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Postfiltering 4th Generation Media

July 4, 2005

Speaking of non-standard television distribution models, John Rogers (Executive Producer of Global Frequency) is waxing philosophic on what he calls “4th Generation Media” — the “insurgency” model, where you skip all of the crap of getting people’s attention on the medium-of-scarcity (traditional television), and go direct to getting people’s attention via media-of-plenty (broadband, DVD, etc.)

TV is incredibly obtuse. TV networks survive off advertising, where they earn money by measuring the consumer as a metric of success. TV studios (in the pre-DVD days) made money off of syndication, or in plain language the perceived secondary-market value of those shows as measured by the already one-step-off metric of ratings. Bloody hell.

The simple, hard-ass center of the new media revolution is that, in order for a show to show a profit on TV in the old model, it needs to stay on the air. To stay on the air, in order to generate enough perceived value for advertisers (for the network) and syndicates (for the studio), a show needs, regularly, ten million consumers a week. Five or seven on a smaller network.

In order for a show to create a profit on DVD (the fat pipe model of the present), it needs one million consumers.

There are a whole lot more risks one can take down here when you only need a million consumers. My proposal, actually, is that the better new media model (as the pipeline broadens, and the BigC’s lose more and more control over both distribution systems and the perception game) is of an insurgent, cell theory of entertainment. (*cable TV is a primitive form of this. Discuss).

This is beginning to look more and more like the music industry — where the record labels are deathly afraid that the artists (who make little off of albums, if they can get signed at all) will wake up and disintermediate the vampiric record label & radio airplay system (which they currently use to get exposure, so that they can make money with concerts) and use the internet to promote themselves directly — getting exposure so that they can book live gigs, and selling any incidental CDs themselves (and pocketing real cash for a change).

What is needed for both to work are better ways of getting attention and generating focus online — which just incidently is what Chris Anderson is talking about on The Long Tail right now.

Rather than predicting taste, post-filters such as Google measure it. Rather than lumping consumer into pre-determined demographic and psychographic categories, post-filters such as Amazon’s custom recommendations treat them like individuals who reveal their likes and dislikes through their behavior. Rather than keeping things off the market, post-filters such as MP3 blogs create a markets for things that are already available by stimulating demand for them.

This is a watershed moment in history, folks. As consumers (and we’re all consumers, in some market or another) we can continue to consume what the corporate interests are out there shoveling, or we can get in the post-filtering fame ourselves, and start building a market for what we really want.

If we want Global Frequency episodes, or finely crafted Tim Minear dramas, or even obscure acid-house country music, then it behooves us to get out there and support it.

Blog about what you want. Comment about it. Build a forum somewhere for it.

Go out and generate a buzz.

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