Work flow for creation may have shifted to more digital pathways, but most discussions assume a formal media delivery of a finished, locked product. Products have rules based on their media segment, with set delivery dates and SKUs.
With content stored in the cloud, the opportunity expands. Creators are not confined to street dates, final publications, and locked definitions of videos, books, music, games, and the like.
One example is in the changing book sector. Enhanced books, now being distributed through major online outlets, bring this question to the forefront. Brian O’Leary, in the 2012 Book: A Futurist Manifesto, specifically questions the “container.” In the past, book creation systems have assumed a specific context of delivery. Books have been designed around a single type of output, delivery date, and life after production. O’Leary calls these assumptions pre-artifact, artifact, and post-artifact. He examines the possibilities of what can be re-envisioned if the container is variable, and if the content is created to be able to live socially during production, at distribution, and for its ongoing life.
The intriguing concept here goes beyond digital workflow before a product is released, and digital fingerprinting and social media analysis after release in a cloud world. The concept becomes broader. Delivery rules become fluid, separate, and distinct from content creation. A media product, just like web-based software now, could be in perpetual beta. Product can be changed and amended before release and after release, with part of the ownership being updates in content and possibly sequels and extensions. This could be a premium business model, further connecting the consumer with the content creator, or separating them by enhanced re-aggregation. PaaS and SaaS options could be created to be perpetual engagements with multiplatform products, as these begin to blur between categories.
If we begin to rethink time-locked containers, we begin to see different delivery mechanisms that may have much longer product life than our increasingly quick velocity of new products being released and spun into history in this current mode of digital delivery.
Added Value: Blend with Live: Value and relationship with the consumer can also blend cloud-based, connected services with live experiences. Alternative Reality Games, such as 42 Entertainment’s Dark Knight engagement several years ago, blended online and live activities for 18 months. Music has been doing this in its own way already, with an engaging business model. VIP memberships are gaining certain fans integrated consumption of live and online relationships—great concert tickets, premium virtual goods, distinctive merchandise, and live engagements with the artists.
Added Value: Premium Context: O’Leary also points out that there is benefit to re-adding context to the content. With books, digital delivery is both stripping away formatting for distribution as well as making some formats more context-driven. iPad delivery looks and feels different than Android. Premium products, off of the same core content, are becoming the norm with distinctive features in different platforms. These high-touch interactive differences by platform are becoming another ecosystem on top of these cloud deliveries. Authoring tools are in beta to help creative producers and publishers provide high touch interactive engagement with the same product that they are having to make available to simpler digital delivery methods. Each of these delivery modes, in the meantime, need digital workflow to keep all of this straight, before, during, and after delivery.
We already are breaking open the container—the intriguing opportunity here is breaking open its locked nature of being “done” and “alone.” It also can be more than a “movie” or “book,” as we are able to step between definitions – launching interactive book products blending images, video, books, and interactivity as an example, if you don’t have to stay in locked format containers.
By bringing content from our hard drives to the cloud, we have the potential to open Pandora’s Box. By having infrastructures and platforms shared with new innovators, we have the potential to blur traditional boxes of delivery and of locked content. By changing our consumption from our own “storage” and “ownership” to “just” the concept of cloud-based storage, we are in the midst of changing habits and attitudes of more than just “buy” versus “stream,” but also of what it means to be distributing, creating, producing, and engaging.
Now that we are opening Pandora’s Box, we shouldn’t be startled that consumers find a different type of “hope” in the bottom.
Fates of Owned Media vs. Newly Purchased Media
Will it be worth the consumer’s while to convert old to new? Time and convenience have been trumping cost in many instances. iCloud from iTunes, for example, provides clean tracks to replace ones you already have in your physical storage for the cloud.
UltraViolet, in the film realm, has approached this transition with a mixed package. Buy a DVD and gain rights to using the content in any mode, including online. The fine print on the online is for a year, with rights then to be renewed for an undisclosed sum of money.
Consumers, with available freemium storage space over 5 GB now, are being trained by the marketplace to not pay for digital storage. Will users pay a premium to store their digital stuff, or judge whether they will use something a second time?
Other forces are training consumers to “borrow” content, for one-time use. Video on demand has not performed as many early analysts predicted a dozen years ago, but provides a single-use option with much less revenue to the studio or producer. The TV Everywhere initiatives by many of the cable companies, including HBO Go, are training consumers for subscription-based extensions into the mobile world from their video services. Netflix’s 24 million subscribers (3Q2011) and Hulu’s 1 million premium subscribers are all following the call of renting a package of experiences. All of these services provide robust ways to not “buy” anymore, with a strong connection and even tethered in many off-line environments.
Usage Models for “Buying” Versus “Renting”
Questions of ownership may have more to do with usage models instead of media segments. Products may need to address different aspects of the consumer relationship, especially need for multiple sittings to consume the content (e.g., books, games, and classes).
Ownership may make sense across multiple users (e.g., family media ownership), who may not be sharing all of their media subscriptions.
Shared content and services on the Internet is not new.
Cloud computing expands shared services with a concept of shared infrastructure elements, which deliver shared content and platforms as an interconnected system. NIST framed cloud computing as: “on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity or expansion, and measured service” (NIST, 2011).
SaaS, Software as a Service, has been expanding over the past decade. SaaS provides to customers all layers of service from infrastructure to end delivery of a web-based product. That service also can be provided in layers of infrastructure and platforms, dropping the costs of launching new businesses upfront.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) then allow other companies to launch platforms and software with scalable storage and delivery. This model can shift IT growth from a step-function, up-front capital expense to a more fluid, scalable, operating expense (Armbrust et al., 2009). These systems are deployed across four models– public clouds, private clouds, community clouds, and hybrid clouds–all with different combinations of privacy, ownership, and sharing (NIST, 2011[i]).
To the consumer, SaaS is the public face to their cloud-based media lives and habits. Consumer products—such as Netflix, Dropbox, Spotify, Tumblr, or other connected services—might be living on Amazon IaaS cloud-based servers and a connecting PaaS platform.
Drivers Shifting our Digital Worlds
Three long-running drivers have pushed geometric change in the market for cloud-based media storage:
Storage: Costs of physical storage have plummeted, represented by Kryder’s Law[ii];
Computing Power: More powerful and smaller form-factor computing, now in our hands as smartphones and tablets, benefiting from geometric improvement in processing capacity predicted in 1965 by Moore’s Law; and
Distance: Costs of communicating and sharing content over distances has plummeted over that same time (Cairncross, 1997)[iii].
These three drivers have set the stage for our more complex current media environment of 2012.
Due to the breadth of content available, legally and illegally, consumers have built up large portfolios of existing digital content across a variety of devices and hard drives. They also have accumulated years of DVDs and CDs. The ease of saving and storing this content previously was limited to hard drive and shelf space. Shelf space has not grown in most homes, but the low cost of hard drives has let consumer build up large amounts of digital stuff.
Meanwhile, consumers have owned enough hard drives over time to realize that they do not provide infinite storage life. Hard drive failure rates, estimated in mean time between failures in the millions of minutes, have shown in testing to be 2-4%/year, and even as high as 13% in a 2007 Carnegie Mellon study[iv]. In addition, digital stuff is now shared across home networks, computers, individuals, and devices.
Two other factors are shifting cloud-based media needs:
Mobility. The challenge has expanded with the growth in mobility, as tablets and smartphones draw content and leisure time to places other than living rooms and computer screens.
Time. The biggest challenge, which we will engage below as well, is the perception that consumers now don’t have time. The time to deal with faded hard drives or figuring out how to move content from one system is of high frustration and value.
Training and Converting our Behavior and Needs
As noted above, online SaaS tools for engaging media have been around for a while. Three drivers are moving consumers into more comfortable adoption: work, tablets, and ease of start-up alternatives.
Work-based Attitudes and Training: Cloud computing on the business side has driven comfort with the Cloud. Consumers have been trained at small businesses and other work environments progressively for many years. Tools like Google Docs, Google Apps, DropBox, and Evernote have gotten individuals used to user interfaces for cloud-based working. Email in the cloud, with Yahoo and Gmail, has moved many users into the cloud with email on all devices, everywhere
Tablet Momentum: Tablets have been around for many decades, but the growth since 2010 of iPads has increased expectations for users to be able to thrive without carrying around massive hard drives. iPad and Android-based tablet users expect access on each of their devices and formats. Handsome user interfaces and added-value visuals are progressively part of baseline expectations on tablet and smartphones. Increased tablet-based usage rushes more content into the cloud, instead of buying the next devices with a gigantic hard drive.
Cloud-Based Infrastructures and Platforms: New services are growing off of IaaS and PaaS platforms. Shared infrastructures and platforms allow start-up cloud-based media services to launch without independent massive investment in inflexible storage and fixed infrastructures. A niche, start-up provider can perch on cloud-based IaaS infrastructures for storage and platforms.
[i] National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) working definition of cloud computing, the 16th and final definition has been published as The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing (NIST Special Publication 800-145).
“Storage”: An interesting word in the context of “digital stuff.” Like the word “collect,” storage implies that it is our “digital stuff,” that we have ownership rights to it.
Storage, as a social metaphor, brings with it context from our daily, physical lives. It may bring to mind Public Storage units, areas under overpasses where we put the detritus of our lives: mom’s sofa, the wagon wheel coffee table that we fight over, or three rooms of furniture as we downsize homes. Storage bears echoes of George Carlin’s 1986 comedy routine about stuff to hold our stuff in.
He detailed how we have stuff everywhere and have some stuff that is more important than other stuff, which we want to keep with us always. Our digital stuff holds many of those same traits: we have digital stuff all over the place, some is more important, and some we want to keep with us always as well.
Email has become a “gateway drug” for the cloud, training users to expect abundance of digital storage. Digital storage was framed for many years as precious, to be used wisely. Previously, companies chastised their employees about using too much e-mail space through automated warning messages. Expectations have escalated since 2 MB in free email storage was offered by Hotmail in 1996. Yahoo started at 4 MB in 1997, and Gmail started its beta with 1 GB in 2004. Yahoo joined in with unlimited storage in 2007, and Google upped the game soon after with its “Infinity Plus One” storage plan, which has grown individual storage now to more than 7 GB for free unlimited storage for Gmail[i]. Hotmail has since moved to “ever-growing,” nearly unlimited storage, continuing to change social norms about digital storage expectations.
Entire business ecosystems have sprung up, dealing with sharing, backup, and cloud storage. These tools have shifted home and business users to consider storage issues such as ubiquity, mobility, sharing, multiple devices, and permanence. Despite these roving ambitions, most people’s work and social habits have not kept up. Products have launched to help us filter and gather our email, though the majority of users still let the content swamp us out and push into unfiltered folders.
2011 was a year of many media “cloud” storage toolset launches, with more solutions to this “problem” on the horizon. Cloud-based content storage now reaches into consumer lives as well as business services. Digital media is a growing percentage of our personal digital storage. As a digital culture, we also are rethinking storage as to digital media.
This transition brings with it a series of questions about this “problem,” and about the relationships between the consumer and cloud-based media storage in the future:
What are the problems that companies and consumers are trying to solve with cloud-based media storage?
Is this time a transition while we are in changing habits of mobility, sharing, and recommendation with tablets and smartphones?
Is it a transition, with different trajectories for our existing digital stuff and entirely new behaviors with new acquisitions and our own digital media creations?
How might this transition drive permanent changes in our concepts of content ownership, collection, and storage?
How will this change our willingness to pay for storage and to pay a premium for ownership?
Further, playing off of the George Carlin riff on stuff drives two related questions:
What do I expect from the stuff I need to manage my digital stuff?
Is the nature of stuff itself changing?
The music and book media sectors have been facing these issues head-on. Their company leaders have been forced to rethink what the context and containers for our media content mean in an environment of abundance. They have been rethinking books and music in a terrain of fluid data and scarcer time. Other sectors, including video and even education, may find ideas from looking to other media platforms and sectors for pain points, challenges, and new business models.
This blog post from Maremel’s white paper will continue in three steps:
Drivers that are accelerating cloud-based consumer media storage,
Challenges to be met as Pandora’s Box opens, and
Opportunities that lay beneath, beyond the popular discussions about content in the cloud.
[i] Now adding 3.3 MB each day to the limit, per Google.