Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Could the information explosion erode the power of spin and celebrity?

Some have said that journalism is dead or dying because it has become saturated with the opinions of the broadcasters. While that's not a value added situation at present, it could very well evolve into one as the number of broadcasters explodes.

Take the case of Susan Boyle. She was an unknown, solitary woman living a very modest lifestyle. Then she sang in front of a worldwide audience and instantly became a star. She was not groomed, she didn't choose the right stage name, she didn't "pay her dues". In other words, the content providers didn't create her, they found her. How many more Susan Boyles are out there?

What if you didn't have to be a billionaire, or even wealthy to create and broadcast commercial quality information? What if sites like YouTube, MySpace, Blogger, Facebook and other free venues, allowed talent and wisdom to bypass the gatekeepers? As more individuals command the attention of more people, politicians and hollywood stars would garner less of it. They'd have to make every appearance count.

In such an environment, an aspiring politician couldn't afford to be vague and leave him or herself lots of "outs". If spin doctors couldn't count on speaking to millions of people, every day, they'd have to be more concise and more precise. There would be more than a handful of reports on any particular issue, there would be countless volumes of information from countless sources, and people wouldn't be married to any one of them.

Holding people's attention would require more than a contract renewal with the network. One would have to be consistently good to maintain a career.

For content providers this could mean a lot more short term or piece-meal contracts with producers. When you have an enormous number of suppliers to choose from, tying up your broadcast time and resources on exclusive committments makes sense in only rare cases. There will be premium content providers that can command lucrative broadcast contracts, even among the freebies, but they'd have to do better than "Big Brother 12" or "Rock of Love".

This is not necessarily bad for producers either. You wouldn't be contractually obligated to be productive at any particular time, or for any particular duration, beyond one project at a time. Currently, artists are pressed to produce x number of albums over a time span. What if that doesn't happen to sync up with their artistic metabolism? We get "contract filler" instead of their best work.

We are a short time away from going from 150 cable channels to thousands of internet channels of the same or higher broadcast quality. We are just as close to being able to carry all that content around in our pockets. It may not be a year, or even five years, but likely within 10 years. There is a tremendous amount of talent in the world that has never caught the attention of the tiny number of gatekeepers between the individuals and the rest of the world. Not only will the gates be thrown open, the whole wall will come down. It may sound like "Tower of Babel" in the short run, but it's a good thing in the long run.