Are You Adaptive Or Being Held Captive?

“If the shit gets bigger than the cat, get rid of the cat” and that’s where we’ll start because that’s where the conversation ended, when Jimmy Iovine and Richard Plepler CEO of HBO were interviewed at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in San Francisco.

So who’s the cat? Technology monopolies are certainly winning and they’re bigger beasts then the media corporations we once held in contempt. The ‘adapt or die’ mantra of the tech elite has run amock as we’re now facing rules being laid down by giant monopoly structures that are still adamant to destroy any industry or job that stands in its quest for world domination.

The death knoll keeps ringing and ringing, and the irony doesn’t go amiss here – just as the same tech blogs celebrated the disruption of the music industry, the photographic industry, print industry, film and television industry – it is now itself staring into the abyss. The looming demise of publisher after publisher potentially facing extinction with the evolution of ad blockers and the failure of Ad Tech to evolve creatively is now alarming.

So what today is the difference between piracy and ad blockers? Why should people today feel any guilt about using ad-blockers to read content created by publishers, when there was little to no guilt around for piracy or freemium streaming?  We have witnessed the virtual evaporation of revenue for most music creators already – so where do we go from here?

Music may no longer feel like it should be paid for and that it must be set free for all to enjoy into eternity, but one thing many of us are forgetting in the greed for freedom is that freedom is coming at a bigger price and the audience is for sale. You, the audience, are the product that is exchanged and sold every day by new technology companies and they are selling you for the price of ‘free’ in exchange for your data.

While reflecting on the relationship between the old establishment of suits and the artists, the conversation begins at the ‘Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit’ with Richard Plepler reflecting about his early encounter with Jimmy Iovine – “Jimmy understood in his gut from the very beginning, what we’ve tried to incorporate in the DNA of HBO is the sacredness of talent, the sacredness of the artist“.

Free is a real issue

Jimmy Iovine expands on that sacredness by speaking about the issue of technology companies building on the numbers game by accumulating audience and essentially old-school traffic – “They’re building an audience off the back of the artists“. Iovine explains that the problem in the music industry is to do with not only freemium but the value game, “The labels responsibility is to figure out ways to work with their artists to rebuild that thing.

While the U.S is currently engaged in a long running battle between music industry and technology companies to modernise music licensing laws, the technology companies are lobbying to keep it as it is to the benefit of the streaming companies. As a recent article notes “the real problem is how little is being paid into the system by streaming companies” and it continues to outline that “it takes nearly one million streams, on average, for a songwriter to make just $100”.

Jimmy is direct – “Bottom line is most media companies are technologically inept and most technology companies are culturally inept” – while merging the two may make sense for some, the actual battle for audience is taking place today. The lack of understanding by media companies about the real distribution and how tech is communicating with the audience needs to be addressed more urgently.

Media Companies don’t understand real distribution

That same lack of understanding about communication has also created a reliance on Ad Tech to sell advertising at bulk – it’s what Jimmy admits was also his attitude in music “I always relied on someone coming out of the woods and doing distribution for us“. And it is distribution that we’re fighting about – the power struggle for distribution  has impacted not just media but it’s coming after advertising. While more and more people are opting not to be sold to, marketed or advertised to – it’s also a protest by people against privacy breaches by those very same technology companies – data capture and ‘personalised’ advertising tactics have made the ad stink stronger.

So how are we at the same time as creators and producers of music, books, films, art and essentially content able to establish an exchange value for our work if we don’t understand and put some firepower into doing distribution. As we’ve been feeding the beast of technology, it’s still hungry for more and it doesn’t want to share that food and we’re now facing the coming battle for access to that food – and it’s you the audience they’ll be fighting over “2016 is the year we find out what the price of access will be.”

No one man should have all that power! – Kanye

Jimmy concludes that the issue relates to actual values –  “the agendas are different and until the agendas are remotely similar,  I don’t believe it can work“, but for anyone who wants to get into the action and set a new agenda remember it’s about who has the real power and “Platforms! Where the action is; where the actions are.”

There’s a pending creative apocalypse coming according to some, and there may be doom and gloom for alot of creators but in the middle of it all – its a game of thrones and the fight for power and control is about –  what we hear, see and feel and who’s going to show it to us – “All these worries stem from a transfer of power: from publisher to platform; from content creator to content distributor.

Copyright is now officially a ‘dirty’ word – and no one is actually selling content to Facebook, Instagram, Google or Tumblr we are simply giving it away for free. They may be giving back with ad revenue, but it’s nominal and YouTube is questionably taking a larger chunk of the revenue purely for the distribution channel that it gives to creators. But essentially it’s argued that the web is free right?- and its free for anyone to create and distribute their work?  As an article in Pigeons and Planes about SoundCloud laments “the freedom the website was built on is being taken away piece by piece.”

Social networks and platforms have audiences – those audiences are people, and those people are being sold by platforms to hundreds and hundreds of companies who want access, eyeballs and information to reach you the ‘people’. You may be using that platform for a free – but a transaction is still taking place. Facebook and Google now hold the monopoly on marketing and advertising and they’ve been gifted the most coveted data in the world – your personal information and you’ve just handed it to them for free!

The ‘dirty secret’ as Jimmy refers to it – is that we’re facing more mergers and these giant beasts will become bigger monopolies – the clock is ticking and content creators are literally just borrowing their audience from the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Google, perhaps Apple News or even Medium. Lets not forget the elephant in the room, Jimmy is also employed by the biggest monopoly in the world – Apple.

The illusion of ‘freeness’ is being created for us but the question is “whether or not the Internet industry is helping to foster a sustainable environment, not only for creators, but for non-creative enterprises as well.”

While the advertising apocalypse is approaching it may destroy many in its wake, and just for the gains of the few. The bulk buying Ad Tech and Media Buying companies like Mindshare below should be wondering whether being adaptive has infact made us all captive. Looking back the technological revolution may have wrought with it a greater destruction not just a little disruption.

The current industrial age school system is churning out people with a narrow view of the world and there are many people working within the education system who would tend to agree. The proponents of a different way of thinking are pointing to another new approach which embraces our new world and encourages the free flow of creativity and imagination. In a recent interview with Wired, Jimmy Iovine spoke about his new relationship with Apple “Apple got the best people in pop culture,” Iovine says. “Whether it succeeds or not, it’s the beginning of what the future should look like.”

So without signing up to Dre and Iovine’s new academy and flying off to L.A, how can everyone else get started with a new way of thinking? The new age of information today provides us with a wealth of information at our fingertips but it doesn’t necessarily provide us with the optimum culture to be able to absorb all that information and make sense of it. The ability to break apart knowledge and apply it creatively is a new kind of habit that we’re all still trying to figure out.

Creators are at the centre of it all and they’re figuring it out along with their audience. New collaborations rather than mergers could be the way to work it out together. An open mind about how to distribute content directly with your audience also means you have no choice but to learn new skills from each other, be unafraid to make mistakes and give and take in real value transactions – it may look like the ultimate utopia – but can it happen in the real world?

To get away from from an individualistic way of working and creating real partnerships also requires a paradigm shift to working collaboratively and it requires practice. Partnerships can be a handshake or they can be a way to nurture a greater interdisciplinary understanding. Either way the ‘all for one’ mantra doesn’t mean all behind one person – it can mean all behind one purpose.

You got the power to let power go? – Kanye West