The Coming Vast Wasteland

Back in 1961, a man by the name of Newton Minnow was appointed to run the FCC. He gave a speech soon thereafter called “Television and the Public Interest” in which he coined a phrase with which he described commercial television, calling it a “vast wasteland.” He urged us to tune in our favorite station for a day and watch from sign on until sign off:

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few.

Fast forward 55 years. One can see something similar happening in our new media landscape. The public networks – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and others – are becoming vast wastelands. You might not be aware of it, but in the last year, more content is being posted on private networks such as Snapchat, Messenger, and WhatsApp than on the public networks. That private content tends to be what’s meaningful to people. What’s left is increasingly clickbait, corporate shouting, or, worst of all, content generated by bots. In short, a vast wasteland.

All of this is happening at a time when many companies are pushing hard to create and distribute content yet something like 80% of the content we publish is never seen by the intended audience. We are increasingly reliant as the shift moves to untrackable (by anyone other than the platform owners themselves) places on the folks who run the platforms for data. We can’t listen and respond to things that we can’t hear, and unless the consumer reaches out (vs. complaining to everyone they know in private), we’re deaf and blind with respect to being proactive and customer friendly.

The challenge for all of us is to foster engagement and to be proactively supportive. The expanse of the coming vast wasteland in the public networks is going to make that much harder, and subject to the will (and business models) of the walled garden gatekeepers. How do we address thins? Thoughts?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks

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