Friday, October 10, 2008

Entertainment and Web 2.0 - The New World

About 15 years ago, the Time Magazine carried a cover story about "The Strange New World of the Internet"- well, we can now say that we are in this New World.

A world where three distinct forces are impacting us: globalization, the ascendance of China and India, and Web 2.0. 

It is a new world, where boundaries both economic and cultural ­ are coming crashing down; where emerging markets have materialized as strategy drivers for most corporations; and, where communication has become as it ought to be ­ one-on-one and interactive.

While there is a lot to be said about the first two forces, this post will focus on the impact that Web 2.0 is having, on consumers and businesses. A follow-up post will discuss the implications for the telecom sector.

When the telephone was introduced, it took this great invention nearly 100 years to become popularly adopted. The cell-phone fared much better, in only 20 years it was available in more than 80% of the world. And then, shift to 2005, a new service was launched which in less than 2 years had become the leading service in its class, available worldwide.

Yes, we are talking about YouTube that has put the power to express and share in our hands. Today, everyone has the chance to become a star, take Judson whose 6 minute dance video is one of the most widely watched performances ever with over 100 million views in 30 months! YouTube serves up hundreds of millions of videos daily making it one of the largest media companies in the world. The other similar phenomenon is iTunes which has become the   world's largest diistributor of music -- ahead of traditional retailers like Walmart -- having sold 5 billion songs in the last few years. It is now trying to repeat the performance with Movies - nearly 50,000 movies are rented or sold on iTunes everyday.

Undoubtedly, the media industry is in the midst of a major re-alignment.

If iTunes, YouTube and other such sites have changed the way we create, share and consume content, sites like Facebook and Orkut are changing our social behaviour. There is empirical evidence that large numbers of young people have more friends online than otherwise, and surely, they are more comfortable "hanging out" - chatting, sharing photos and videos and playing games with their online contacts than say, playing galli cricket!

These interactive platforms and capabilities are also creating other new applications like E-learning and Digital-cinema. I personally believe that Education can be transformed by the capabilities of Web 2.0: why can't we move to a world where all people have access to good quality education, in an interactive manner, independent of geography and time-zone? What an Idea! 

The spread of the Web 2.0 phenomenon is assisted by the availability of new access devices that have challenged the computer's dominance as the Internet access device. Whether it is the iPhone or the G-phone, gaming devices like Wii or Xbox, book readers from Sony or Amazon and VoIP phones, new exciting applications are being enabled through more appropriate end-equipment.  This is particularly relevant that we now have new segments of users, young and old, and from emerging markets that are now beginning to access and discover the power of the Web.

Already, Broadband is reasonably well distributed across the world: AsiaPac contributes nearly 40% of the 300Mn broadband homes and is expected to drive large part of future growth. 
We are also seeing the development of strong revenue models to support Web2.0 - consumers are showing a willingness to pay for the content they consume and as they continue to substitute their media & content spend from the physical world, one can expect online paid content market to grow rapidly.

While the visible face of Web2.0 is in consumer applications of music, video and social networking, businesses are also adopting the power of these technologies to improve how the communicate and collaborate -- amongst themselves and with external stakeholders, like customers, partners and employees. This could be in the form of marketing,  training,  recruitment, market research, etc. Particularly in an environment where there is considerable pressure on corporates to contain operating costs, the Web can provide very effective business tools at unbelievably low costs.

And if consumers and businesses adopt Web 2.0, can politicians be left behind?

It is believed that campaigning using the Web and SMS will play a decisive role in this year's US Presidential elections, taking the messages to voters in a highly customized, interactive and personal manner. Even in India, politicians have begun using these technologies to reach out to the 'so-called middle class' that traditionally stays away from political activities and would never attend a political rally.

So, what does all this do to the data traffic on the Internet? Already, it is believed that video-based traffic constitutes over 50% of all bandwidth consumption. Over the next few years, nearly 80% of all traffic - on public Internet as well as private networks - would be video. This trend is clearly reflected in the growth of Internet bandwidth - 50-60% per annum globally. What is more interesting is that developing markets are catching up in most of these markets, including India, we are observing 100% per annum growth in bandwidth demand.

It is estimated that over the next decade, we will consume 100 times more bandwidth than we do today!

So, how is the telecom industry reacting to this exponential growth in demand, what are some of their strategies to remain relevant and succeed in this New World?

(This is derived from a presentation made by me at the National Telecom Seminar of the Symbiosis Institute of Telecom Management recently. Part Two of this post will follow soon. Time magazine image courtesy damclean)

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