Some time ago I attended a seminar about future trends in new media and broadcasting.  I almost always come away from these things with a mixture of disbelief and mild anger. This is because what is presented is often dubious in the extreme and just doesn’t seem to have much connection to what is really going on.  Enevitably people centre on the notion that traditional ‘broadcast’ media is finished and we’re all living in an on-demand world with everything else in some way null and void.  As I said here The Braodcast ere is finished, there is not the tiniest fragment of evidence to support this: We simply have additional technologies and means of distribution available that people can choose to use or not.  The technology ‘visionaries’ always seem to think in terms of replacement and revolution, and the theory that technological developments result in the wholesale replacement of any other way of doing something.  They can’t seem to grasp the fact that this rarely actually happens. The world of technology does not operate on revolution, it works by giving people choices they can choose to adopt or not as they see fit.  

One other thing that got wheeled out at this event was the issue of what the kids are doing.  Younger people are not consuming traditional media but going elsewhere for it – Bebo, Myspace, Youtube, LastFM, you name it. They don’t see buying music as ‘cool’ – they prefer to get it free from sharing services – Limewire, BitTorrent and the like.  Traditional media outlets are struggling to connect with this audience.  We’re doomed, the industry landscape is changing, there is a seismic change  etc..

This is interesting, and there is certainly some truth in it.  The problem I have with this assessment though, is that it always seems to contain the (subliminal, admittedly) message that this is how young people will behave throughout their whole life.  In other words, young people aren’t watching TV so therefore they will never watch TV at any point when they get older. So, by interviewing and analysing what young people are doing we are building up a vision of the future:  We are predicting the habits of the adults of tommorow.

Researching the habits of young people to predict the future in this way is extremely dangerous in my opinion – quite simply because your views and opinions change. Interview young people today and they might well be glued to Bebo and Myspace (or at least that is what they’ll tell you).  Interview them 5 years later and you’ll get a very different opinion.  Obviously technology will have changed in the interim, but there is no evidence to suggest they won’t come back to TV, Radio, printed media or whatever else.  TV and Radio audiences are actually holding up well at the moment, with TV viewing actually higher in the UK than it was 10 years ago.  Obviously we won’t be back to the era of shows getting 21 million viewers, but (as I have had to remind people on ocassion) those days were over long before broadband.  So what are we to make of that? Beware of ‘Visionaries’ predicting the future, I’d say….