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The year 2020 has been cataclysmic. It has been a pandemic year impacting everyone and everything worldwide. A vaccine is now round the corner, but the rollout will take all of 2021 and, until then, the key issue remains that human contact that easily transmits a virulent virus. Financial experts have imagined various economic scenarios, bleak and hopeful. However, I’m more interested in behaviour. Context triggers content, content creates behaviour, and revenue follows behaviour.

Consumer behaviour in the context of fear and paranoia means that whatever information and entertainment we can get without physical engagement or interaction is what we want… which means anything online, anything delivered over satellite, telecom or the internet. Fear impacted all the social aspects of the media business. From sporting events to cinemas to theme parks to live entertainment to corporate events, even newspapers… all that immediately stopped. However, TV and online content went through the roof. It makes sense. Being locked up left the screens on our walls and in our hands our only window to the world.

Eventually a lot of lifestyle-related media will return to normal. People will always want to see live sports being played. The question is whether they are happy to just watch it on television or will the live events become suitably socially distanced and, hence, more expensive. It is these kinds of existential debates that will change media… you’ll still watch movies but not everyone will go to the theatres. You’ll still read the papers but not physically hold it. You’ll still listen to music but won’t go to a concert. The real, physical world will become more expensive and the masses will be happy with their affordable digital universe, much like it has always been. You’ve always paid for the exclusive experience. Now you’ll just pay more for safety.

Meanwhile, the majority of media 2.0 businesses still depend on advertising revenues to keep them afloat. With the economy in recession, ad-supported media will be badly hit. Can they switch to a subscription model? They could, but the market won’t be able to support so many players.

Media 3.0 could mean fewer mass-services that are ad-supported, more subscription models, few expensive physical experiences and a higher quality of content overall. Social media will flourish in this socially distanced world. Content creation will change. We will learn to be leaner and meaner, depend more on technology, tell more intimate stories maybe. For larger-than-life creations, post-production technology will take centrestage, as special effects add to the visual splendour of live action. Deep-fake morphing may well help cheaper lookalikes keep our superstars young forever. We won’t be able to tell the difference and probably won’t care.

Many interesting innovations popped up during the past year, but not all will survive. PDFs of newspapers were widely distributed via WhatsApp, but unfortunately were pirated. Big movies streamed directly on platforms. However, revenue loss will slow this down. Excellent sound design created an illusion for viewers, while sportspersons battled on in empty and silent stadiums. There was a dramatic spike in productivity via innumerable back-to-back video calls. While business travel won’t really return to original levels, the initial enthusiasm of work-from-home is wearing thin. The gazillion webinars and virtual conferences kept us connected, but we can’t wait to get back to live events.

Finally, exposure to streaming platforms and our entry into an Aladdin’s Cave-like content universe was the most positive outcome of the pandemic. The virus unwittingly helped shrink the world more as audiences from everywhere consumed content from everywhere. It paved the way for truly local stories to go global and that trend will only grow. Hopefully, humankind will be united by universal stories of hope and stop being divided by artificial boundaries of race, religion and geography.

As we emerge from the lockdown, we enter a new world. Covid-19 is not the catastrophic asteroid strike that threatened to cause mass extinction. However, changed consumer behaviour, loss of income and employment, and reduced buying power will make us focus on less extravagance and more value. The close brush with death and the delayed sharp rebound of the economy will make us revisit our priorities. In a digitally connected world, the mass media audience has given way to a mass of niches. Winners will be those who adapt and grow, giants that become even more ginormous, nimble newbies that find the next fad and trend. Media 3.0 will be different, yes, but will remain familiar.

Sameer Nair is the CEO of Applause Entertainment.

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