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Conscious Consumption: How the Digital Media Landscape Is Changing

November 5, 2016



With the election only four days away, can you believe there is a topic that both Trump and Clinton actually agree on?  In the midst of one of the most heated presidential elections ever, both candidates are united on one thing: AT&T’s intended purchase of Time Warner for $85.4 billion would be problematic and detrimental to the customers because of the media monopoly that would ensue.  


However, AT&T wasn’t the only media company to shake things up. Just last week Twitter announced that they would be discontinuing the popular mobile media app ‘Vine’.  The six- second video platform, which served as a tool for self-activists to share what was going on in contested times prior to Facebook Live and Periscope, is now out of business due to high operating costs. 


The popular video app fell apart predominantly because Instagram introduced a 15-second video launch two years ago. Instagram, which is owned by the social media giant Facebook, is also slowly chipping away at the extremely popular social media app Snapchat:  “Instagram stories bears a striking resemblance — some might say it is a carbon copy — to Snapchat Stories, a photo- and video-sharing format where the stories also disappear after no more than 24 hours.” Facebook, similar to AT&T and Comcast, is positioning itself as the sole proprietor to social media content.  As NPR accurately detailed last month, this is a dangerous game for consumers.


Yet as the bigger media companies jockey for position and spend billions of dollars acquiring assets, there was a positive purchase in the digital entertainment industry last month. Soulpancake, which was started in 2009 by actor Rainn Wilson (who is most known for his character Dwight from The Office), was purchased by Participant Media.  “The transaction gives the financial backer [Participant Media] of feature films like ‘Spotlight,’ ‘The Help,’ and ‘Lincoln’ control of a maker of short-form videos and inspirational programs [Soulpancake].”


For someone who was been consuming and utilizing Soulpancake in my classroom over the past four years, I am elated by this news!  As Happy Friday continues to grow, I wholeheartedly recognize that the initiative I had to teach students about positive thinking and acting with compassion and empathy would not have been possible without Soulpancake’s YouTube channel.  Trying to relate and get across to Generation Z is challenging when you don’t have the video content to back it up, and Wilson’s content, which explored the science of happiness, homelessnessinspirationamong others, was a bright spot in a sometimes melting pot of negativity that is the Internet.  Wilson expanded on this, “Just a few years ago, the Internet was pretty bleak…so I created Soulpancake- a space where people could chew on life’s big questions and explore what it means to be human.”


As referenced above, it is evident that the media landscape will continue to change; because of that, it’s worth thinking about not only what type of media we consume, but also how we consume it.


The University of California Berkeley, in an effort to better understand our media habits, created a research team centered on this issue.  From Media Psychologist Dr. Sophie H. JanickeOne thing is for sure: We’re constantly being exposed to a range of emotions through media, and the kind of media we consume and create can affect us deeply. The average American adult spends over four hours watching TV, according toNielsen data from the last quarter of 2015—and three to four additional hours on their phones.


The last sentence in the quote above, which references our television and smartphone habits, is exactly why AT&T is positioning itself to be the largest player in the digital media realm. From an excellent read by the New York Times on Randall Stephenson, the Chief Executive of AT&T: "Buying Time Warner is the final step in what AT&T calls a “vertically integrated” conglomerate: One part of the company would produce “Game of Thrones,” Batman movies and CNN, and then make them available on satellite TV, smartphones and tablets. All the while, the same company would also collect copious amounts of data on its customers, helping advertisers more perfectly target audiences while collecting more money to pay for content."


Stephenson has recognized and is now capitalizing on our technological tendencies.  Consumption of media through smartphones and tablets has soared dramatically in the last five years.  As consumers, we spend countless hours taking in content.  Moving forward, I don’t expect this to change.  If anything, it will continue to increase.


 Yet, we have the choice to decide what we consume, and for that matter what we share.  Will we spread inspiration and positivity online?  Or will we fall into the pitfalls of consuming and creating content that negatively affects us?  As Janicke stated above, “The kind of media we consume and create can affect us deeply.”


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