Will Audio become the New Video?

26 May,2022



By Ashoke Agarrwal


Ashoke AgarrwalTime was when radio was the go-to mass media for entertainment and news.


And then video sank the audio ship.


Broadcast TV ruled the roost for close to five decades. But, over the past couple of decades, the internet, social media and streaming have begun to eat broadcast TVs’ lunch.


However, though the delivery platforms might be changing, the content format remains the same – video and more video. From short-form videos to Netflix binge sessions, video probably accounts for more than 80% of media consumption among today’s young. So much so, that it is becoming a thumb rule in advertising that if you don’t say it in video, you have lost your young audience.


But then, every coin has its other side.


Screen fatigue is setting in with the young. Studies by The Mckinsey Global Institute and media research by IPA Touchpoints discern a significant shift in Gen Z, the generation born after 1995.


Gen Z seeks new experiences and likes to experiment with new identities.


In other words, they seek a greater agency for themselves – to be more in control of every experienced moment.


The passivity involved in watching a video lessens the agency of the individual. To watch a video is to surrender your senses to the video.


The consequence is that there are incipient signs of the young moving away from passive video watching.


Some media mavens believe that the maturing of VR leading to more immersive gaming and the metaverse will solve the passivity problem.


Perhaps so, but to my mind, the jury is still out on that assertion. Gen Z is also much more tech and marketing savvy than previous generations. As a result, they may see VR and the metaverse as marketing machinations that further reduce and not enhance their agency.


While the genuinely immersive and convenient VR and the metaverse are still years away, there is a medium that may replace video as the principal media consumption format among Gen Z.


There are already signs that streaming audio – music, podcasts and – audiobooks – are increasing their share of Gen Z’s media consumption. The IPA Touchpoints study offers an insight into why this is so. Many in Gen Z see streaming audio listened to on headrests as a pleasing, relaxing soundtrack to their lives. They dip in and dip out of it as they go about their lives – walking, trekking, shopping etc… An essential aspect of headset streamed audio is that it is intensely private, allowing one the choice to be secretly elsewhere when stuck in an unpleasant social situation. A recent ad campaign for Spotify India powerfully illustrated this. They depict teenagers’ content with their Spotify stream as they sit through otherwise awkward situations. Say, uncle types heatedly arguing about the obnoxious anchor as the TV news played in the background or auntie types harassing a talkative saree salesperson in a stuffy showroom.


A friend in the publishing world tells me that literature is making a comeback with the young with the emergence of richly-produced audiobooks.


The IPA Touchpoint study also reveals that Gen Z trusts information that they receive through podcasts more than through other media. This increased trust could be because they see podcasts as individuals’ products rather than faceless organisations. They also take them more seriously than social media posts as they recognise social media posts governed by a mad scramble for likes and followers.


Audio could take over Augmented Reality (AR) as AR becomes a part of day-to-day life. Instead of outputting visually-distracting text or video on your AR glasses, users might prefer audio outputs streamed through smart earpods.


Every science fiction film worth the label shows futuristic computers responding mainly to audio inputs. Siri and Alexa are leading the way. I believe that in the near term, an increasing number of smartphone functions will shift to intelligent earpods while the smartphone shrinks to become a wristphone a la Dick Tracy. Très chic!


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