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Our children will live in a world that is going to be quite different to the one we are used to.  The working skills that have helped us survive are very unlikely to be the talents needed by our children.  Just think: taking a good family photo used to require a light meter, lots of fiddling, and a steady hand supporting the camera.  Nowadays instant snaps are taken digitally, using a smartphone, so technology controls the focus and exposure, as well as compensating for a little wobble;   Many complex mathematical calculations that needed time and concentration to work out with pen and paper are now solved in milliseconds using computer spreadsheets;   And where researching specialist subjects required hours of diligent reading in a library, information is now available instantly on the Internet via Wikipedia, You Tube and forums.  Since the advent of the computer transformed our lives, technical innovations are coming so thick and fast it’s had to keep up.  My two year old granddaughter already manages to entertain herself using her mother’s iPad.  It’s odd to reflect that such a young child may already be acquiring obsolescent skills, and who knows what extraordinary developments will happen in her lifetime?  Such thoughts crossed my mind coming home after lunch with a 94 year old relative, who has several great grandchildren, when I heard that I had just had another grandchild myself.  How on earth can we prepare our children to live fulfilled lives when we know so little about the future they will inhabit?  Well, one of the best techniques that I know is to look closely at what’s happening around us because, as William Gibson first pointed out back in 1993: “the future is already here – it's just not very evenly distributed.”  Take television viewing for example, over the next 20 to 30 years it’s going to change out of all recognition, and it’s already beginning.  According to some recent research children and teenagers now spend more time using the Internet than they do watching TV.  And when they do watch TV they are more likely to be viewing the Netflix on-demand service than any conventional live television channel.  This behaviour is particularly pronounced in the 15 to 16 year age group where only a quarter of them watch “broadcast” TV as it is being transmitted.  Their remaining TV time is consumed by catch-up or on-demand services like YouTube.  Back in 1996 I wrote an article you can view via the wayback machine which predicted that interactive digital video would become the normal method of viewing video images – something we now call “video on-demand.”  Back then, I predicted that this would seem so natural that, to quote myself: “Future generations will look back to the end of the twentieth century and try and imagine what linear video was like.”  I also said that the concept of “broadcast” video where everybody sat down at the same time to watch exactly the same program would seem very weird - like a dystopian world similar to that depicted by George Orwell in 1984.  I wasn't being particularly prescient because 20 years ago I was working with a very expensive computer animation system and I realised that the way we were manipulating and re-ordering rendered frames could also be done using a server and the Internet – it was only a question of having enough bandwidth, and I knew that more bandwidth was coming.  Today's children are growing up in a world where every civilised country has more than enough bandwidth to stream high definition video images, and naturally the interactive video on-demand route is chosen because nobody ever really wanted to wait for a program to be “broadcast.”  We are at another inflection point where technology demands a massive increase in bandwidth now. You can see the beginning of this different behaviour demonstrated in the PowerPoint chart above.  I've taken the data from the current The Communications Market report from Ofcom which uses a total sample size of 1,890 people, with at least 250 in each age segment.  Every year Ofcom gets their research company to ask the same question: which media device would participants miss the most if it got taken away?  And in the last three years the number choosing a TV, a personal computer or laptop, or a radio, has fallen whilst the number selecting their Internet-enabled smartphone as their one essential media device has risen.  To illustrate this I've edited the data down to make it easier to compare the differences between what is important for younger and older people.  As the chart shows: older people think their TV is their most important device while for younger age groups it’s their smartphone.  This chart should concern everyone who works in the media industry.  Radio is only really valued by older people, it is insignificant in importance for those under 25.  A similar situation involves anything printed - newspapers, magazines and books are again only of importance to the middle- aged and older.  Interestingly, personal computers, laptops and tablets have roughly the same interest level across young and older age groups.  On the other hand, games consoles are only important for younger people and progressively lose their appeal with age.  This dramatic switch to valuing the Internet over the television set isn't necessarily bad news for those involved in film and TV production.  A lot of the increase in Internet time is spent viewing moving images so the demand for this kind of content remains as popular as ever.  What we are witnessing is the transition away from the old-style, passive “appointment TV” watching, received via a broadcast signal, to the modern world where any television program or film is available at any time on a web link.  People's appetite for compelling stories told by using moving images and sound is undiminished and will remain until the era of immersive virtual reality entertainment arrives.  And that virtual reality future is not that far off because companies like Facebook are already investing heavily to make it occur.  For several years I misjudged Facebook as I thought once the novelty wore off people would tire of being swamped by so much information about what their “friends” were doing.  A few people have discovered the “time suck” nature of social networking, and have periods of detoxing, but even more folk are spending increasing amounts of time on Facebook - especially on their mobile phones.  So Facebook could well become the leading platform for the way film, video and moving images will be consumed for most of the 21 st  Century.  Many people in the TV industry will consider this idea utterly ludicrous, however, nearly all of them underestimated the affect that the Internet has and is continually having on “broadcast TV.”  As I've said, two decades ago I was lucky enough to foresee how TV viewing was going to change.  Now I reckon that in the next 20 to 30 years television is going to be turned inside out by virtual reality.  I think we’re witnessing a major technology switch where established companies are losing ground to new players, and Facebook is playing the central role.  Existing TV companies would be wise to start acquiring expertise in virtual reality if they want to hold onto their positions within the entertainment industry.  It’s the all-important advertising business which funds ‘free’ services on commercial TV, or Internet companies like Google and Facebook.  Facebook struck lucky because social networking is particularly suitable as a mobile activity, and it turned out that this is where most people were spending the majority of their mobile minutes using their shiny new smartphones.  Where the audience goes, advertising quickly follows and, like television viewing, social networking is sufficiently absorbing to create the longer dwell times and large audiences that advertisers need.  There are two reasons that advertisers buy online advertising, the first is to produce a “direct response” where viewers are driven to a website to buy or read something, and the second is to tell or remind viewers about a product or service, creating “brand awareness.”  Google's search engine excels at direct response advertising, (but not brand awareness), and this has provided ample money for everything that Google is up to.  Meanwhile Facebook’s mobile advertising fortune is flourishing not only because social networking is effective for both types of online advertising, but because they can also provide advertisers with detailed demographic targeting information in a way that Google can’t replicate.  Currently mobile advertising makes up 78% of Facebook's total advertising income of $4.3 billion which produces 74% of Facebook's total annual income.  This didn’t happen because of Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg's genius, but by serendipity and sheer good luck.  But it wasn’t all easy.  Not long after Facebook started, people in developed countries started to switch to smartphones and Facebook struggled to produce a mobile application that worked at a reasonable speed.  The company bet on beating the competition by writing its mobile applications in HTML 5 when the language was still very new.  If the gamble had paid off Facebook would have only needed to write one application to run on Apple iPhones as well as Google Android phones.  Unfortunately Facebook hit problems and, after a couple of years development, had to scrap what they’d done and rewrite two mobile applications in native code, one for the iPhone and one for Android.  So the company came close to missing being the leading platform for mobile advertising that they are now.  Mark Zuckerberg described this as his “biggest mistake”. What's all this to do with Facebook becoming a future TV platform which could rival broadcast TV and Internet video on-demand?  Zuckerberg believes that virtual reality is the next big shift in computing, and I agree with him.  The hardware and software technology is reaching a point where immersive 360 degree video is possible.  (360 video is video that viewers can manipulate in any direction using a virtual reality headset and a touch device).   And this will suit the microprocessor industry as we’re not buying computers, or even smartphones, as we used to because those we have are already powerful enough to do everything we want them to do.  Not so with virtual reality.  This will soak up all the computing power available for the next decade or more.  Mark Zuckerberg is investing heavily into being able to handle 360 video.  He aims to put Facebook at the centre of how moving images will be consumed in the future – virtual reality.  It's a hugely ambitious move and if it comes off it will place Facebook at the head of a large-scale, immersive entertainment business which will naturally become a powerful advertising medium for both direct response and brand awareness.  As part of his forward thinking, Zuckerberg bought Oculus VR for $2 billion early in 2014.  This company makes the Oculus Rift headset that is going to ship on 28 th  March this year.  If you look at the Rift, you might think this is just a device for games.   But as Zuckerberg said when he bought the company: “After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court-side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face - just by putting on goggles in your home.”  Right now Facebook is re-engineering its computing platform to handle 360 video.  To manage the huge data demands the company is writing innovative software and developing new hardware so their data centres will be able to cope with the enormous bandwidth 360 video requires.  (Facebook is also pooling resources with open source projects involving competitors like Netflix and YouTube).  This aspiring development will take some time to produce so only expect to see games for a while, but virtual reality will really take off when VR enabled smartphones are launched - and they’re on their way. One thing that makes me certain that virtual reality, and consequently Facebook, will be successful is pornography.  The porn industry is always very quick to utilise any technology that helps their business, for example, they were the first to use pop-up windows within an Internet browser, something that was later copied by the online advertising industry.  Plagued by so much free Internet pornography, several companies are already adopting 360 video and a range of new services.  If you doubt me try this link or this one.  As Jaron Lanier, one of the most thoughtful virtual reality pioneers, once said “You have really never seen reality until you’ve just come out of virtual reality.”  I reckon this is the next Big Thing in computing so it won’t be long before headsets start appearing in the data as the people’s most important devices. February 2016
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Reality hits TV…

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Reality hits TV…

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Our children will live in a world that is going to be quite different to the one we are used to.  The working skills that have helped us survive are very unlikely to be the talents needed by our children.  Just think: taking a good family photo used to require a light meter, lots of fiddling, and a steady hand supporting the camera.  Nowadays instant snaps are taken digitally, using a smartphone, so technology controls the focus and exposure, as well as compensating for a little wobble;   Many complex mathematical calculations that needed time and concentration to work out with pen and paper are now solved in milliseconds using computer spreadsheets;   And where researching specialist subjects required hours of diligent reading in a library, information is now available instantly on the Internet via Wikipedia, You Tube and forums.  Since the advent of the computer transformed our lives, technical innovations are coming so thick and fast it’s had to keep up.  My two year old granddaughter already manages to entertain herself using her mother’s iPad.  It’s odd to reflect that such a young child may already be acquiring obsolescent skills, and who knows what extraordinary developments will happen in her lifetime?  Such thoughts crossed my mind coming home after lunch with a 94 year old relative, who has several great grandchildren, when I heard that I had just had another grandchild myself.  How on earth can we prepare our children to live fulfilled lives when we know so little about the future they will inhabit?  Well, one of the best techniques that I know is to look closely at what’s happening around us because, as William Gibson first pointed out back in 1993: “the future is already here – it's just not very evenly distributed.”  Take television viewing for example, over the next 20 to 30 years it’s going to change out of all recognition, and it’s already beginning.  According to some recent research children and teenagers now spend more time using the Internet than they do watching TV.  And when they do watch TV they are more likely to be viewing the Netflix on-demand service than any conventional live television channel.  This behaviour is particularly pronounced in the 15 to 16 year age group where only a quarter of them watch “broadcast” TV as it is being transmitted.  Their remaining TV time is consumed by catch- up or on-demand services like YouTube.  Back in 1996 I wrote an article you can view via the wayback machine which predicted that interactive digital video would become the normal method of viewing video images – something we now call “video on-demand.”  Back then, I predicted that this would seem so natural that, to quote myself: “Future generations will look back to the end of the twentieth century and try and imagine what linear video was like.”  I also said that the concept of “broadcast” video where everybody sat down at the same time to watch exactly the same program would seem very weird - like a dystopian world similar to that depicted by George Orwell in 1984.  I wasn't being particularly prescient because 20 years ago I was working with a very expensive computer animation system and I realised that the way we were manipulating and re-ordering rendered frames could also be done using a server and the Internet – it was only a question of having enough bandwidth, and I knew that more bandwidth was coming.  Today's children are growing up in a world where every civilised country has more than enough bandwidth to stream high definition video images, and naturally the interactive video on-demand route is chosen because nobody ever really wanted to wait for a program to be “broadcast.”  We are at another inflection point where technology demands a massive increase in bandwidth now. You can see the beginning of this different behaviour demonstrated in the PowerPoint chart above.  I've taken the data from the current The Communications Market report from Ofcom which uses a total sample size of 1,890 people, with at least 250 in each age segment.  Every year Ofcom gets their research company to ask the same question: which media device would participants miss the most if it got taken away?  And in the last three years the number choosing a TV, a personal computer or laptop, or a radio, has fallen whilst the number selecting their Internet-enabled smartphone as their one essential media device has risen.  To illustrate this I've edited the data down to make it easier to compare the differences between what is important for younger and older people.  As the chart shows: older people think their TV is their most important device while for younger age groups it’s their smartphone.  This chart should concern everyone who works in the media industry.  Radio is only really valued by older people, it is insignificant in importance for those under 25.  A similar situation involves anything printed - newspapers, magazines and books are again only of importance to the middle-aged and older.  Interestingly, personal computers, laptops and tablets have roughly the same interest level across young and older age groups.  On the other hand, games consoles are only important for younger people and progressively lose their appeal with age.  This dramatic switch to valuing the Internet over the television set isn't necessarily bad news for those involved in film and TV production.  A lot of the increase in Internet time is spent viewing moving images so the demand for this kind of content remains as popular as ever.  What we are witnessing is the transition away from the old-style, passive “appointment TV” watching, received via a broadcast signal, to the modern world where any television program or film is available at any time on a web link.  People's appetite for compelling stories told by using moving images and sound is undiminished and will remain until the era of immersive virtual reality entertainment arrives.  And that virtual reality future is not that far off because companies like Facebook are already investing heavily to make it occur.  For several years I misjudged Facebook as I thought once the novelty wore off people would tire of being swamped by so much information about what their “friends” were doing.  A few people have discovered the “time suck” nature of social networking, and have periods of detoxing, but even more folk are spending increasing amounts of time on Facebook - especially on their mobile phones.  So Facebook could well become the leading platform for the way film, video and moving images will be consumed for most of the 21 st  Century.  Many people in the TV industry will consider this idea utterly ludicrous, however, nearly all of them underestimated the affect that the Internet has and is continually having on “broadcast TV.”  As I've said, two decades ago I was lucky enough to foresee how TV viewing was going to change.  Now I reckon that in the next 20 to 30 years television is going to be turned inside out by virtual reality.  I think we’re witnessing a major technology switch where established companies are losing ground to new players, and Facebook is playing the central role.  Existing TV companies would be wise to start acquiring expertise in virtual reality if they want to hold onto their positions within the entertainment industry.  It’s the all-important advertising business which funds ‘free’ services on commercial TV, or Internet companies like Google and Facebook.  Facebook struck lucky because social networking is particularly suitable as a mobile activity, and it turned out that this is where most people were spending the majority of their mobile minutes using their shiny new smartphones.  Where the audience goes, advertising quickly follows and, like television viewing, social networking is sufficiently absorbing to create the longer dwell times and large audiences that advertisers need.  There are two reasons that advertisers buy online advertising, the first is to produce a “direct response” where viewers are driven to a website to buy or read something, and the second is to tell or remind viewers about a product or service, creating “brand awareness.”  Google's search engine excels at direct response advertising, (but not brand awareness), and this has provided ample money for everything that Google is up to.  Meanwhile Facebook’s mobile advertising fortune is flourishing not only because social networking is effective for both types of online advertising, but because they can also provide advertisers with detailed demographic targeting information in a way that Google can’t replicate.  Currently mobile advertising makes up 78% of Facebook's total advertising income of $4.3 billion which produces 74% of Facebook's total annual income.  This didn’t happen because of Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg's genius, but by serendipity and sheer good luck.  But it wasn’t all easy.  Not long after Facebook started, people in developed countries started to switch to smartphones and Facebook struggled to produce a mobile application that worked at a reasonable speed.  The company bet on beating the competition by writing its mobile applications in HTML 5 when the language was still very new.  If the gamble had paid off Facebook would have only needed to write one application to run on Apple iPhones as well as Google Android phones.  Unfortunately Facebook hit problems and, after a couple of years development, had to scrap what they’d done and rewrite two mobile applications in native code, one for the iPhone and one for Android.  So the company came close to missing being the leading platform for mobile advertising that they are now.  Mark Zuckerberg described this as his “biggest mistake”. What's all this to do with Facebook becoming a future TV platform which could rival broadcast TV and Internet video on-demand?  Zuckerberg believes that virtual reality is the next big shift in computing, and I agree with him.  The hardware and software technology is reaching a point where immersive 360 degree video is possible.  (360 video is video that viewers can manipulate in any direction using a virtual reality headset and a touch device).   And this will suit the microprocessor industry as we’re not buying computers, or even smartphones, as we used to because those we have are already powerful enough to do everything we want them to do.  Not so with virtual reality.  This will soak up all the computing power available for the next decade or more.  Mark Zuckerberg is investing heavily into being able to handle 360 video.  He aims to put Facebook at the centre of how moving images will be consumed in the future – virtual reality.  It's a hugely ambitious move and if it comes off it will place Facebook at the head of a large-scale, immersive entertainment business which will naturally become a powerful advertising medium for both direct response and brand awareness.  As part of his forward thinking, Zuckerberg bought Oculus VR for $2 billion early in 2014.  This company makes the Oculus Rift headset that is going to ship on 28 th  March this year.  If you look at the Rift, you might think this is just a device for games.   But as Zuckerberg said  when he bought the company: “After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court-side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face - just by putting on goggles in your home.”  Right now Facebook is re- engineering its computing platform to handle 360 video.  To manage the huge data demands the company is writing innovative software and developing new hardware so their data centres will be able to cope with the enormous bandwidth 360 video requires.  (Facebook is also pooling resources with open source projects involving competitors like Netflix and YouTube).  This aspiring development will take some time to produce so only expect to see games for a while, but virtual reality will really take off when VR enabled smartphones are launched - and they’re on their way. One thing that makes me certain that virtual reality, and consequently Facebook, will be successful is pornography.  The porn industry is always very quick to utilise any technology that helps their business, for example, they were the first to use pop-up windows within an Internet browser, something that was later copied by the online advertising industry.  Plagued by so much free Internet pornography, several companies are already adopting 360 video and a range of new services.  If you doubt me try this link or this one.  As Jaron Lanier, one of the most thoughtful virtual reality pioneers, once said “You have really never seen reality until you’ve just come out of virtual reality.”  I reckon this is the next Big Thing in computing so it won’t be long before headsets start appearing in the data as the people’s most important devices. February 2016