Meaningful entertainment in the digital age

Alexander van Wijnen
August 7, 2018

Meaningful entertainment in the digital age

Alexander van Wijnen
August 7, 2018

Meaningful entertainment in the digital age

Alexander van Wijnen
August 7, 2018
Meaningful entertainment in the digital age
Alexander van Wijnen
Maya Turolla
August 7, 2018
Photo courtesy of Mollie Sivaram. © Unsplash.

In the digital economy of abundance, it is increasingly difficult to secure consumers’ “intention”. It is only for the most meaningful entertainment that consumers reserve portions of their time and gather with other people. From TV shows to festivals and cinemas, meaningful entertainment is consumed in social settings and through high immersion. While other types of entertainment are also widely popular, intentional entertainment is more meaningful to consumers and could gain prominence.

Our observations

           
  • According to Netflix, 70% of its streams end up on TVs instead of phones, tablets or computers. In addition, six months into a subscription, most viewers have moved from their smaller screens to the biggest one in their house. According to YouTube, its live TV service, presented as meant for mobile devices, generates more than half of its streams on TVs. A
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  • According to CSG, around 79% of U.S. streamers primarily stream the video content (i.e. from their laptops) to their TV sets.
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  • In the digital age of streaming, in which TV shows can be watched anywhere and  anytime, most shows are still traditionally structured: episodes that last between 30 minutes and 1 hour, and narratives centered around the family.
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  • The Attention Economy suggests that consumers’ attention has become the most valuable resource in the digital economy, and that all types of media compete with each other for consumers’ attention.
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  • However, not all attention is equally meaningful to consumers. In The Atlantic, author Daniel Pink notes that consumers sort every media product – from podcasts to movies to TV shows – into three categories: intentional, interstitial, and invisible. Intentional media is content that we plan to experience and for which we carve out a particular amount of time to enjoy it – often with friends, family or partners. Interstitial media is programming we use to fill empty spaces in our lives (e.g. waiting in line, public transport). Invisible media is the content we never see and often do not know even exists.

Connecting the dots

In the past, people would sit in front of TV screens for the same programming at the same moment. This consumption was highly “intentional”: people would reserve a specific time slot and gather – as a family and as a society (e.g. 8 o’clock news, latest hit show). However, through streaming and mobile, people can now watch their shows anywhere and anytime, giving rise to snappy interstitial content. But while the attention of consumers is thus getting scarce, it is even more difficult to secure consumers’ “intention”. Only the most popular shows are so extraordinary that they demand intention.Intentional media, consumed in social settings and through high immersion, is more meaningful to consumers. As we did in the past, for the most popular shows we designate a time slot, invite people over, and endlessly talk about the content. As such, people create meaningful social spaces rather than use that content to occupy less meaningful spaces (interstitial media).Only few would watch Game of Thrones on their smartphones: the show is the epitome of meaningful media and its popularity attests to the perceived value of such content. Moreover, this relates to the element of immersion in modern media. High immersion (i.e. TV screens and higher quality audio instead of smartphones and earbuds) creates an  altered state” experience that is far more memorable, engaging and thus meaningful. The value of meaningful media will only increase as immersion improves through video and audio innovation. Moreover, new immersive interfaces (e.g. AR, VR) could make intentional media biquitous,mobile and accessible. Nevertheless, as yet, the TV set is the dominant conduit for  meaningful media. Meanwhile, snappy interstitial content is more suited for mobile devices, is more short length, ad-driven (while intentional media is more subscription-based), and  as more potential to go viral.Social settings and high immersion are also shaping meaningful entertainment beyond media. For instance, festivals are intentional (planned, immersive spaces, social, last  longer), while nightclubs are often interstitial (used to fill a night out, short duration, less  social).Like meaningful media, festivals are gaining ground while nightclubs are closing their  doors. Similarly, we have written about the difference between the appeal of the cinema experience and streaming services. Moreover, with respect to our tendency to pursue altered states, there is a difference between escapism and transcendence, as we have also written before. Escapist entertainment is more interstitial (i.e. escaping dull moments to consume random content), while transcendent entertainment is more meaningful to people. All in all, while interstitial escapist entertainment is also widely popular, intentional  transcendent entertainment is more meaningful to consumers. In a world of abundant entertainment, the latter could gain prominence.

Implications

           
  • Since digital technology boosts the rise of interstitial media, but intentional mediaremains more meaningful, the middleground might increasingly disappear. Hence, the future of media could be characterized by high quality shows versus snappy interstitial content.
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  • Interstitial media, enabled by digital technology, is thus currently a growing category. YouTube is the epitome of interstitial media, but platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu could also produce such content to reach consumers at more moments during the day. Early examples on Netflix are Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and The End of the F***ing World.
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  • Intentional media is mainly in the hands of the most popular content creators, IP’s and studios – which are scarce. While the shift to a video-driven internet is being  driven by companies as diverse as Alphabet (YouTube), Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Disney and others, non-IP owning companies will thus most likely focus on interstitial media.
About the author
At sister company Dasym, Alexander has been assigned a variety of tasks, for his interests transcend branches of knowledge as well as geographical boundaries. In brief, he writes policy papers, interprets and elucidates global developments, and conducts thematic investment research. His academic background spans public administration, history of international relations, and philosophy, having published dissertations on smart cities, Ethiopian sovereignty and independence, and Chinese philosophy towards technology. Integral to his responsibilities, Alexander wades through the latest literature on geopolitics, technology, financial markets and cultural anthropology.
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