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DIANE PHILLIPS: Our brave new world where we can vanish into a screen

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Diane Phillips

When Disney launched its streaming service on November 12, 10 million people signed up the first day, a subscription rush so much faster than expected it caused the system to crash. That hiccup was quickly fixed to the delight of families who could soon settle down and watch Toy Story 4 as many times as they wanted for a monthly fee.

A short time after the sign-up process was back up and running, news (apparently fake) broke that every one of those 10 million who signed up had been hacked. The fear, had the hacking been actual, should have been enough to slow down the crush, but nothing it seems can stop the race to get the latest, best content for the buck, entertainment for the kids, or mind-numbing material for those of any age in the new highly intense and suddenly insanely competitive world of video streaming.

What began with Netflix as a subscription service (SVOD, subscription video on demand) and YouTube (AVOD, advertising-based video on demand) has mushroomed into an industry hungry for talent, content, market share edge and above all, audience loyalty. It is hard to fathom how far and how fast the video streaming world has come until you stop and realise that the 1999 version of the mini-encyclopedia of the world did not even contain the words. Yet short of 20 years later, what we see on the screen and what that screen blasts in our faces has begun to consume our lives.

This week I had the distinct pleasure, thanks to a very special friend, of attending a conference at the Paley Centre for Media in New York. The conference title was Agility in Media and featured impressive leaders from Netflix, Discovery Channel, Samsung and nearly every segment of entertainment, sports and news along with those who made or delivered the news.

Organisers did a masterful job of putting the conference together and it ran like clockwork. Names read like a who’s who of media in front of or behind the scenes - Henry Kissinger, former White House Chief of Staff and the man who ran five presidential campaigns James Baker, FBI Director Christopher Wray, NBC and MSNBC’s Willie Geist, President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haas, NFL’s Roger Goodell and CBS’ The NFL Today host James Brown, the chairman of Murdoch (Sunday Times among the holdings), Frank Bennack, Chairman of the Paley Centre and Executive VP of Hearst publications.

Only 120 invitations were issued to attend so the mere fact that I was in the small circle of media moguls, dignitaries, diplomats, forward thinkers and newsmakers was an honour and I was proud to say Bahamian during every introduction and conversation. I doubt that anyone else there realised the man after whom the centre is named, William Paley - who transformed a small radio network into what we know today at CBS - had a second home in The Bahamas where he spent more and more of his time as he got older or that Henry Kissinger rents a home in western New Providence every winter. Just a little aside that no matter where you go there’s always a touch of The Bahamas and Bahamian pride is warranted even in the highest circles. As I said, an aside, not the main point.

Despite the masterful organisation and the comprehensive and timely nature of the conference, I could not help but leave more worried than assured. If all this tech energy, awesome imagination and these people in whom we place our intellectual trust are singing about how fast news gets delivered, how important content is to gain loyalty, how the world is becoming addicted to what flashes across a screen, large or small, are they not dancing around the more serious consequence of this addiction to an agile media delivery system – that it is turning us into a nation of passive absorbers, walking couch potatoes.

We will be able to grab the news like we grab a bite to eat, on the go. Fast food. Fast news. Fast movie. Fast golf (now on Discovery since they bought Golf Digest).

Our predictable addiction to various streaming services is not all that surprising. Look how the popularity of influencers and bloggers saved us all the trouble of having to think for ourselves. There will be tremendous benefit from streaming. One of the leading providers is working on a vacation setting that subsumes your living room so, in case you can’t get to a Hawaiian sunset, it will come to you. Subscribe and dial it in. Your room will fill with the light and beauty of a land that is delivered to your doorstep.

None of the above is a criticism of the remarkable capability of tech companies in the entertainment business. Their achievements are mind-boggling and will only grow their businesses. But how much we absorb from without instead of creating from within comes with a price.

The future promises life on the go wherever you are, flashing by on a screen as big as a living room wall or as tiny as an iPhone or Apple watch face. No need to think. No time to ponder or wonder. All you need to listen to, learn and absorb for the day will be handed to you on a mobile device, along with all the movies you will ever want to watch and all you need to do is subscribe, choose a channel and let life pass you by.

Do subscribe, there’s amazing stuff coming your way, but watch with care. Not all forms of addiction are inhaled or taken by mouth.

Comments

TheMadHatter 2 years, 8 months ago

Very very true. We are raising a generation of kids addicted to digital heroine. They also have a near zero attention span. They will never enjoy reading a novel. They can't think in a straight line long enough to read even one chapter.

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