The New Media's coming of age

I have a couple of children, and that's where I want to start this story. I have a newly-minted teenager, and I have a preteen.

And sometimes, I get into my head to have a conversation with them about what life was like before the internet was invented.

(Laughter) sometimes, i'll try to explain to them how quickly everything's changed, how much a part of our life it's become, and how quickly it's been manifested. And they will give me this look that I imagine must be a dead ringer for the look that I gave my parents in the 1970s when they tried to explain to me about what life was like before television was invented, and I remembered not really being able to get my mind around that concept.

I mean, to a kid growing up in the 1970s, television was a kind of media god, i guess you could say. There really wasn't that much competition. Nowadays those of you who have kids know this nowadays, it's like one deity in a vast, diverse media pantheon, right? My ten-year-old daughter for example watches youtube, easily as much as she watches television.

When she watches it, she often watches things that would never be on television. I'll give an example: one of the things she really likes right now involves two girls that are also about her age, I think their names are kacy and jacy, and I think they do something called " the tin can challenge, " but what it really is they get together a bunch of strange food, they mix it together, then they eat it, and then you get to see the reactions on camera.

And my daughter think this is hysterical by the way. Nothing that a network news program whatever put on tv, but my daughter loves it. And you know, being 10 years old, I imagine that this kacy and jacy team have a parent who films this for them and who puts it on youtube for them.

But within a month of doing that, and this is where it gets crazy, they will get, generally, over a million views. A million views, and we are blasé about this. I'll tell people this, and they'll think to themselves, " it's not even that surprising.

Great! good girls! Way to go! A million views!" when I was a kid, when many of you were kids, there's nothing we could've done to get a million views anywhere.

(Laughter) right? I mean, there were these shows you could get your five minutes of fame if you had some weird talent. You could go on " that's incredible, " or " the gong show, " or " real people, " or something like that.

But basically, in the twentieth century, the media that was so dominating in all of our lives was a really tightly-controlled thing. Very few people actually had anything to do with it.

It wasn't a conspiracy or anything, it just wasn't easy to do media, right? I mean, try getting a radio signal, or a television broadcast out to the public.

You need things, don't you? You need equipment, an infrastructure, and you need money, don't you? It's something that by its very nature only a few people can do. And I remember getting this lesson myself in the 1970s when I was about 10, and I decided i wanted to start my own newspaper.

Sounded like a great idea, right? Very " little rascals/our gang" -style. I knew I was serious about it because I went into my dad's wardrobe closet, took out like his best shirt, i'm sure he was thrilled, right? Got a tie, I have no idea what I tied a tie like.

I still can't tie, when I was 10, it must have been worse. Slicked my hair back, went down into the room in our house we had designated as the media offices, with my whole neighborhood of kids in there working on my little fantasy, and we were able to have this little newspaper game until my dad decided a couple days later to break the ugly truth to a kid in the 1970s that as a 10 year old, you can't have your own newspaper.

You had to have a few things, you had to have printing presses, you had to have a distribution network. All of this sounded relatively logical, I guess, to a disheartened, heart-broken, 10-year-old media mogul, right? But you know, fast-forward 40 years, and the kacy and jacy tin can challenge that my daughter watches on youtube looks like it could be on television in terms of its quality level.

And more than a million people have seen it. And just so you know, that's more audience members than almost any newspaper in america has.

Right? Think about that for a minute. The amount of change that has happened in media, and the way it has been opened up to the general public is unlike any thing that's ever been seen.

If you went and looked at twentieth century media, it was, by its very nature, hard for people to get into. There was a need to have a mass audience, there was no place for anything that didn't have a mass appeal.

You go back, let's say 1990, and you watch something like the golden girls on television, which was a popular tv show, but not a super popular tv show, but they had 20 to 30 million viewers for every new broadcast.

That, at the time, was about 10% of the entire american population. They don't get numbers like that for sitcoms anymore, those are crazy numbers. Nowadays, you get 5 million people watching a program, and you could live off of that.

Back then, 5 million people got your tv program canceled. You have opportunities that didn't exist back then. In the 21st century, you can go out and reach billions of people. Once upon the time, when I was in radio, you would go out, and you had a physical transmitter distance that you could go and as soon as you drove out of it you couldn't hear me anymore.

The internet though is billions of people. It's this enormous pie, and if you only can reach a tiny little fraction of that pie, it's still a ton of human beings. There are billions of people in my potential audience, online, at podcasting.

What is one percent of a billion? It's 10 million. You could be an internet sensation by reaching a fraction of the audience out there, the potential audience. So, you look at something like broadcasting which means appealing to a broad section of the population.

There's a reason in the 1970s you had to do that, the programming was so expensive. You could never recoup your money from the golden girls if you didn't have an entirely huge audience.

But nowadays, the cost of doing media has shrunk to such a degree that you can practically do it at your home. I was joking earlier, if you take a big star like an eddy murphy, somebody who required like they all did, somebody to discover them, give you a chance, it doesn't matter how much talent you have, if one of these people who are sort of media gatekeepers doesn't allow you the opportunity.

You upset somebody, you step on someone's toes, somebody doesn't like the way you look, you don't have a career. A guy like eddy murphy, where he'd be coming up today, if he had the technology that we had in the 1970s, he could do a podcast, just showing his stand-up comedy.

And without ever having to be on saturday night live to become famous, he could, out of his house, at almost no cost, and with nobody's permission become a household name, go viral, have millions of people following him.

This is what the next eddy murphy could do, this is what you could co. It's a meritocracy now when it comes to media. It wasn't that way before, media has always been controlled, there's always been gatekeepers, because there's a lot of power in controlling the access to an audience.

I always like to think that even in ancient greek times, there was some guy who owned the amphitheater, who went to all those ancient greek playwrights that we still celebrate and learn about in theater class today, and said, " listen, take out line 4, or you're not getting on this stage." those people have always existed, and they've always controlled what went on their stages.

The theater people controlled what went on their stages, the radio people controlled what went over their airwaves, the editors controlled what went in the magazines and the newspapers that they printed.

I'll give you an example: what if you could go and simply put a program online and have a ton of people watch it and have it never go away? There's a certain amount of immortality to this new media; we call it new, but it's possible that this stuff is going to last forever.

So, if you think about immortality in a sense and the ability to go and create something, and pour your soul into something, in some of what makes you you, and then think about somebody 500 years from now listening to that, or seeing that if it's video, and getting this little piece of you.

As a history guy, I always try to imagine if the kind of stuff we can do today had existed centuries ago, how well we would know the past? What if alexander the great, 2,300 years ago, had a podcast? How well would we know this guy? And so, when you think about doing a podcast today, or a blog, or a vlog, or an indie music piece, or an indie video, or a zine or even amateur news, or journalism, you think about the fact that your great-great-great- great-great-grandchildren are going to get to know who we are through all this.

This is how they are going to understand our times and our culture. I would love to have that for an earlier time period. Let me ask you a question: what's going to happen, what's going to happen, ladies and gentlemen, when five years from now, ten years form now, some individual - or small group of individuals gets more viewers than a network nightly tv newscast? I know everybody's thinking, " that'll never happen." i'm here to tell you we're not that far away from that right now.

And if you don't think that's going to change everything, just imagine something called joe's nightly newscast competing with the nbc tv news for ratings.

That's going to be really different. And one of the reasons why is because the host of joe's nightly newscast, unlike the nbc nightly news, could be anybody. We're living in an era where media is transitioning from a sort of an aristocratic set-up to a democratic one.

What that means is you're living in the first era ever where you can decide to be a part of media, whether or not anyone else says that's ok.

The real transformation here is that media has been democratized. Access to an audience has been democratized. And this is extremely unusual, i mean, you go back into history. Have you ever tried to write a newspaper article? Have you ever done that? Lot of people out there probably, i've done that.

What's amazing when you write a newspaper article is you really get to see what kind of power these media gatekeepers have. First of all, when you do an article like this, you usually have to write a cover letter to the editor.

And there's a format for this, there's a protocol, " dear sir, please consider my 750 words submission on this matter." and if you screw that part of it up, they'll say no to your article before anybody gets a chance to look at it.

If they don't like your article the way you wrote, they'll reject it. If they don't like your subject you chose, they'll reject it. If they don't like your take on the subject, they'll reject it.

Most of the time, whatever piece you submit to the old media is going to be rejected before an audience ever has a chance to way in on the matter. That's what's different now.

Now you can't be canceled. Now, you can't have access to an audience shutdown. The people who've controlled this access forever, they still have great power, you'd love to be discovered.

You'd love to find out, comedy scout found me, put me up on stage, saved me a lot of time and trouble.

But they haven't shut you down, if they don't do that now, that's what's different than before. Once upon a time, these people were so powerful that they could promote an artist, or they could censor them.

They could blackball them, or they could say something like, " a little trip to the casting couch without your clothes on might increase your publication opportunities." if a segment of the audience or a sponsor didn't like what you do, or if not enough of them liked what you do, they could restrict your access to this audience, we used to call that getting canceled.

They can't cancel you anymore. This is where everything has truly been transformed. You have, and everyone else around us has a chance to make their mark in media in a way that simply has never before been possible.

We are living through a time that is a creativity revolution. There's a line I love from napoleon, the french emperor, who famously said that, " quantity has a quality all its own." I used to have discussions with all sorts of executives in media in the 1990s.

We would be talking about what we called back then amateur content. We would talk about its future. They'd say to me, " who's going to want to see any of this stuff? Who's going to care? Anybody who could make anything of value would be getting paid for it!" and what I would say to these people was that the sheer amount of content that people would create some day would make up for the difference.

Might not be as good as often, as the professional stuff, but you'd be able to compensate for the lack of professionalism with numbers. If only one percent of the amateur content that is out there is great, that's still a ton of stuff when there are millions of content creators out there doing work.

It's the scale and the number of creators. It's transformative. The scale in the audience is transformative. I mentioned the golden girls a minute ago. You don't need to get 20 or 30 million people anymore.

Now if you're a tv network station, and I say, " why don't you do a show on science-fiction comic books of the 1950s?" they're going to look at you like you're crazy, right? They'll get a half million people watching that show, and it'll be a disaster.

On the other hand, if you do a podcast on science-fiction comic books from the 1950s, I bet you'd love to have a half million people tuning into your podcast, wouldn't you? And I bet those people tuning into your podcast would love to have some production that is narrowly-targeted towards their specific interest.

I always tell people online, there are multiple harry potter podcasts online right now. And if you are a devoted harry potter fan looking for harry potter content, what sort of alternative is the old media providing for you? There's a whole new window of opportunities here.

This road that the media used to keep closed, there was no access to this road, it's now opened up. And what we're beginning to see is an explosion in the quantity of human creativity.

If you look at how many people were producing entertainment and art 100 years ago, compared to the number of people producing entertainment and art today.

Think about how much extra stuff there's going to have 100 years from now. So, the reason that this is a road less traveled is because the media has always been a private road, and we live in an era now where they have access to the tools of creation, and the audience that's the reason you create something in the first place.

And i'm pretty convinced that 100 years from now, our descendants will look back on this period, and they'll label it for what it is: the era where media was truly democratized.

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