The value of content

When it comes to entertainment, content has always been king. But hearing musician Viv Albertine being interviewed by Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie on BBC Radio 6 Music last week reminded us how things have changed.

 fm radio

She described how when someone came round with a new record, they would play it over and over again from start to finish. The concept of selecting single tracks to play from albums just didn’t exist: new content was so hugely valuable that every note was savoured, every asset sweated. 

A friend just reminded me of other arcane processes subsumed by new technology. The dial-a-disk service that charged you for listening to one 3 minute single – and you couldn’t even choose which single to select. Or the paid for cricket score service that inflated corporate phone charges every summer as employees desperate for the latest news dialled in to a premium service.

As ease of access to free and low-cost content has improved, so has the sheer volume of music and words we can consume. As childhood fans of BBC Radio 1, we would regularly walk along the street with a transistor radio clamped to our ears just so we wouldn’t miss our favourite shows, or the Top 20 chart on a Sunday. 

Our radios transmogrified over time into portable cassette players, then Walkmen, DAT players, DAB radio receivers, iPods. At each stage, the listening experience improved. Dedicated portable CD players even made it possible to watch video on the move.

But of course it’s the smartphone/tablet revolution that has really moved mobile content consumption up a significant notch. Look round any crowded train carriage on commuter lines into London and you’ll see most people watching TV or films, reading books or newspapers or listening to music and news on one portable device or another. Even a few years ago the ability to keep up with the World Cup or Wimbledon away from a radio, PC or TV was difficult – now it’s becoming the norm.

Challenges remain of course: the plethora of content available can make choices difficult and make us feel like we’re missing out if we don’t catch every film or box set, read every best seller or consume all of the news. And relying on patchy mobile networks or poor broadband connections can be frustrating when you know you are being prevented from accessing the content you want, when you want it, where you want it.

From a communications point of view, there are both challenges and opportunities associated with the current content landscape. Fragmentation means that there’s less predictability than in the days of minimal channels and access points. However, there’s also a greater chance for your text, audio, video to be seen and heard.

The good news is that logically, the improvements in global data communications will continue to deliver huge improvements to the mobile watching and listening experience – a far cry from portable transistors, dial-a-disk services, and vinyl LPs.

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