Our industry is being strained. There are financial pressures, rifts among competitive offerings, increasingly more ways to do business, more options to engage with, and more road maps than a AAA atlas, all resulting in a general sense of uncertainty and fear. We find ourselves smack in the midst of a new and unfamiliar playing field that is characterized first and foremost by automation, resulting in greater efficiencies in managing and capitalizing on vast resources, all powered by large, well-organized, yet de-personalized workforces laboring to produce new products for the consuming masses.
Doesn't this all sound familiar, like a scene out of Metropolis? A bit, but going back even further in our recent history, I think there are a lot of parallels between what we're experiencing today and the age when the steel, oil and railroad industries impacted everything else that was going on (admittedly, mainly farming and warfare) in ways that ultimately made things faster, cheaper, and more abundant.
I don't think I'm original in this observation. There are plenty of writers (including Jack Myers) who have made deeper analyses into the historical correlations and implications for our time. You can check out The New Industrial Revolution: The Power of Dynamic Value Chains by Benny Madsen & Rob Brownstein as a start. They weave a narrative that connects what's happening today with what happened back then, and draw many useful, immediately applicable lessons that inform what we can expect within the foreseeable future in terms of industry reorganization and evolution. All in all, the picture is quite clear and frankly really promising!
Yet in today's larger media industry-wide conversation, views like these are drowned out by reactive situational observations and doomsday implications. Budgets are slashed. Staffs downsized. Small companies going out of business. Large companies in distress... the list goes on. Causes are aplenty and while some point to a "turn-around" somewhere in mid-2010 (a safe prognostication, leaving plenty of room for updates), the overwhelming attitude is one of discomfort and apprehension.
Back in the late 19th century, there was no shortage of short-term pains caused by the early macro-drivers of the industrial revolution - the death of the entire "craftsman" socio-cultural class, the re-concentration of population against the new workforce demands, virtually all of the "start-ups" of that age either driven out of business or, if lucky, bought out by the likes of Rockefeller. Long hours, dangerous work conditions, and a general sense of distress all convalesced into a depressing, pessimistic populist attitude fueled by the press, especially the "muckraking" of the likes of Ida M. Tarbell.
Yet while all that's true, the long-term implications were often overlooked by contemporaries focused on the short term pains accompanying such drastic transitions. Quality of life got undeniably better, the population benefitted from an increased standard of living as well as a boost across a variety of social services, like healthcare and education. A larger proportion of the available workforce was absorbed into the growing industries, and a host of supporting industries (like ours) sprung up around them. The evolutionary pains of the short term ultimately yielded to the bounty of a much bigger, richer, and more sophisticated playing field, a space where telegraphy/telephony, radio, cinema, and television were born and matured.
We have certainly traveled well down the path of our current "technological" revolution. Digitization is starting to feel like a normal part of our lives, and brands have embraced their role to at least understand where they need to be, with some notables leading the charge to advance the platforms themselves. There are certainly challenges, and plenty of cause for concern, but if we just take a step back and reflect on what history suggests is right around the corner, the picture we see is really promising.
To use a visual metaphor, imagine our current media platforms and the companies that represent them as little gas molecules, colliding and conflicting, but ultimately yielding to a certain set of uniform rules and standards across all media - TV, print, online, mobile, outdoor, etc.. - allowing for alignment and order that spreads wider and deeper than ever before, seamlessly connecting the home, office, the personal, and on-the-go into a "web" (or cloud or whatever). More people than ever imagined will take part in this experience, and in turn, be able to realize the additive positive benefit, elevating the quality of how we spend our days while opening up new, heretofore unforeseen opportunities for even more growth.
Will there be casualties - sure. But all those that were fortunate enough to make it through the transition will see the markets expand up to levels never imagined before, and the underlying economics capitalize on this newly created space. And in the end, we will all be richer for it, in every sense of the word. At least that's what history tells us.
Mark Risis is Director of Interactive Advertising Sales for TiVo, Inc.
Read all Mark’s MediaBizBlogger commentaries at InteracTiVoty - MediaBizBlogger.