact, many people think they’ve already had a major impact on a national election.)

Another thing that will continue to happen is our worst selves. We will continue to cocoon ourselves and give in to cognitive bias at every turn (again, last election). It will be the job of all of us, especially journalists, to give us the ammunition to defeat or resist our own bias and make better decisions. The tools discussed in this series will hopefully make it easier to do that in the future. If we’re not deliberate in how we use them, however, those biases will bring out the worst the future of content has to offer.

But let me give you a picture of the opposite, the reason I’ve spent seven volumes talking about a concept as loopy as “the future of content.”

Have you heard of …&maybetheywontkillyou?

It’s a role playing game. You play the role of a poor Black American trying to go down the street to the store. On the way you are confronted with a series of micro-aggressions. If you decide to say something, someone else rolls a die. Depending on the outcome of that roll, there are consequences for you ranging from bad to worse. If you choose not to respond, there is no roll of the dice, but your frustration level goes up with every unanswered aggression. The motto of the game is, “See if you can make it to the store and back with your dignity and your life.”

The point of the game, obviously, is to help the player understand what it is like to be poor and Black in America. To understand the powerlessness, the frustration, the humiliation in a way that other forms of content could not convey.

In a speech at Content Camp, NPR editor, podcast host, and all around awesome person Linda Holmes quoted her old law professor when speaking about the future of content. He’d used the phrase “What kind of a world do you want to live in?” Akira Thompson, the author of …&maybetheywontkillyou thought about the world he wanted to live in and created that game.

The two questions I want you to ask yourself now are…

What kind of a world do you want to live in?

What kind of content will you create to help us get there?

This is the final part of my “7 Lessons from the Future of Content” series. Be sure to check out…

Part One: Tools Are Cheap, Time Is Expensive

Part Two: Let’s Play Risk

Part Three: The New Meaning of Success

Part Four: Making Money on Anything Except Content

Part Four point Five: Why the Future of Content Matters

Part Five: The Shape of Content to Come

Part Six: The Future of Content Belongs to All of Us

Here endeth the lessons.