The Future of Media Companies: Survival and Prosperity in the Years Ahead


Recently, my partner Bill Lohse and I were invited to Japan to talk about The Future of Media. During our trip, we shared our view about the grounding and direction that is essential for any media company to prosper, or even survive in the years ahead. Here are the key points we made:

Media will matter as long as humans exist. Drop humans anywhere and they will start telling each other stories, dancing beneath the moon, sharing news, acting out. It is fundamental. And, in today's world, media use is growing dramatically. In fact, people are inhaling so much media simultaneously, it compels a 33-hour day to track it all. Digital is deepening the role of stories in our lives, work, politics and commerce.

But the forms of media are changing radically. Research from multiple sources, across multiple countries makes it utterly clear that digital already dominates media today and will completely dominate into tomorrow. Humans will keep feeding their innate content cravings, but increasingly in new ways unmoored to traditional forms.

The future will be dominated by mobile, visual. The digital media future will be dominated by mobile screens and the primary form will be images and videos, not words. We are entering the era of the Visual Vocabulary. Tomorrow's images won't be enhanced by words, but by emojis. Since images hit humans at a deeper, more emotional level than words, this points toward new, powerful impacts for media -- even if not currently well understood. Exciting, but also perhaps a bit scary.

Words matter, but soon experience will matter more. Words won't vanish. In fact, we are seeing something of a revival of long form journalism in the US right now. But the capacity delivered by technology to provide people with direct experiences -- compare the written description of the ski run and the GoPro experience of the same run, and then jack that experience up to VR intensity -- will increasingly overmatch the ability of mere words to capture the breadth and depth of the moment. Words will need to find a new, not as utterly central role, in future communication.

Storytelling and commerce will merge. Already the best way to monetize content is to use the knowledge of person, situation, and location available in digital to actually sell the right goods and services to the right person at the right time for the right price. And we see the converse becoming equally natural. The best merchant won't necessarily be the best manufacturer, but the best storyteller. Even today, this can be seen in areas of commerce like cosmetics. We see ads as increasingly being displaced by direct commerce toward individual's demonstrated or even requested, needs and wants.

Media Baron & Merchant Prince will be one person. As a result, we see the leaders of content and commerce conflating into one person leading one company. If you think of the power of Rupert Murdoch and Starbucks combined, you can begin to understand just how powerful this shift will be.

More than the sum of trends or a set of predictions, these core ideas illustrate the deep connection between human behavior and digital consumption. It's up to future media companies to recognize this connection -- and to create the products and services that translate it into action.

Mike Edelhart is the managing partner of Social Starts, one of the most active moment-of-inception venture funds in the US. A pioneering media and Internet startup executive, Mike became widely known in tech circles as the original Executive Editor of PC Magazine.