*Picture by Otto Dettmer
The rise of the 2010s found me as a high-school senior with an honest enthusiasm for communication and digital entertainment. Coming from journalist parents with a long career in traditional media it was more than expected to inherit the love for audiovisual and printed content. Although, as a millennial teen of the early social media era who spends his nights posting on Myspace or downloading songs from p2p networks I was thrilled with the idea of a new digital ecosystem where users would manage and distribute their content freely without the supervision of media executives and centralized regulations. Inevitably, my expectations were skyrocketed with the rise of YouTube as a free video platform and the undisputed success of Mark Zuckerberg- the college dropout who conquered the world by setting up his own company exploiting the online connectivity. I still recall the memory of my long arguments with my dad, a retired journalist in his early 60s at that time, who couldn’t accept the end of old fashioned press publishers and television program managers in favor of random creative users and web personas. In the eyes of the 17-year-old me, the allocation of content and advertising was merely one click away from every PC connected to the Web. What a fool I was…
Taking a look at the Internet’s short yet turbulent history, I luckily find a lot of arguments to back up my teenage idealism. Cyber-utopianism did not come out of anywhere. The idea that self-employment and free content distribution was meant to be the future’s main business trend was a novelty that had been growing for years until digital optimists like myself, realized that the means of media engagement were the ones changed instead of the middlemen. Nonetheless, my idea of a new disintermediated world was based upon several previous experiences. The dotcom bubble, which peaked its growth at the end of the ’90s, opened space for unlimited opportunities introducing the world to digital entrepreneurship. At this point, the discussion for a new bottom-up approach in both business and society had just started.
Shortly later, protesters in the Arab world utilized social media during 2010’s Arab Spring while in the West, a new generation of mega-celebrities who simply used the web to create their sphere of activity, fame, and profits, had been starting to emerge. It was unavoidably expected for many to picture a new open-world where digital content was just a relationship between an individual and his fairly earned audience despite his political, social or financial background.
Meanwhile, record Labels were struggling to recover from the so-called MP3 crisis as the sales had been collapsed due to digital piracy while self-made tech geeks like Zuckerberg were increasingly becoming the new rock-stars. If I can create and share my content with my Facebook friends (thanks to Mark) who can stop me from going viral and reaching established popularity? It could never be that simple. Our enthusiasm had just tricked us for a while.
Business Insider Intelligence reports that in 2018 online advertising was strictly a duopoly as Facebook holds 81% of social media advertising profits and Google the 73% of search ad spent respectively. Moreover, as the market matures, new big players like Amazon are expected to interrupt the duopoly in the upcoming decade. But how digital advertising resurrected media intermediation beyond these tech giants?
Jeff Jarvis in his 2009 book ” What would Google do?’‘, prophetically stated that Zuckerberg did not create any new communities, he merely offered them the tools to be re-organized. As the future indicated this sort of re-establishment couldn’t take place without the reinvention of traditional media intermediaries.
The re-organization of our communities came along with our newly digitalized preferences. We were now able to analytically express our personalities by demonstrating the things we like, building new bonds with our peers and unconsciously creating a new sphere of information for advertisers. Significantly in 2009, Facebook invited every commercial organization to create a free page on the network while a few years later it offered advanced audience insights to develop its advertising mechanisms which became available to both organizations and individuals. Although, as Facebook advertising is a paid system based on both financial resources and topnotch analytics understanding, it is a common sense that bigger companies staffed with highly trained professionals and larger funds would dominate over any individual user.
Traditional Media wouldn’t remain numb. TV producers brought series to the web with the help of Netflix’s subscription-based model and the music industry followed suit with the rise of streaming. As for YouTubers, the network’s partners program became open to everyone in 2012 and along with the complexity of discovery-algorithms increased the demand for content optimization subsequently giving birth to MCNs-the new age enterprises that help creators to grow their online presence by managing their content and taking profit share. But YouTube monetization system not only multiplied creators by establishing the web as a heavy ad consumption funnel but increased the competition and hence created the need for further regulation. Is digital content still a bottom-up approach? The answer is not really. As digital marketers and data analysts are the ones who control content optimization and hence suggestion algorithms, they become 21st century’s media gatekeepers replacing the dapper guys from Madmen.
What’s next for digital communication? As I’m writing these lines, my google chrome feed notifies me about a new report. According to sources 267 Facebook users’ data were found exposed to the dark-web. This story is the latest update on a topic mainly fueled by the Cambridge Analytica scandal: Data Privacy. Ironically, 21st-century
schizoid digital man, instead of exceeding the boundaries of the media economy, exposed himself to marketers like never before. However, I’m not as biased as I sometimes sound and of course not afraid of androids occupying my house. Yet I’m obliged to overtone the need for intermediaries to see Web 3.0 as a big opportunity to democratize the gates of the media industry by increasing the quality of promoted content rather than providing just what people want in exchange for their data. True democracy is based on knowledge, humanism and mutual respect; principles which could indicate the perfect balance between strict regulation and cruel YouTube pranks.