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Why tens of thousands of people worldwide who study or work in Mass Media have been so myopic to the rise of a new kind of media whose manifestations have reach and sizes as massive as any mass medium yet, unlike Mass Media, provide uniquely different and individualized contents simultaneously to each of their masses of consumers, is a subject best left to industrial sociologists. These manifestations of the new media have become remarkably successful.
As of this writing, Facebook (NYSE: FB)) has 1.3 billion users (of whom 829 million use it daily), projected gross revenues of $10.8 billion, has a financial operating margin of 48%, and a market valuation of more than $200 billion (more than the entire U.S. daily newspaper industry). TencentQQ has 785 million users (712 million of who use it daily), and its parent company (HKG:0700), all of whose major products deal in Individuated Media, has projected earnings of $12 billion, an operating margin of 40%, and a market valuation of more than $1 trillion. Twitter (NYSE; TWTR) has 645 million users (257 million daily) and a market capitalization of $32 billion. Sina Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) has half a billion users (100 million daily). The privately-held VKontakte has a quarter billion users (100 million daily).
Those already eclipse most of the world’s largest Mass Media companies. Two government-owned companies, China Central Television (CCTV) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), respectively reach nearly 1.3 billion and 350 million people worldwide, but CCTV achieves its reach by holding an all but total monopoly on Chinese television (the only other television channels allowed in the country are run the provincial governments). The world’s largest non-governmental Mass Media company, Comcast (NADSAQ:CMCSA), can arguably be said to reach nearly 400 million people, and has projected revenues this year of nearly $17B, operating margin of 22%, and market capitalization of $140 billion, but achieves those numbers by owning two dozen internationally broadcast television stations, by operating theme parks, and by being the largest provider of cable television in the world. Companies that provide Individuated Media content have quickly achieved more mass, and arguably more free market success, than even the most venerable or lauded Mass Media companies in the world.
This trend is occurring even within sectors of media. For instance, Pandora Media (NYSE:P), which provides Individuated music broadcast online, has a quarter billion users. That number doesn’t include users of other Individuated music broadcasters, such as Last.fm, iTunes radio, Rhapsody, etc. A survey by Edison Research and Arbitron found that 53 percent of American adults online had heard about such Individuated music services and 24 percent had used those. One in six had used those specific services during the past month and one in ten (and nearly one in four of 23-34 year-olds) had used those last week. When asked why they’d used such services, 77 percent of people said because of the services’ abilities to create broadcasts based upon their own individual interests and tastes. By contrast, the world’s largest non-governmental music broadcaster, iHeart Media (formerly Clear Channel Communications), also reaches a quarter billion users, but must use 850 broadcast stations to aggregate that number.
New companies offering Individuated contents in other media sectors (such as Flipboard with 100 million users) are arising every month. Even online dating or personal matching services are another form of Individuate services. These generally base matches on an individual’s geographic location, desired match age range, and various physical factors or topical interest or interests about the possible match. Some of these services offer matches based simply upon stated desires, some use algorithms and other more complex methods of matching. Examples of such services include Match.com, eHarmony, Christian Singles, Veggie Date, Farmers Only, Alikewise (offering matches based upon favorite books), and Atlasphere (matches based upon favorite books by the author Ayn Rand). Likewise, video games are Individuated Media limited only by the mathematical number of permutations of the game.
Consider that there probably isn’t much overlap in users between, on one side Facebook and Twitter (usage of either is banned in China) and on the other side Tencent and Sina Weibo (used primarily in China) and on a third side Vkontakte (used primarily in Russia), it isn’t too much of an arithmetic risk to say that more than 2 billion people—more than a quarter of humanity-now use Individuated Media, despite those forms of media being less than a dozen years old. The number of users of Facebook alone is three times the size of the world’s third most populous nation (the United States) and smaller only than the population of China where its usage is banned.
Moreover, these Individuated Media services are accessed by their average user much more frequently than most Mass Media service. Surveys of people under the age of approximately 35 indicate that Social Media services have become their leading initial sources of news (this is particularly true in many Middle Eastern and Asian countries that lack freedom of the press). In Western countries, the average users of the average daily newspaper’s website might visit only two to five times per month, yet the average user uses of an Individuated Media service multiple times per day and for hours per day.
Nevertheless, all these types of Individuated Media services are still generally mistaken by Mass Media executives and Mass Media academicians as merely consumer-mediated forums or as things ancillary to Mass Media, despite billions of people having voluntarily switched from Mass Media to Individuated Media as their primary daily means of acquiring news, entertainment, and other information and despite that switch decimating the circulations, listenerships, and viewerships of Mass Media. What greater trend than more than a quarter of humanity switching do most of those Mass Media executives and academicians need to strike them in their heads and overcome their myopia? There is nothing ancillary about Individuated Media’s already gargantuan triumph over Mass Media. It is clear that forms of Individuated Media are displacing Mass Media as the people’s primarily ways of accessing news, entertainment, and information.
Some Mass Media traditionalists, claiming that the definition of a medium or a media company is that it creates its own contents, don’t consider services such as Facebook or Twitter to be media or media companies. However, by their definition traditional media companies such as Reader’s Digest or Utne Reader would also be excluded.
Speaking of definitions, due to some colloquial ambiguity I need to define Individuation terminology. Individuation means customization on a mass scale. Too many media executives and scholars mistakenly use the word personalization to mean that. As anyone who has received a personalized pendant or personalized pair of cufflinks as a present or has received an unsolicited postal letter from a marketer trying to sell something knows, personalization is merely the addition of the individual’s name atop a mass-produced solicitation or a mass-produced product. It isn’t a truly customized product, a product whose very design was based upon that individual’s own unique needs, interests, and tastes, and not those of others. Individuated products are bespoke, not off-the-rack or even off-the-rack with alterations.
Moreover, truly Individuated services allow the individual to readily alter the mix of content as he wants and sees fit, meaning such services are truly interactive. In corporate marketing acts of ignorance and hubris, too many Mass Media companies that seek online users have simply renamed themselves ‘Interactive’ without knowing what that term actually means. The academically and technologically accepted definition of the term interactive was coined during 1992 by Dr. Jonathan Steuer (later a pioneer of Wired magazine’s online operations) in the Journal of Communications: “…interactivity refers to the degree to which users of a medium can influence the form or content of the [computer-]mediated environment.” An online service that simultaneously provides all of its users the same Mass market packaged of content without permitting them to change that selection according to their individual needs, interests, and tastes, isn’t interactive. Nor has it a future.
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Index of the Rise of Individuated Media webpages