I think I was on my first long haul airplane flight 30 years or so ago when the idea struck me. Back then jumbo jets took 30 hours to fly to Australia from the UK with 5 stop overs. At your seat you could flick the channel of the entertainment system’s handset to hear comedy, the latest pop hits, or classical music. There were maybe 12 channels tops, but to me this was electrifying – imagine being able to listen to what you wanted, when you wanted, and go back around the channel again laughing along to your favourite comedy routine, or listening to your favourite tracks.
On that same trip I bought my first walkman (in Melbourne’s Victoria Markets) and slipped in a cassette (remember those?) of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I listened to this on a continuous loop for weeks. Listening when I wanted, where I wanted, anytime. Reverse, play a favourite track again.
They say the head of Sony persisted with the Walkman’s development even though research suggested people wanted larger, bigger HiFis not a small mobile device you had to listen with headphones. He said, “No, this will be a hit – people are bored.”
Yeah, walkmans reduced the boredom of youth, but they also gave us instant entertainment, when we wanted it, on the move. It was the first mobile device, a forerunner of what was to come in the 2000s with the iPod, iPhone and iPad.
Back in the 1980s, the idea hit me that I (and millions more like me) wanted to consume music, or comedy, and favourite TV shows or movies whenever we wanted, at anytime. The idea of listening for the track on the radio or waiting to sit down and watch a show at a time appointed by someone else did not seem as good. VCRs were part of the solution, but were not mobile.
Perhaps it was around this time media splintered, and the era of mass broadcasting started slipping slowly away. Before this time, with maybe 3 TV stations across one country, a joke or event would pass into the national consciousness overnight. Everyone would be talking about it the next day. Everyone else had sat down and watched too.
No more. Apart from the odd realty TV show hit, we don’t seem to sit around and watch shows anymore. [Although even those wither on the vine pretty quickly.] We binge consume on DVD packs, from downloaded services or saved Foxtel IQ. We want it now, whenever, at anytime.
This desire for ‘everything on demand’ was always there, but untouched. Now, it’s the new normal. It’s a challenge not only for media, but for every business out there.