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Of Media Kings, Chessboards & Rice: The Future of Entertainment Is NOW

Work Ahead

Of Media Kings, Chessboards & Rice: The Future of Entertainment Is NOW

Legend holds that a conman craftsman once made a chessboard for a king. "Your Highness, I don't want money for this. Or jewels....

6 Minutes Read

Legend holds that a conman craftsman once made a chessboard for a king. "Your Highness, I don't want money for this. Or jewels. All I want is a little rice: a single grain on the first square, two grains on the second, four on the third, eight on the fourth, and so on and so on and so on, for the full 64 squares."

As many of the more mathematically-inclined among us know, by the 21st square the king owed over a million grains; by the 41st, it was over a trillion grains of rice — more rice than he, his subjects or any king anywhere could afford.

The parable of the king, the chessboard and the rice offers a profound analogy for media & Entertainment companies as to where they find themselves strategically in the Age of Algorithms, Automation and AI.

The M&E industry (really, a collection of industries: publishing, film, music, cable, broadcasting, advertising, gaming, etc.) was among the first to digitize its products and services. Whether it was talkies, Cinerama, Betamax, DVDs, Napster, the Kindle, Netflix, MP3s, or AR/VR, media & entertainment businesses have been grappling for decades to leverage technological advancements to innovate their platforms.

But today – shockingly -- most M&E businesses don’t consider themselves to be digital leaders.

Our new report The Second Half of the Chessboard: Media is Nearing the End of “Digital’s Beginning” we look at the new digital economics of the M&E industry, as well as the ways in which leadership and strategy – from linking customer interfaces to operational core functions, to preparing for the advent of the “experience economy” – will enable M&E leaders to innovate work in an increasingly digital future.

Even though M&E companies were among the earliest adopters of advanced digital technologies, it’s as if they’ve only just begun. Some would say they’re experiencing the “second half of the chessboard” conundrum, in which an exponentially growing factor begins to significantly impact business strategy.

But the technologies are merely a fuel; it’s their impact on business strategy that’s shaking the foundations of these industries to the core. If the industry once thought that digitizing its products and services was the endgame, M&E players now realize they’ve only made their first few moves.

Opportunities to increase revenues, tap new markets and beat the competition lurk everywhere. While it may seem unsettling to long-time industry veterans, the onslaught of change has arguably ushered in a golden age of television, a resurgence in documentary film making, an uptick in quality journalism, and bold new immersive experiences in gaming.

At the same time, it’s getting harder to discern the “clean bright lines” of the various M&E sectors. The examples are legion now, and around us everywhere we look.

· The expanding reach and market value of gaming sees universities now offering e-sport scholarships.

  • Amazon’s swift emergence as a major studio and content creator.
  • Facebook’s hyper-personalized ad-serving.
  • Netflix’s data mining to finely tailor content offerings to customer tastes.

The strategic list of the grains on the chessboard go on…

  • The “small screen” of living room TVs supplanting the “big screen” of movie theaters, and now the “mini-screen” of mobile devices has eclipsed both.
  • Rampant consolidation: Disney’s acquisitions of Fox and Lucasfilm, as well as the AT&T-Time Warner merger may just be beginning.
  • Check out Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s NewTV startup, offering two-minute snippets of content
  • Snapchat’s going them one better – fusing AR with mind-blowing, personalized, 15-second cartoons.

Sound these sound like crackpot ideas? Just ask your kids on Snapchat how often they’re using the embedded AR lenses. (According to the folks at Snapchat, it’s more than half of 13- to 34-year olds. Every. Single. Week...) So when you hear Tim Cook or Mark Zuckerberg talk about their strategies and visions for the AR world, pay attention. Like the old adage about hockey and pucks -- or rice and chessboards -- you’ll know it’s exactly where they are skating.

Beyond the front office, where consumers have been treated to digital products and services from M&E providers for the better part of two decades, the middle and back offices are the new digital frontier. Consider that in early 2018, Netflix released the latest film in the Cloverfield series to a rapturous reception from fans with no advance warning, save for one commercial during the Super Bowl, just a few hours prior to release. That’s a media game-changer, all at the push of a (very sophisticated) digital button. More out-of-left-field moves like Netflix’s will rock the operating models and organizational alignment of all players in the industry.

At shift points like this, the old rulebooks no longer apply. If your organization feels it is doing “well enough” now, sustaining or redoubling those efforts may still not be enough moving forward. Bold moves are required to heighten contact, augment creativity and cultivate attention spans. The changes to come will make today’s M&E trends such as cord-cutting, paywalls, Slingbox, Apple TV and targeted advertising seem quaint.

And, like a good gamer, don’t be caught playing checkers; if you’re a leader in media & entertainment, it’s time to start playing chess.

The new whitepaper from the Center for the Future of Work is entitled: “The Work Ahead -- The Second Half of the Chessboard: Media is Nearing the End of “Digital’s Beginning”. It can be downloaded at:

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