Wednesday, November 26, 2014

TV is dying

Young people are watching less than half the amount of TV than adults (1.5 hrs a day versus 3 hours a day). A quarter of 11-15 year olds said that some weeks they watched no TV at all Ofcom (Nov 2014).
We had theatre, movies, radio then TV. But all media have a lifespan and I for one am pleased that TV will be demoted to a has-been medium. It will not disappear. Nothing disappears. But it will die back to being a minority medium. That’s inevitable. I’d argue that it is also a good thing.
TV the broadcast culture
First. I have to say that I’m not coming at this as a philistine. I am a lifelong member of Generation TV. Born in 1956 just as TV was on the ascent, I saw England win the World Cup in 1966, man walk for the first time on the Moon in 1969 and the Berlin Wall fall in 1989. Sure there are spikes of excellence on TV but the bulk diet of property-selling, cooking and buying, selling junk, is now horrifying. But this is NOT my main target. The real reason for TV’s decline are changes in technology.
TV the problem
Aldus Huxley, in Brave New World (1932) anticipated ,with Soma, a drug that would entrance and disempower our species. McLuhan, in The Medium is the Massage (1967) saw television as an all consuming medium, removing private identity. The critique deepened with Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) where he saw form shape content, dialectical thought and conversation being squeezed out of society. In Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital (1995) by Robert Putnam, post-war society is seen as having filled a huge deficit in social activity with suburbanization, commuting and above all TV. This is taken further in Why Viewers Watch by Jib Fowles, who calls TV a form of social displacement or ‘social surrogacy’ where soap operas and sitcoms become your imaginary friends, as you can watch it alone, displacing real friends and family. It’s time we put this all too dominant form of surrogacy to bed.
1 trillion hours a year
Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus (2010) moves us beyond the descriptive to the prescriptive. Cognitive Surplus is a direct assault on TV, as the post-war medium that soaked up almost all of our free time. TV “immobilizes even moderately attentive users, freezing them on chairs and couches”. This 50 year aberration made us less happy, pushing us more towards material satisfaction than social satisfaction. Year on year we spent more time in this “vast wasteland”.
Quantifiably we spend over a trillion hours a year watching TV, more than 20 hours per week per person. Shirky’s cardinal argument is that this passive ‘cognitive surplus’, squandered on passive consumption, could be put to better use. One year of US TV watching is the equivalent of 2000 Wikipedias.
In practice, the internet has allowed us to ‘make and share’, with sharing being the driver. We produce rather than just consume and “the stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act”.
TV, unlike the telephone and internet, is unbalanced. Being part of the web is being part of a global network and the numbers matter. More is better as we can harness this global cognitive surplus to create a new future that is less passive. It is a matter, not of using it up but using it constructively, through broad experimentation. He compares the web with the print and telephone revolution, in that it results not in a monoculture but increased and unpredictable forms of communication arguing for ‘as much chaos as we can stand’. Fundamentally, he sees interactivity and social communication as a more natural form of behaviour, destroyed by TV, but coming back to the fore.
TV is dying
Shirky has been proven right, TV among the young has been falling year on year for the last ten years, as they drift towards the highly participatory culture of the web, through second screens, social media, games, downloaded and streamed media and smartphones. For the first time the young are fleeing from TV to the internet where they communicate, make, share, collaborate. They like their new found autonomy and empowerment.
In the UK (Enders Analysis ) shows a 22% drop among 4-15 year-olds and a 15% drop in 16-34 year-olds in the last 1.5 yrs.
Recent US (Nielsen) figures show that weekly average viewing among the young dropped across 10 consecutive quarters with viewing by 18-24-year-olds in Q2 2014 down 11.7% and in Q2 2011 to Q2 2014, weekly viewing fell by 21.7%.
So what are they actually doing with their new found free time? When asked what children would miss the most, it is not TV that comes out top but their mobile. And what are they doing on their mobiles, not emailing and making voice calls but messaging, photo messaging and social networking.
TV to Second screens
Gogglebox, that so-called fly-on-the-wall piece of TV is a lie. Why? It presents a dated view of ‘family’ viewing and interaction. First, some of the family will, in reality be in another room, second, no one is seen with a mobile, tablet or laptop in their hands. This second screen activity is enormous, so that even when TV is being watched, it’s not being watched as much as they would like to believe.
As we can see it’s people of all ages who use second screens but the younger you are the more likely you are to use one.
The majority of our daily media interactions have switched from print and radio (10%) to screens (90%) with an average of 4.4 hours a day on screens. It gets even weirder. When my niece watches TV programmes with her mates they watch it in separate houses but stream at the same time, so they can chat on socila media while watching the same programme.
Yet TV sets are now in the minority (24%) as compared to computers, tablets and mobiles.
TV is no longer the attraction it used to be. Even when we are in front of the TV, we are likely to be doing other things on other screens.
TV to Streamed media
There’s loads of shortcut gadgets that bypass satellite, cable and broadcast TV. Chromecast, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, Netgear’s NeoTV, Keedox Smart TV (Android) and Now TV Sky are all cheap devices that we use to stream content. Our sources are no longer TV companies, it’s Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and Bittorrent.
Netflix, started by a software guy, who made his money in DVD rentals, now delivers streamed content that is neither TV nor movies, but just Netflix. The traditional model of broadcast TV is dead, as is the idea that TV companies control what is going on. The method of delivery is far more consumer focused with their 2009 $1 million prize for an algorithm that would increase the efficiency of their recommendation engine. They provided a training data set of 100 million ratings that half a million users gave to 18,000 movies. It worked and Netflix’s recommended viewing model soared. They’re even using data to feed to scriptwriters for future series in terms of successful scene structure.
TV to Games
Kevin Spacey is the star of the new Call of Duty game – it’s that serious. The games industry is now bigger than the film industry and has sucked a whole generation of young people away from watching TV. This is not second screen stuff, this is using other devices, games consoles, PCs, tablets and mobiles to do something they see as far more thrilling and participative than TV. One effect is the raising of the game with regard to interactivity. These gamers don’t want second and third rate TV. Their bar is high.
TV to YouTube
YouTube has become a rival to TV. It has become a searchable media platform, with over 1 billion unique users and over 6 billion hours watched a month (an hour for every person on Earth). This is way more than any cable network. Then there’s Vimeo and Vine.
Alfie Deyes (see my blog piece on Alfie) has topped The Sunday Times Bestseller Book lists for weeks, appears on the Band Aid single (even though he’s never sung a note) and has a global reach that put most stars to shame. Yet you’ve probably never heard of him. Alfie’s a phenomenon. His Pointless Blog, on YouTube, has 3 million subscribers and over 136 million views. That’s not counting his million followers on Twitter and over a million followers on Instagram. Alfie is huge. Alfie can’t go anywhere without being mobbed. Alfie, Pwediepie and Zoella, all live in Brighton. These kids are unknown on TV but eclipse that medium by speaking directly to people in videos they make and upload themselves. They are not mediated by some TV type who wants to mould them.
TV to Social media
Another pull that takes millions out of the orbit of TV is social media. Facebook, Twitter, blogging, LinkedIn, Flickr, Instagram, WhatsApp, SnapChat. The rise of social media platforms with audiences as large as 1.5 billion and others at many millions, has bitten a huge chunk out of TV viewing. Even when people are watching TV, they’re usually doing something social.
VR is a medium not a gadget
Here’s a last thought. TV and most media are 2D but we live in a 3D world. Early experiments with 3D have been a disappointment, mainly because they’ve been weak add-ons, neither 2D or true 3D, just ‘effects’. This is about to change. VR is not a gadget it is a medium and Facebook has just invested $2 billion into the Oculus Rift. It’s coming and it will change the media landscape. The only limitation in this new 3D world is our imagination. Even if it is not VR or the Oculus, something else will come along, it always does.
TV is dying. The money, mainly ad revenue, is flooding off to other screen-based media. TV screens are becoming a small subset of all screens as mobiles, tablets, consoles and computer sales go through the roof. In terms of content traditional TV fare, soap operas, sitcoms, quiz shows etc. have to compete with streamed stuff – movies, as well as games, YouTube, Social Media. The TV industry is also dying as new players enter the fray, Netflix, Amazon…. I, for one, do not regret its demise. It has been a 50 year aberration, dominating our lives but it is a passive, wasteful medium that has trapped us into fixed content and patterns of thought.

(Summary of a lecture given at University of Brighton November 2014)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tops Bestseller lists, global media superstar, on Band Aid single (but can’t sing) & you’ve probably never heard of him

He’s topped The Sunday Times Bestseller Book lists for weeks, appears on the Band Aid single (but never sung a note) and has a global reach that put most stars to shame. Yet you’ve probably never heard of him.
Alfie Deyes is his name and YouTube’s his game. He used to live in the next street from us, a nice kid who went to school with my son. “Alfie!” he says, “Alfie Deyes! It’s mad!”. For once the apostrophes are necessary.
Pointless Blog
Alfie’s a phenomenon – and I use that word pointedly. His Pointless Blog, on YouTube, has 4 million subscribers and over 136 million views. That’s not counting his 2.4 million followers on Twitter and over a million followers on Instagram. Alfie is huge. Alfie can’t go anywhere without being mobbed.
Far from pointless
But here’s the thing, his Pointless Blog is far from pointless. Alfie’s right on point. He ain’t taking life too seriously and the fact that his Pointless Book is top of bestseller lists undermines the whole notion that they, The Sunday Times, actually matter. Newspapers for this generation – forget it. But it’s not just newspapers, it’s radio, TV, the whole damn bankrupt media spectacle. They’re not interested in the old world; old political parties, old attitudes, old media. Don’t mistake their fun and ironic interests for indifference. They’re not revolutionaries, that’s just old armchair Marxism, but that doesn’t mean they’re not changing things.
YouTube isn’t the new TV, it’s beyond TV
Alfie’s video blog is funny, observational, and this is the important bit - honest. Alfie’s just Alfie - a nice, charming bloke, who sees the adult world as it is, a bit crap, a bit weird and sometimes dull – much of it pointless. It’s not like any TV genre you’ve ever seen. It’s short, sharp, you view it when you want, its free, there’s no story – he’s just like a good mate, sounding off for a few minutes. He’s also mercifully free from that ‘yoof’ TV presenter thing. Alfie's just Alfie.
And don’t think he’s lacks smarts or just got lucky. He was smart enough to do this when it was new, that took guts at his age (helped by living in Brighton, as his mates and parents encouraged rather than ridiculed him). The title’s smart, it’s pointless, that’s the point. His audience don’t want profundity, they want something that’s real, and reality is often absurd and pointless.
It’s his own creation, no auditions, not manufactured, no interference from media types, not over-produced – it’s just a bloke in his bedroom with a camera. He didn’t have any marketing budget, just a bit of a personality and some perseverance. It’s this authenticity that’s far from pointless. In an unreal world of scheduled, controlled media, he cuts like a diamond right through the screen (mobile, tablet, computer that is). Jib Fowles in Why Viewers Watch, a book about TV, calls this ‘social surrogacy’. Alfie’s an imaginary friend. The difference between the soap operas and sitcoms Fowles was talking about, is that Alfie is real. His audience don’t want plots, narratives, a start middle and end, they want Alfie. Compared to that clapped-out, fast-dying, vast wasteland they call TV, he’s a standout guy.
TV is dying
Remember that these kids have been fleeing TV. The UK shows a 22% drop among 4-15 year-olds and a 15% drop in 16-34 year-olds in the last 1.5 yrs. Recent US (Nielsen) figures show that weekly average viewing among the young dropped across 10 consecutive quarters with viewing by 18-24-year-olds in Q2 2014 down 11.7% and in Q2 2011 to Q2 2014, weekly viewing fell by 21.7%. They’re watching YouTube, using social media, playing games, streaming stuff, using Bittorrent. TV’s not a thing they ‘watch’ , drowning in it’s own old genres and topics – ballroom dancing, buying and selling junk, house buying, cooking, baking and Downton Abbey. The TV as a screen is dying, the industry is dying as is TV culture.
Alfie went to an ordinary comprehensive school, he didn’t go to ‘Uni’ -  thank god. Like many of these Brighton kids I know, he’s smart, articulate and remarkably unaffected. As you can tell, I think the ‘Brighton’ thing is relevant. These kids have had some room to breath down here. They’re not all driven to work as lawyers, in finance and consultancies. As Bertie Bassett would say – it takes all sorts. There’s more to life than bits of paper and marching in lockstep towards university, a debt and a boring profession to get you out of that debt. There’s room for many other things, the kids who take a chance, do something different, express themselves. So good on you Alfie. Pointless my arse.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Oculus Rift: Freezers, smilers, grippers, swayers, screamers and freak-outs – resistance is futile

Have a look at this video of my sister going apeshit on the DK2 (second Oculus Rift development kit. I’ve been demoing the Oculus Rift to as many people, from as many backgrounds, in as many places as I could muster. It’s been a hoot to see how universal its appeal has been. ‘Awesome!....Wow!....That’s amazing….’. No matter what age, race, gender or background; people have been astonished by how quickly their brain took them into other worlds.
Resistance is futile
Once you flood their field of view with a screen that has a high refresh rate with rock solid tracking so that your head movements mimic what would happen in that world, along with great audio – you’re there. That new world is your new reality. Your old consciousness is replaced by a new one. This is far more than the suspension of disbelief you get, almost immediately, in the cinema. Here, it’s like wrapping the cinema around your whole head, then allowing you to look and move around inside the movie. The sense of ‘presence’, being there, is of a different order.
I’ve had freezers, smilers, grippers, swayers, screamers and plain, scary freak outs.
1. Freezers – stand stock-still, as if struck by the eyes of Medusa, usually men, often terrified
2. Smilers – they’re still but just smile, the steady smile of a person who has seen enlightenment
3. Grippers –they hold onto your hand/arm with a vice like grip, as if letting go would result in death
4. Swayers – sway all ways, like a cheap IKEA wardrobe, they are always on the verge of falling over
5. Screamers – yip, even in a crowded room, they let rip, sometimes out of fear, often just pure joy
6. Freak-outs – goners, they flip out, scream in one continuous loud note, fall over and go crazy
I’ve had Government Ministers, CEOs, CFOs, young, old, extroverts, introverts, men, women, rich and dirt poor. It’s all the same – they’re blown away. What’s been fascinating is the distribution of reaction against type of person. So what have I observed so far, from observing over 500 people?
Women have far stronger reactions than men
If we take the seven-point scale, so vividly described, I can certainly say that women are largely distributed towards the swayer, screamer and freak-out end of the spectrum.
Men tend to be freezers and smilers
Men, with a social role that says they shouldn’t show emotion, tend to fight the induced emotions.
No real difference between young and old
Surprisingly, there seems to be no difference between young children, children, teenagers, young adults, adults and senior citizens, even people in their eighties. Age does not seem to be a determinant of reaction.
Gamers get it, love it, want it
When gamers, usually youngish men, come out of the experience they really want to know when and where they can buy it and at what cost. Having spent a considerable amount of time being immersed in 2D games, they know exactly what this switch to 3D means.

After seeing so many people, so impressed by whet is still just demonstration technology, I’m convinced that this will be huge. The fact that huge players, such as Facebook, Sony and Microsoft have entered the fray, one with a $2 billion acquisition, it’s hard to see this not being a commercial success. It’s not a matter of failure only a matter of how great the success.

7 traits of online graduates that trump campus colleagues

For three years, I’ve walked up the ramparts into Edinburgh castle, donned an academic gown, plonked a mortar board on my head, then walked down an aisle behind the skirl of the bagpipes, to present degrees to some remarkable students. It was, again, a beautifully staged event, one they’ll remember all of their lives. So will I.
Unique qualities
My speech this year was on what makes them distinct and special. These students had worked for three years to gain their degrees in Architecture, Graphic Design, Illustration and Photography. They came from many lands: India, the Far East, Middle East and Europe. All had completed their degrees online. Astonishingly, they had never met their tutors until this graduation day. Even more remarkable, year on year, these students consistently outperform their campus-based peers.
Far from being inferior to their corresponding campus-based colleagues, the graduates with these degrees are, I believe, superior. As an employer, and to be honest, as just an objective observer, if they were to turn up at my door, I’d consider them a fantastic, talent pool, eminently hireable. Why? There are traits these graduates have that are confirmed by the fact that they completed a hard-won degree in this way – online.
1. Desire to develop
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled”. You’ve heard that Robert Frost line before but these students really did make that choice. Unlike most 18 year-old undergraduates who simply progress, often in lock-step, from school to ‘Uni’, every last one of these people came a bit later to the game. They had to make a leap and actively choose to pay for a degree for personal development, promotion prospects, career change or quite simply for the love of their subject. They had the desire to lift themselves out of their normal lives, change direction and chose to make this leap. That’s brave and admirable.
2. Overcame obstacles
This is no ordinary group of graduates but a mixture of smart people who have jobs, children and responsibilities. They had to juggle the demands of their work, children, partners, friends, tutors and support staff to get to their goal. This overcoming of personal obstacles makes them ready to deal with work-life issues that a fresh-faced student couldn’t imagine.2. Persevered
Motivation, and its offspring perseverance, is guaranteed, as they have had to consistently pick themselves up and drive forward against all the odds. This trait is interesting, one essential in client work, where you have to work through problems, criticisms and setbacks; all the things that client-supplier work entails. Creative work has no end – nothing is ever perfect, judgements often subjective. These learners have lived through this for three years, under expert tutelage and pushed themselves, time and time again, towards a series of deadlines and the ultimate goal – their degree. At only 8% , the drop-out rate is wondrous.
3. Project managed
Project work, and these fields are almost wholly a series of projects, require good project management skills. In working through virtual studios to submit work, go through many iterations where online tutors provide efficient and effective constructive feedback and quite simply manage their valuable and limited time, is to manage projects and that, by definition, means project management skills.
5. Communicated
Anyone whose work is largely online will know how sensitive one has to be when body language and other cues are absent. Taking a brief online, delivering project work and assessments online, as well as taking constructive feedback, demands communications skills that are badly needed in our world. These are new skills they had to develop over and above the standards competences of their craft. So much of the work they do, and now do at a higher level, will require strong but sensitive online communications skills. They clearly have this in abundance.
6. Self-aware and self-driven
An often ignored, but well researched aspect of good learning is self-awareness or ‘metacognition’, the ability to become aware, knowledgeable and reflect on your own learning. This, in turn, allows you to efficiently manage your own learning. This is what Higher Education aspires to, giving students the ability to become autonomous learners. Having seen the way these online students learn, the support they receive and the results, you can see how these graduates are brilliant, autonomous learners.
7. Digital doers
A digital degree is in some ways more relevant to 21st century life and work. Work, especially in the jobs where these students excel, is largely digital, even if it does eventually end up as a book cover, poster, product or building. The tools they use are digital, their work is managed digitally and delivery is digital. I’ve seen the work produced by all of these graduates, both 2D and 3D, how else but online – it was well worth the effort.
Note that I haven’t even mentioned competence. I mean competence in terms of their craft, skills and expertise in their chosen fields. This I take as a given. What matters, for me, is what they had to deal with and develop along the way, all of those extra qualities that education should impart and amplify.
Unique degrees
The degrees are awarded by the University of Hertfordshire and delivered by the Interactive Design Institute. What makes these degrees unique is that have three intakes a year, deliver exemplary digital content, provide high quality constructive feedback from tutors through virtual studios, as well as strong pastoral support. All of this led to these degrees and this method of delivery being the first to be approved by the QAA.

I’m not saying that campus graduates don’t have these skills but I do think that the students I meet here, year after year, have a far higher probability of possessing and having developed these qualities. In my eyes, it makes them the sort of people that are a credit to their partners, families, employers and, most of all, to themselves.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Employers see strong potential in MOOCs - new research

Excellent study on ‘The Employer Potential of MOOCs’ with 103 employers surveyed, followed up with deep-dive interviews of 20, on the use of MOOCs for:
1. Recruitment
2. Hiring
3. Personal development
This builds on the Duke study earlier in 2014 that showed employers welcomed MOOCs.
MOOCs for employment
I wasn’t surprised at the relatively low awareness of MOOCs by employers at 31%, as they’ve been marketed primarily at Higher Education and education in general. This is also why I’m non-plussed about the data that shows the majority of MOOCers being highly educated. This is typical of the early adoption profile for new disruptive technology-driven initiatives, Indeed, research from the University of Pennsylvania shows that more than two-thirds of MOOCers identify themselves as employees. Only13% take MOOCs towards a degree but 44% take them to gain specific skills to do their job better, a further 17% take MOOCs to gain specific skills to get a job (Christensen et al., 2013). It should come as no surprise, therefore that the MOOC suppliers have turned towards the professional market for revenues.
1. Recruitment
Most employers still use traditional methods of recruitment but the majority of those surveyed do now use LinkedIn. Once they had heard of MOOCs and understood what they were, they were positive about their use in recruitment (59%). Two sectors in particular were keen on the idea of using MOOCs for hiring; Technology (67%) & Manufacturing (79%). Engineers and developers were of particular interest. The least receptive were Retail and Finance.
2. Hiring
Nearly two-thirds (64%) viewed MOOCs in hiring positively, with those who had heard of MOOCs scoring even higher at 72%. Even in organisations that saw no role for MOOCs in recruiting, 53% saw them positively or very positively for hiring. None of the respondents saw MOOCs very negatively, with only 1 seeing them as negative.
HR staff saw the added value in MOOCs, compared to traditional qualifications as showing the following ‘plus factors’:
  • Motivation
  • Dedication
  • Willingness to develop themselves
  • Doing more for themselves
  • Drive & ambition
Business and Communications organisations were the most positive (87%), with Education (78%), Technology (75%), Public administration (75%), then Manufacturing, Finance and Retail all at 75%. Health organisations were the least receptive at 56%.
3. Personal development
Despite MOOCs being the new kids on the block, 7% were already using MOOCs for personal development, an additional 5% had considered them and 71% could see their organization using them. Those who had heard of MOOCs were universally positive about their use in personal development. Only 3% were negative.
Desired MOOC content fell into three areas:
1. Soft skills in developing management, leadership, dealing with customers, account management
2. Basic computer skills
3. Highly specialized training such as software development
The positive features of MOOC taking were identified as:
  • giving employees the ability to engage in their own development
  • goal setting
  • increase self-motivation
  • refresher course
  • stay up to date
  • advance in their careers
An interesting approach by some, who were already using MOOCs, is to cluster employees into cohorts as they start the MOOC. This increases mutual support, company specific sharing and motivation to finish.
Another big plus for employers was that they could be seen as an ‘employer of choice’ attracting and retaining the best candidates by offering an approach that is contemporary and fits the expectations of younger employees.
The authors note that “the potential for employers’ use of MOOCs is strong”. I’d say, given the relative newness of MOOCs and the lack of awareness among employers of MOOCs, the evidence is overwhelming. The fact that they are free, flexible and accessible is a big plus in times of budget squeezes. But the one statement I found compelling was, that when it comes to personal development, “I don’t think you can have too many options to take and choose from”.