The Future of Content Part 1 – Paradigm Shift

Hello and Welcome to BCM325 Future Cultures.

Video Lecture

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In the previous Future Cultures videos, I have been emphasising how important it is to take stock of past and current trends in order to think about the future in the short, medium and long term, so in this video I want to take stock of changes to the media and communication industries that have be been building from the [mid 1990s] and the colonisation of the workplace and homes by the [internet] and eventually our bodies via mobile devices in the [2000s].

It was this era of always-on internet-enabled [‘smart devices’], like the first generation of Apple and Android phones, which enabled Silicon Valley startups like [Facebook] and Twitter, Weibo and Wechat, to become dominant media platforms. Over the past decade this new media ecosystem has been maturing and establishing clear patterns which are setting us up for the next decade and beyond. What we do know is that [change] has been increasing in intensity, since the innovation of the [moveable type printing press], and more recently the development of the [microprocessor] technology during the cold war.

Communication technologies and media platforms have been creating new opportunities for massive disruption to the established modes of content production, distribution and reception. In this video I want to provide a series of terms for describing this disruption and lay the groundwork for thinking about the broader implications for the media industries, including social media and the way we think about the move from audiences, to users and beyond. To do this I’m going to be drawing on the work of [two professors] of Media and Communication, John Hartley and P.D Marshall. I will link to their their bios in the description below. In his book {‘Digital Futures for Cultural and Media Studies], Hartley observes that Media and Communication studies grew up on [broadcasting, mass media and national popular culture]. These are the legacy media industries, which are part of what P.D. Marshall calls the [representational media paradigm].

A paradigm is a pattern, a set of concepts, theories, or standards that work to provide a framework for understanding something. It is not meant to be a rigid model, but a grouping of conditions that we can consider to be toperating in a specific time and place. The representational media paradigm, therefore is the set of broadcast media conditions under which content is produced, distributed and received, prior to the internet. Representational media is media which purports to represent its audience, without allowing the audience to represent themselves outside of narrowly prescribed channels such as ratings, profits and viewership. The representational media paradigm is an all‐encompassing term for dominant media forms that are still very much with us, including print, film, radio, and television. None of these industries have disappeared, and yet each has experience massive change. [Celebrities, sports stars, politicians], and other high‐profile figures are part of the elaborate system of public personalities, which are enabled through the representational media paradigm to speak to and on behalf of audiences, voters, consumers, and the populace at large: they embody collective configurations through their representative – and public – individuality. Representational media paradigm involve images and narratives that are used to personify an audience.

The material of representational media are quite literally stories that represent the cultures that they are generated within and sold to, and these stories are often closely partnered with the political systems in charge of their modes of production. Media studies, argues Hartley, were founded on the suspicion of the owners and operators of the media, while communication studies were founded on models of communication science that were antagonistic towards the difference between producers and consumers. The representational media paradigm of media and communication was therefore constrained by the linear understanding of the [‘sender -> message -> receiver’] model, in which ‘the media’ was thought to be able to represents us and speak for us – whether it was politicians, religious figures, sports stars or celebrities, and thereby embed processes of command and control, enabling the State and Corporations to hide or direct messages and meaning. The internet fractured this understanding, as the centralised broadcast of one-to-many mass media model, had to compete with a decentralised, one-to-one, multimedia environment of the internet. Hartley and Marshall provide different accounts for understanding this development.

The new media paradigm described by Hartley is a [‘dialogic model of language’] which refers to turn-taking, mutual productivity, context-specific users, and an almost infinitely complex system of production, circulation and reproduction, in which users have a degree of agency, that is ‘open’ but not free-for-all. For Marshall, the internet has been the core factor in the development of a [Presentational Media Paradigm]. Marshall is a contributor to the emerging field of persona studies, together with Dr Kim Barbour and myself, we edit the journal of Persona Studies and have a new book, called an introduction to Persona Studies, in which we give an account of the Presentational Media paradigm, which is I will do my best to condense into a brief summary here. [Presentational media] is media that is performed, produced, and exhibited by the individual as part of the presentation of the public self. It is not an identity theory, but an understanding of the way in we use, produce, create, distribute and embody media as part of our everyday experience of life in the 21st century.

[Presentational media] does not replace the structures of representational media, rather it draws on the readily available resources of traditional media industries, in the form or remix, mashup, and memes as well as parody, satire and review. It does not replace it does not replace them entirely. [Video didn’t kill the radio star]. Movies didn’t kill the book, TV didn’t kill Cinema. The Internet didn’t kill TV, but each new communication technology shifts the degree of influence that the previously dominant media formats enjoy. Previously powerful corporations have to evolve in order to continue to produce materials relevant for the expression of the self to others. The Netflix and Amazon recommendation engines are a powerful way to increase audience share, but the personal recommendation of a viewer who chooses to tweet or Facebook post about what they are watching remains a hugely powerful influence over the popularity of content. Choosing to share ideas about what to watch, or live tweeting during your favourite show, is an example of Presentational Media.

[Presentational media] involves the sociocultural transformation of social networks, which includes the redirection of traditional media content – toward the layering of the online self – which means that our persona emerges as an expression of the self across networks over time through the digital objects that we produce and share. The Representational media paradigm is far from being replaced, but it is being eroded through hybridity and traditional media images, advertising, photographs, or quotes, that are now blended with interpersonal chats, memes, links, and the panoply of digital objects that are distributed by individual to audiences of friends and followers. Online tools, mobile applications (apps), and social media platforms support the ability of individuals to make content that is expressive of the self and is publicly available to others without the kinds of barriers to entry for which the representational media paradigm is famous. [Presentational media], means that celebrities are no longer constrained by the formally top-down production chains that manicured and promoted their images. Twitter and Instagram made it easier for Kim Kardashian fans to connect with the celebrity directly, to include her within their personal consumption of media images and replicate her approach in their own images.

Celebrities benefit from the platform’s integration within the personal, leading to the rise of Instagram and Social Media influencers and micro-celebrities. Presentational media involves mediatised digital objects that have subjective‐forming properties. This could include activities such as the sharing of a link to a music video that marks us as a fan, or expressing personal attitudes or opinions via the sharing of a meme, or documenting and vlogging via YouTube or Twitch in a video that gains attention via Facebook, Snapchat, or Twitter, which contributes to the [intercommunication] of self-mediation. So the term ‘presentational media’ locates the self at the centre of contemporary media activity, which still involves representational elements but these are spread by audiences according to entirely new structures and practices.

The internet connects together all forms of media consumption and production, flattening out the distinction between these concepts and reinvigorating the connection between the two. Rather than a linear process from production to consumption, media becomes cyclical. At the same time communication is no longer one to many, or even many to many, but flat and media takes on the intercommunicative properties of digital objects circulating through multiple networks: [“Intercommunication is an elaborate layering of types and forms of communication that are filtered and directed and engaged with by particular individuals in interpersonal ways.” (Marshall 2010, p. 41).] Intercommunication is individually directed, systematically filtered, automatically tracked and recorded, and engaged with by individuals, organizations, and machines in multiple ways. It is through this intercommunicative activity that we assemble our [persona], the online presentation of our public selves. The practice of creating and building our online persona, argues Marshall, involves the everyday labor of monitoring and editing ourselves, connecting with strategic purpose to other individuals and objects, and building public reputations (Marshall 2015b).

We assemble our online personas by liking posts, belonging to groups, retweeting articles, commenting on pages, following people, talking to our followers and managing our networks. This all takes work, and indeed the emphasis on the relation between salaried work and persona work, has intensified in the last decade, which is connected to the change in how we collectively imagine the relationship of the self to earnings. The increased casualization of traditionally stable domains of labour in service and administration means that our online persona and its importance, is going to continue to increase in the future. We have an enduring fascination with the representational power of [celebrity] because of the way it points indexically to long‐term investments in the value of the public self. The power of celebrity has been seen in the ability to transform journalism, generating an intensive amount of news media coverage and journalistic materials that are avidly recirculated by hundreds of millions of consumers whose interests sit outside what is typically considered the domain of the fourth estate.

The power of [celebrity] is not bound up with notions of investigative journalism, but rather the values of sentiment and emotion within narratives that have characterized the “press” in the late twentieth century. Which is why someone like [Joe Rogan], who I heard described as a kung fu guy who announces matches of people fighting in cages, can command one of the larger audiences, across online video and podcasts, with unedited, unscripted, barely produced content that can last up to three hours without embedded advertising. We can understand the power of celebrity as an urtext, as kind of original script for the critical interplay that exists as an articulation of the private self that is expressed through a public individual. The term intercommunication is a way to describe how the representative system of celebrity has [transformed] public life because of the way that the representational power of celebrity, was so carefully built up by cinema, television print, music, and advertising industries over the past century.

Previously celebrity representation was carefully managed, staged, planned and strategically deployed for an audience, that is still true, but it is also now individualised, opportune, personally framed and more candidly engaged in a series of networked relations. Celebrity has now become part of a new model and explanatory mechanism for understanding the movement between the public, the private, and the intimate. Particularly evidenced by social media, our technologically enhanced cultures are quite conclusively bound up in systems of presentational media.

Marshall’s view is a specific focus on the way that users have been able to challenge the presentational media paradigm and highlights the processes of persona as the move between collective association and the individual presentation of the public self. Hartley’s approach is a broader understanding of how the internet has shaped the current media and communication landscape. One of the features of Hartley’s work is his argument that all media – even niche media – whether it is Shakespeare, [Star Trek], or Reality TV – is part of a set of open generative resources, which contributes to a growing popular self-realisation and emancipation, equating popular media with the process of the liberation of ideas and progress. This is very similar to the argument that is at the centre of Marshall’s approach and the broader interests of persona studies, which is that popular media, is not only the ground from which other content emerges, but it is also the material that we assemble in the presentation of our public selves, as audiences, as fans, but also as professionals and members of different collectives.

Another great feature of Hartley’s work, is the way he anticipates the common critique, typically associated with the idea of political economy, which views all media as being owned and controlled by vested interests in established power structures: whether it is the representation of women in advertising, the lack of minority representation in drama, or the producers desire to keep you on the couch consuming for neo-liberalism. To contrast with this critique, Hartley argues that [media] are an enabling social technology, like the law, science, universities, and markets, all of which are as important as the coordinating and regulating mechanisms that enable all kinds of creative productivity to flourish and to assist in the evolution of culture and society moving forward. This will seem naive to some, especially those who have recently argued that it is social media that has given a powerful boost to political and religious extremism, and empowered movements like the anti-vaxxers and the alt-right. And that it is true, but it is also true that the internet and social media have provided new opportunities to confront the historical inequalities of the past and provide platforms to fight for new freedoms. This is not a new argument.

Responding to the potential of the representational broadcast media paradigm, and contributing to it, media studies conceptualised the media as the means for the ideological control of mass society, and the creative industries as a tool for conditioning its audiences. However, some Media and Cultural Studies contributors, especially [Stuart Hall], argued that the audience wasn’t simply an empty vessel for media messages, but rather they were ‘active’ in the negotiation and use of media texts. As digital technologies have increasingly enabled consumers to engage with popular media, to [mashup], remix and recreate, and generate their own content, the concept of the ‘audience’ transmogrified into the ‘user’ and the scale of this user activity has dramatically expanded globally, from gigabytes to petabytes and zettabytes.

This change has been rapid, leading to an explosion of digital creativity, social media networks and media content that continues to blur the notion of the consumer, the audience and the user, laying the foundations of Hartley’s dialogic model of communication and media. The future will continue this change, but the future is also about continuity and discontinuity. The future of media and creative ideas have their origins in a continuous history: some of the functions of YouTube, are comparable to [Archives]. Some of the functions of Twitch are comparable to functions of the arcade – particularly the social act of watching others play. The future of some industries, however, is discontinuous: Uber has drastically shifted the way we view the centralisation of transport, YouTube and Netflix have provided new ways for audiences to produce, distribute, and access content. A once dominant content institution, Journalism, is undergoing a major discontinuity from its heights in the previous century.

The print industries were the dominant media format for a century, between 1850 and 1950. Communication was top-down, as the audience, the reader, was the end-point. Now the trend is for bottom-up access to news and information – that is information generated by users – however, the owners of those platforms are still situated at the top. What is important, though, it that the [public sphere], something that was once was the authorial domain of journalists and public figures, in the representational media paradigm, is giving way to public thought, some it organised, some of it not, and all of it competitive. The public sphere has been fractured and is contested, across social media and the web, from platforms like Facebook, Wikis and Chan boards.

This is not unique to journalism, as mentioned, the broadcast networks, are seeding ground to emergent media – streaming and online content – whose audience is dispersed across multiple platforms. The popularity and success of streaming media is a model which gives the audience agency over what to watch and when to watch – which was the appeal of [VHS] and DVD purchases – but goes further to give them access to a regularly changing archive of content, removing the barriers of artificial scarcity. We see media owners like Disney and Warner Brothers attempting to create their own streaming services, which is changing the landscape that Netflix and to a lesser extent Hulu have recently dominated. All the time Cable companies are losing viewers who no longer want to be tied to the idea of curated content in the top-down form of channels.

[Persona studies] is interested in a similar phenomenon that is occurring in the way that people are representing themselves in public – not necessarily in terms of identity which has internal, deeply subjective properties, but in terms of persona, the public masks that individuals use to project themselves in ways that draw on networks of people all doing the same and digital objects which are not necessarily owned. This has important consequences for the future development of language, culture, social institutions and forms of collective agency that use privately owned social technologies to produce our individual capacity for [signalling] (sense-making practices), [copying] (cultural behaviour) and [networking] (intersubjectivity).

I’m going to conclude this video with two key claims that Hartley makes, which are important for thinking about the way these trends might indicate how things are going to change in the medium and long term future of the cultural and creative industries: [First], is that the current era of Digital Transformation is one where ‘command and control’ centralisation, is being interlaced with ‘self-organizing’ network complexity’, even for monolith platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Weibo and Wechat, the very complexity of interactions, memes, trends, and other audience-led processes, means that there are innumerable new ‘actors’ in the network, which require new analytic tools – including algorithmic analysis, machine learning and artificial intelligence to make sense of things, and even then those tools are not currently sufficient to give a provide a clear understanding. Politically this can be disturbing, because this openness and uncontrolled approach is equally radicalised by racists, homophobes, bigots, and other regressive audiences, as it simultaneously embraced by progressive, humanistic and socially empowering communities.

Second, is the consequence, that it is no longer adequate to posit a powerful corporate or state agency as the sole producer of meaning. It is no longer sufficient to think the individual lacks agency or power in any model of communication even when the relationship is asymmetrical. Governments and corporations, media owners and advertisers are still able to subvert, interject and affect measures of command and control in this new system, but their mode of operation is in direct competition with a highly motivated, invigorated and active audience.

These consequences are only going to become more obvious and important, especially in the short term, because remember: The Future is Now.