Welcome to a world where everyone is connected, all the time. Within this always-on ecosystem, grabbing attention is only the first part of a digital world. We have an overload of messaging, information and entertainment, some pushed and some pulled by us through a plethora of devices. In fact, nothing has changed our lives more than the ubiquitous use of mobile phones. According to industry website wearesocial.com, there are 5.11 billion unique mobile users in the world today, there are 4.4 billion internet connections and 3.5 billion people are on social media.
Other staggering statistics include: more than 7 million hours of content upload on YouTube every day; roughly 4 billion Instagram ‘likes’ each day; some 5.5 billion Facebook messages posted daily; about 250 million tweets shared each day; nearly 6 billion daily Google Searches; a whopping 246 billion emails each day; a staggering 65 billion WhatsApp messages. Add to this the 15,000 broadcast TV channels around the world and over 100,000 radio stations and the rapidly growing audio and video on-demand streaming services (OTTs). On average, people around the world are watching TV, listening to music, surfing the net, chatting, gaming, and of course, consuming filmed entertainment for 6 hours a day, 365 days a year. In India, we spend just over an hour on our mobile phones and 4 hours before a screen—TV, computer or smartphone—every day.
Yet, the digital revolution is as significant as the Industrial Revolution or the Electronic Revolution because it is not just about communication but the transformation of human lives. Digitalisation is the ultimate democratisation. As we have seen, monopoly over information and news is no longer an impediment in society. A single tweet or an image on Facebook or Instagram or a video on YouTube has in the recent past sparked off not only protests but the overthrow of regimes. Wars have started and ended on social media. Space science, health and education are all being reimagined. Nothing is beyond an individual’s power to intervene in any public discourse today. History, geography and present and past are all encapsulated in a click of Google search. However, it all boils down to the ability to access, engage and consume a wide spectrum of products and services across geographies and price points.
A simple microchip and its more advanced avatars have made several tasks so simple, inexpensive and convenient that we are cramming too much in our normal day. More is following a lot. Multiple usage of multiple devices simultaneously is bombarding our senses relentlessly. No wonder we all suffer from an attention deficit disorder. We have moved from the Attention Age to an Engagement era. Now it’s all about monetising this engagement. When too much media (and entertainment) is chasing a limited number of eyeballs in a limited time span (24×365 hours a year), there is bound to be a bitter fight for attention. With limited time and fixed per capita consumer spends, the battle for mind space becomes even more acute. It’s no longer good to attract a user or buyer or even engage her but it’s the ability to monetise attention and engagement, which is critical in today’s transactional world. As more and more services are becoming a part of shared economy (Uber, Airbnb, Ola, Paytm, WhatsApp) monetising of content is facing a big threat of not only sharing but illicit downloads and forwards.
Besides the obvious changes in the way we communicate, inform and entertain ourselves, our life is being redefined in more ways than one. E-commerce has pervaded every product or service we consume. Seventy per cent of all travel bookings are online or through applications or other digital means. Medicine and healthcare, from diagnostics to palliative care, are now aided by AI and robotics. Transactions are moving rapidly towards a stage where in a decade, 90 per cent of all payment will be online. Paper currency, cheque books, passbooks and other physical instruments of trade and commerce will disappear. In the next two years when 5G becomes widespread, newer use of digital connectivity will open up. Not only will 5G give us extremely fast speeds upwards of 1 GBPS and beyond but it will open doors to several things—the Internet of Things (IoT). Soon, all our home appliances, machines and devices will get interconnected. Machine-to-machine interface will allow new advancements in medicine, education, governance, finance, home management transport, shopping, etcetera. Alongside, IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) will enable smart manufacturing smart cities and autonomous mobility (self-driving cars). Artificial intelligence and robotics will help us eradicate many of the ills pervading our society. Since anything digital is actually a transaction, it has an in-built safeguard of transparency. What seems an invasion of privacy with a possibility of digital fraud will in the years to come be more secure through several virtual layers of encryption and other electronic and biometric means. Reskilling, which appears a daunting task, will be overcome through smart voice cognitive and self-learning applications. The jobs lost to automation will be filled with millions of other occupations in services and maintenance of the gargantuan digital economy, which will be a massive 5 trillion dollars by 2024. By the end of the decade, this will grow to half of the global GDP.
With relentless engagement of our mind, we are running short of time and money. Today’s media will have to take into account the density of communication/engagement. The human body has clearly delineated neural pathways. The brain sorts and stores information in a layered form in different stacks in various lobes. The ability of communicators to reach out subliminally is becoming critical to messaging—information and entertainment alike. As the load of synapses increases, the memory becomes more selective. Content, which is sticky on account of its uniqueness or presentation, engages the most and then some of it stays embedded. Capitalising this stored information in many ways over sustained period will be the key for the media, marketers, politicians, manufacturers and service providers, entertainers, artists and even nations.
Let’s look at the changes in India. The three most obvious ones are information, entertainment and commerce. Today with a billion mobile phones, people across socio-economic classes are consuming media differently. I spend extended periods of time in a remote village beyond Shimla. I see people from farmers to itinerant labour to farmers listening to music on their mobiles. Many of the younger ones are glued on to social media. The women on the other hand use the mobile more as a communication tool. Television is the other ubiquitous media gateway. Today, even the poorest have access to a TV even when they don’t own one. Unlike cities, the thrust in rural India is towards free-to-air channels. As broadband reaches the village levels (give it another two or three years), media consumption will become more segmented. I see the rise of on-demand TV and video in small bundles, like the ones offered by telcos or by Amazon, Netflix, Hotstar, Jio, ZEE 5, and others. Google, Facebook, Paytm, WhatsApp and Alerts are as ubiquitous in the remotest corners of the globe as in a crowded mall in a large metropolis. Contrary to perception, content costs will not rise dramatically even as creative professionals will get better paid. Data analytics and blockchain will enable fair collection of tiny amounts from individual consumers. Since the market universe is so big, even such tiny amounts will total billions.
Following global trends, I see a rise in online gaming in India in the years to come. A typical Indian urban middle-class home presents an interesting picture. The household consumes different media simultaneously. For example, the husband watches news and sports and the wife watches soaps on TV, often on different TV sets and devices. The son and daughter spend a lot of time on social media, music, and in cases of boys, on games, and use the net frequently. The grandparents watch old films and religious channels. All this happens in overlapping day parts (time periods). In the next few years, all this will happen online and on-demand. Linear broadcast has at best a decade more of life. The future is about personalised content delivered on demand over different devices. Curation of content and services using AI is already happening and will become the norm by 2024. We will be spending up to six hours in front of a device, handheld or otherwise.
E-commerce, and increasingly m-commerce, is changing the rules of the marketplace. Brand attributes and salience, even advertising, has changed more in the last five years than in the previous 50 years. How do we bridge the gap between the expectation to deliver impact today, the requests we get to do more and the demands of our customers to see more value? The only way to bridge this gap is with stories. Stories are such powerful drivers of emotional value that their impact can be measured objectively, says marketing guru Michael Brenner. When our minds are constantly pounded with sounds and images, breaking out of the clutter is as important for a prime minister as it is to a farmer selling his produce in the local mandi. An unknown video goes viral while a multi-store struggles to get eyeballs. A villager or vagrant can post an image on social media upsetting the applecart of governance. Even wars are now about attention. A marketer and an entertainer are telling stories to capture a flitting moment of engagement. Cross-pollination of the mind is the essence of tomorrow’s engagement. Nothing is unidimensional anymore. All of us need to reskill ourselves. Unlike popular perception, while there will be redundancies in existing businesses and professions, several new opportunities will open up. Your neighborhood grocer, vegetable vendor, butcher, kirana and chemist will not disappear but morph into touchpoints for new retail and service providers. Logistics, supply chain, customer relations and digital networks, analytics, travel and hospitality, media and entertainment, creative professionals, artisans, sportspersons and customisation agents will grow manifold. Doctors, paramedics, teachers, lawyers, accountants, marketers, advisory services, researchers and analysts will all be large employment generators.
The consumer, it has been said, is the Queen. Well, we are soon coming to an age where all the 7 billion-plus people will be rulers. These queens and kings with their own micro-kingdoms will demand new types of court jesters, informers, entertainers, sellers and providers, even sages. Whoever among us is able to fulfill this role effectively will survive either as an individual creator/purveyor or a part of a collective. Any which way, new structures will emerge. Everything from music to news, films to information, grocery shelves to airplanes, homestays, design, education, healthcare, banking and government services will be customised and curated for every single citizen.