Shared Media

There’s so much being said and written about the demise of shared media these days (by shared media I mean media that is a shared experience – not shared content). People listen to music via iPod rather than radio, TV is time-shifted thanks to Tivo so we watch programs on our schedule and new approaches to movies will soon make it possible to see that latest releases in the privacy of one’s own home.

Personalizing media has a lot going for it – a tailored experience, lower cost, convenience, greater choice, etc. It also have several limitations that are often overlooked. Let me run down a few of the ones that occur to me:

Radio – radio falls into three buckets – news, sports and music. There really isn’t any conveniently portable tool for hearing local news. Radio is where it’s at. In 1989, I lived in San Francisco and was working at the Guinness Museum of World Records when the Loma Prieta earthquake happened. Power was out, people were shaken up and wanted to know what had happened. People gathered around parked cars to listen to the radio. Try that with an iPod. The medium had brought people together in a way only it could.

Sports. Again, the portability of radio makes it a terrific medium for listening to sports. It’s also unobtrusive and can be enjoyed by many people without demanding attention as television does. With the introduction of satellite radio, the possibilities for sports broadcasting got much more interesting. I live in Boston now and am a huge Red Sox fan. It’s great to be able to hear the team on XM when I’m out of range of their AM station. I’ve also been able to listen to other out-of-market games which has the bonus appeal of hearing content and advertising from other markets.

Music. Here is the place where MP3s give radio the greatest run for its money. I mostly listen to MP3s now and love it. I do still listen to radio though. It’s led me to find new styles and artists I wouldn’t have come across in any other way.

TV – people talk about America not having a true national character or culture. That’s just silly. We have a very strong one based mostly on the mass consumption of popular media and primarily through TV. That bond is being tested though. The increasing amount of choice is a part of that; but so is time shifting. There are still programs that people watch on the day that they air that form the basis of conversation for days. With DVRs, people don’t have that shared experience of having seen the same broadcast at the same time. People may still share the media experience but not in the same time.

Movies – it’s still hard to replicate the experience of seeing a movie in a theater in the home. We expect more when we go to the movies. We’re willing to put everything else on hold for a couple of hours while we sit in the dark. I can still remember watching Star Wars in the theater when I was a kid. I was 11 years old. The title scrolling by has become an iconic image. As has the star destroyer looming over the audience and filling the screen in the opening scene. Seeing that on a TV (even a large one) just isn’t the same. Being able to pause to get a snack, go to the bathroom, make a call, etc. breaks the spell.

I like the idea of iTV. I’ve downloaded movies from iTunes and have enjoyed it; but it isn’t going to fill me with the sense of awe and wonder that happens on the big screen. People also don’t buzz the same way about movies they’ve seen at home. Maybe some day they will – maybe the private media moments will match or surpass the ones that we share. I don’t think they will.

Technology has created new ways for all of us to connect; but it can’t yet create the immediacy of community created around the experience of shared media.

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