VFD Member's Links #8: But This Time It's Different
Will the latest pivot to video bring anyone joy?
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When I first saw talk about the latest pivot to video I knew where we were headed. Media is cyclical by design, as much a feature when it comes to innovation as it is when it comes to company structure, and this felt like another blow in the wind in that direction. A bunch of Once Giant digital media companies restructuring… again. So what happened, eh?
Well, they were culling staff and refocusing, chasing the views and impressions of a new vertical video future. It is a future that we are already living in (you would call that The Present) and it involves the gigantic, sasquatchian shadow of TikTok and everyone on it.
Yes, we are in the middle of another pivot to video. But only a fool would end the conversation there. I understand that anyone losing jobs at any time is never great – and the multimillionaires who own the companies that employ us should do a better job of managing things. But the annual culling feels just as much The Point of building in media, so we could say they’re just callous and cruel. Could be both.
I am not sure this latest restructuring deserves the same analysis as previous, though. This feels different. And you may come for my head later on this one – and I would deserve it. But the latest shift towards TikTok’s algorithm and video production feels much more about the way culture is headed rather than, say, Mark Zuckerberg making up a bunch of Audience Numbers that we build an entire industry around.
I flew to New Zealand a few weeks ago. I drank a few glasses of wine and got to talking to the 18 year-old student next to me as I tried to avoid the psychological panic that rattles through my brain with every hour spent 33,000 feet in the air. Because I am fun and absolutely capable of switching my brain off, I asked: where do you get your news from? How do you like to read about stuff? What do you and your friends spend a lot of time doing?
I won’t dwell on the response to everything. Truthfully, the entirety of every flight I take is closer to a deep fever dream than anything worth recollecting. But two things stood out to me: they estimated that they spend six hours a day on TikTok – and that their friends do, too. Then, they said they use it mostly as a search engine. I know this is not new news but it felt wild to hear it from the source itself. They said everything they care about is on TikTok or – at the very least – on YouTube. They estimated that they read books – and exclusively books - and that they loved doing it. But they weren’t up for reading a whole lot, elsewhere. And I know this is one person saying one thing that certainly doesn’t mean everything. But I will allow myself the ego and vanity in hearing back the thoughts that I have had in my own mind for a while now.
We are living in a vertical video future – and it is going to stay around for a while. Will media companies be able to monetise this boost in the way that so many individual creators have? Does a cynical, tired, and internet-native youth population even want that? Or will all of this seem stupid and foul in six months? It’s all possible. Hell, maybe Elon will just buy the whole farm…