By: Spencer Kennedy
My initial plan was to start off with an anecdote about learning “ecosystems” in elementary school. I was going to find the dictionary definition, and then provide the newer but similar definition of a “media ecosystem” as a fun transition. But silly me – technology and media play such a vital role in society that the second entry for “ecosystem” on dictionary.com is already one step ahead of me:
(noun) any system of interconnecting and interacting parts, as in a business:
The success of Apple’s ecosystem depends on hardware/software integration.
This is not as inappropriate as I made it seem, considering this is probably one of the most common uses of the word today; but I cannot deny that I am unsettled by yet another example of Apple’s pervasiveness, this time in a setting far beyond its realm of dominance.
Half-assed criticisms aside, I would like to discuss the notion of a media ecosystem and look at some recent industry trends. As dictionary.com said, a media ecosystem involves all of the working parts of a business system on both the supply and consumer sides. This is a broad term, including everything from products and manufacturers to revenue streams and publicity to customer feedback and loyalty.
Decades ago, Apple was known for Mac computers; Facebook was known for connecting with friends; and Google was known for finding results for your Internet queries. The same holds today, except each of these companies has assumed a plethora of additional identities as well – video streamer, advertiser, gaming center, news source, etc. etc.
Consumers are indifferent, and in most cases pleased with these developments. One-stop shopping for all of our digital needs is convenient, even at the cost of sub-par quality and unjustifiable prices. Not all conglomerates are guilty as charged, but this pattern of expanding media ecosystems is undoubtedly trending.
Examples of such market integration include original television series by Netflix and Amazon; video-streaming services that work around cable; tablet and smartphone apps for news, games, and more; and, most recently, fully-equipped and interconnected living room TV sets offered by Apple, Google, Roku, and now Amazon.
Amazon Fire TV is the newest competitor in the digital television-set market. The idea is to offer access to video, audio, and gaming exclusively through Amazon, who can then direct users to other Amazon products and services.
The idea of horizontal integration is nothing new to business, but the effectiveness and pervasiveness of today’s largest media ecosystems is unprecedented. “Monopoly” and “conglomerate” are overused euphemisms these days, yet they have never been more relevant (no we haven’t forgotten you yet Rockefeller).
I will not argue that this is inherently bad, although I would like to. What I will say is that the media landscape is becoming more and more concentrated, and that consumers are being presented with what seems like more options, but it is not so. We do have more freedom is accessing materials within one company’s ecosystem, but we are losing our freedom of choice among truly competing products and services. I say “truly” competing because true competition leads to higher quality products and lower prices, neither of which is entirely true today.
Anyways, congratulations to Amazon for successfully launching Fire TV (not sarcastic). I can’t say I will be purchasing the $99 dollar package, but I will surely be browsing its selection at a friend’s house sometime soon.