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Is the next internet…TV?

By , on February 13, 2015 at 1:05 pm

There has been a lot of buzz recently around an article from The Awl titled “The Next Internet is TV.” I won’t spend the majority of this post rehashing it, but here’s the Sparknotes to catch you up:

1) The next internet is TV.

2) Is the next internet TV?

3) “The gaps left by the websites we stop looking at will be filled with new things, and most people won’t really notice the change until it’s nearly done, because they will have been incredibly not bored…In this scenario, what publications will have done individually is adapt to survive; what they will have helped do together is take the grand weird promises of writing and reporting and film and art on the internet and consolidated them into a set of business interests that most closely resemble the TV industry.”

Now, a #reaction from me.

This article surfaces a host of tensions, but at forefront are the notions of direct content vs. aggregated content that is mediated by someone else. Essentially, reading single things in different places or reading collections of different things, together.

The internet started as a digital mirror of the things in the world. You have a company, you have a website representing that company. You claim your www. in the infinite sprawl that is the web. Accordingly, independent bits of content meant that the user was navigating through many different websites to get a more complete set of information.

Fast-forward twenty years and online content producers get bundled together to form power-sites like Gawker, NYTimes, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post or ESPN. These conglomerates rule massive networks of bloggers, and users begin indexing their consumption heavily through “favorites” or even aggregators of aggregators.

The Awl’s article posits that we’re at another tipping point. In this new world, not every content provider needs a website. The funneling of a broad array of content through fewer channels is the first step in this journey towards “television-ness” and away from “internet-ness.” A few major power-players control it all, and the cost of entry is building a similarly aggregated power-player funded by an existing, large brand.

One example, heavily cited in the article, is Fusion, a new “Millennial” network/internet channel created by Disney. Fusion looks like Buzzfeed meets Vice meets the (confusing) new Bloomberg.com. The design feels over-done; the content feels like something I could have read anywhere else. And, I feel scared, because everything is becoming one aesthetic. Or everything powered by brands, at least.

We have to ask: “What happens when only a few media outlets control content on internet?” The reality is that this has been the case IRL for a long time, but digital is newer territory. One key consideration is scale. We’ve never had a network with so many active participants and the sheer expansion of the internet means nothing stays the same for very long. Moreover, this consolidation faces the great democratization and empowerment that has been facilitated by digital. People are really into “making things” right now, and they are equipped with the right tools. The question is whether they’re comfortable doing it under the umbrella of a larger brand, but there will always be people who strike out alone.

I have to believe that the internet will not become TV and that niche content players will survive. Why? Because they’re focused, they’re exclusive and what they don’t do is equally as important as what they do. It might take more work to find these outposts of original content, but there is a reward at the end of that user journey.

And after all, the discovery of something new and different will forever be a marker of #cool.

 

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Categories: Features, Found on the Internet, Industry News