Entertainment has been evolving ever since the first multi-cellular creature crawled out of the primordial soup, and arguably its roots can be traced back to the very first hectic sibling tomfoolery that gave our most ancient ancestors a safe arena to practice their survival skills. Since then, however, it's evolved into a $2.4 Trillion dollar industry that’s only going to grow - spurred on by new content and an increase in population with even more disposable income.
Over the millennia our 'experience value' - the depth of emotion that we each get from the entertainment we consume has changed and it’s with no small amount of irony that tomorrow's entertainment will be reminiscent of the entertainment our ancestors consumed over two millennia ago, albeit with a twist.
Feel the Roar
One of the most profound examples of how things will turn full circle is the Olympic Games - the 'greatest spectacle on earth.'
First held in ancient Greece in 776BC, over two thousand years ago. The stadia were small, but the audiences were just a stone throw from the first Olympians. Individuals could feel the vibrations from the roar of the crowds, smell the sweat and the sawdust from the arenas and feel the burning sun on their faces.
Fast forward to 2016 and the Rio Olympics will be watched by over four billion people – something not possible in 776BC. We’ll have statistics and analysis galore and we’ll be able to seamlessly flip between one event and another, rewind, pause and fast forward. Despite all of the technology involved, your experience of the Olympics will be delivered to you through a glass screen and a set of speakers. Does that rival the raw, edge of the seat experiences your ancestors experienced? Crank up the speakers and you’ll certainly feel the vibrations, but that’s where the similarities will end. However, as time progresses we’ll loose that glass screen.
Value the Value Chain
The global entertainment industry takes many forms, but whether its aim is to delight, distract, inform or terrify there’s always a back story, a location and a cast and its value chain will always be heavily reliant on duration, distribution, and consumption. As technology advances though the barriers to entry, and access will inevitably fall with large swathes of the entertainment industry’s value chain becoming automated, replaced and transformed, the traditional media formats will be disrupted.
You are Spielberg
Curation is one of the harder parts of the value chain to disrupt. However, as technology gets faster, better, cheaper and more ubiquitous, the masses will have access to more tools and be able to site more cameras and devices in more places.
Get into the heart of the action with body-worn cameras in the EPA and NFL, view stunning time lapse videos straight from the International Space Station and from the depths of the Marianas Trench or sit back and watch a drone’s video stream as it flies across a city or a rainforest at sunset.
Content is changing
Step back just twenty years ago and the average person on the street would have had to invest tens of thousands of dollars to buy, integrate and use specialist production-ready systems. Today anyone with an iPhone, iMovie, a good eye and a broadband connection can curate and upload interesting content. Skilled amateurs who never had access to the right equipment are flooding the market. Their content goes viral, their channels explode and they become celebrities in their own right.
The same multiplier effect that has so voraciously helped to shift the balance of power away from the incumbent corporations and into the hands of individuals will one day shift that power again, but this time, it will be to the machines.
Machine learning systems are already writing scripts, books and news articles. Cognitive computer systems are replacing news, sports and weather commentators and Ultra High Definition Rendering engines and CGI have been replacing actors, extras, locations and props for years.
For now, at least, humans are still very much in the loop - Spielberg won’t be out of a job anytime soon. However, as machine systems and the emerging technology ecosystem continues to mature and improve, it won’t be long until we will see the first machine produced movies. Machine learning systems will provide the script, Artificial intelligence will become the new director, cognitive computing and ultra high definition rendering engines will become the actors, the camera crew, the props and the locations and machine Vision will monitor the audiences in real time and become the critic.
But wait there’s Moore… when all of these technologies are combined with an exponential increase in CPU and GPU computing power we’ll enter a new age of real time content curation. Machine vision will invade your home via the camera in your phone, your TV and perhaps even your smart fridge. It will monitor, learn and predict your reactions and behaviours and get the AI director to alter story lines on the fly whilst using nanometer accurate scanning and rendering technologies to put you, your friends and relatives into the movie. Meanwhile, natural language processing technologies will instantaneously translate new content into every language on Earth, giving it truly global appeal.
The Network Effect
It goes without saying that different content types need different distribution channels and over the past ten years every single one of them has experienced a series of paradigm shifts. News used to be curated by professional journalists and bought from a newspaper stand, today it’s delivered in real time via Twitter and increasingly put together by machine learning systems. Opinion columns used to be squirreled away at the back of the daily rag, today they’re blogs. Magazines used to be put on shelves now they’re buried in apps. TV used to be curated by the studios and delivered via the cable networks now it’s delivered 'over the top' via the internet. Meanwhile amateur content would be distributed via Minidisc, CD or DVD now it’s uploaded to YouTube or streamed live via services such as Periscope.
Distribution networks are getting flatter and they’re predominantly digital first but that’s nothing new – at least to our generation. As new high-altitude stratospheric communications platforms, such as Google’s Project Loon and Facebooks Project Aquila connect up the next three billion people, the distribution channels will continue to get broader and flatter. However, as we continue to travel through time, bound to our watery rock flying through space, content will become smart content, using machine learning algorithms to find its own audience and for the third time this century the distribution channels will get disrupted again.
It’s not all about cats
Consumption has changed too and it’s no surprise that today’s consumption habits are helping to reinforce changes in curation and distribution. But the way we consume content in the future will arguably present us with one of the biggest paradigm shifts.
Yesterday’s content was delivered in the post, bought off the shelf, watched through glass and on the big screen. Tomorrow's content will take us back in time, closer to when the only type of entertainment was real, gritty and unapologetically in your face.
Augmented reality experiences, games and storylines will be overlaid onto the real world using new types of hardware and screenless retinal display systems. Yesterday's on-again-off-again holographic technology will make content literally pop out from your smartphone screen and one day it will replace glass altogether. Virtual reality and next generation hepatic clothing, sound systems and sensory technologies, especially when combined with content curated from body worn cameras, will take you into the heart of the action – whether it’s live or fictional.
Moving further out, non-invasive next generation brain computer interfaces will make all of these delivery mediums moot and transmit content directly into your brain. It will stir your emotions, dig into your psyche and transmit everything back to the AI director in the cloud who will curate new content on the fly to amp up your experiences.
At that point we’ll have come full circle. We’ll finally feel as though we’re the ones sitting next to our ancestors in that amphitheatre in 776BC. The only difference, however, despite how real it’s going to feel, will be the fact that you’re still in your lounge in your pants.
Technology is flattening the world and empowering the individual. It will continue to shape and change the way we curate, distribute and consume content, but one thing’s certain - while you will have access to a universe of new experiences and content, nothing will beat a virtual reality sneezing cat.