New and emerging technologies have dramatically changed how people access and consume entertainment.
Ted Schilowitz has been helping Hollywood do that for more than a decade. As futurist-in-residence for Paramount Pictures, and its parent, ViacomCBS, he explores ways to use virtual and mixed reality to craft future consumer media experiences. When he thinks What the Future, he looks to history for clues about what’s next.
Kate MacArthur: What we call home video entertainment has largely been accessed from our TVs for most of its history. How will entertainment technology change that in the future?
Ted Schilowitz: When we study new media technology like virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, and what they bring as a broad platform for moving the entertainment quotient forward, they are still in their fairly early adopter phases. The beginnings of that maturity will be in the mid-2020s, call it 2024, 2025. You’ll start to see this full maturity and a very large, robust business starting to look like the media before it in the same scope and scale by the year 2030.
MacArthur: How will we get content in the future?
Schilowitz: It’s always been a technology business. It used to be that big movie studios owned the media pipes because they would distribute the media. Guys would drive a truck around with film cans and drop them off. The modern extrapolation of that is, oddly enough, Amazon. AWS [Amazon Web Services] is likely the biggest player today in the modern metaphor of the guy dropping the film cans off at the local theater. Then the other tech giants realized this is a humongous opportunity that they’re not fully capitalizing on. So everybody else gets in the game.
MacArthur: It’s pretty much still like cable, right?
Schilowitz: Yes. It just gets better and more efficient and the barriers to entry get lower, the ability to create more content gets much easier and much more robust.
MacArthur: We started out with three TV channels and now we’ve got 800 plus. With all this platform bundling happening, content has changed. Where is it going?
Schilowitz: The age of brand identification with networks and large media organizations is a generational thing, and that generation is largely in the rear-view mirror. When you talk to young people, they do not have the brand loyalty, per se. They have content loyalty and they have character loyalty. One of the byproducts of this streaming dynamic is that a lot of media you can find in multiple places and the tech companies are obfuscating and creating an illusion of where you get it from. The professionals in my world and the other giant media organizations are studying that a lot, to look at how to pull this back and start to maybe re-grab the land that they didn’t realize was so valuable. That is starting to become a media trend, identifying who made it and who is representing it and who is “distributing” it out to the masses.
MacArthur: Although we can watch content from anywhere now, it’s mainly passive viewing. How do you expect entertainment to become more interactive?
Schilowitz: There’s always little sidebar experiments about branching narrative and choose-your-own adventure and all that stuff. They all can garner some degree of audience. But if they’re just bridging what we refer to as traditional passive media, and don’t put a lot of thought into gaming as a business or as a creative pursuit, they actually missed the point. Interactive entertainment in many forms has been growing faster than traditional passive media and makes up a very, very large part of the economics of entertainment. I think gaming is the right venue for interactive media.
MacArthur: If things progress as much as you expect, how will what we watch change?
Schilowitz: Passive is the right format for passive and interactive is the right format for interactive. Those are gaming and “television” and movies, but what’s happening is we are blending them together. And the virtual reality, mixed reality side of this allows a new blending agent that is even more compelling and more logical to put traditional narrative story and interactive together into one new form of media. What virtual reality allows you to do is strap a theme park onto your face.
MacArthur: Another change we’re seeing in our research is that the most avid audiences today are not white Americans.
Schilowitz: In many ways, Viacom was the pioneer in that technology television revolution, beyond the three over-the-air channels that primetime network television largely represented. Viacom saw that there were different audiences we could entertain and deliver something relevant and important to, so we quickly ended up with 14 or more dedicated network brands on this then-newfangled technology called cable television that touched different market segments.
MacArthur: Media is more pervasive than ever. What will that mean for brands that are still concerned about capturing eyeballs?
Schilowitz: Audiences are always looking for what’s expected and then unexpected. And if you can put those two together, you can crack the code. That’s event-driven. Go to the movies. That’s going to start happening as we all get vaccinated.
The other parts of the media sphere, which live in streaming, are much more character-driven, more story-nuanced, more important to take the time to absorb something and learn about those characters over X amount of hours. The perfect example for me is “Breaking Bad” as one of the best character-driven TV shows, or maybe “The Wire” or the “Sopranos.” It is that kind of fodder that people really want to go into those characters’ worlds and live inside.