I was pretty sure I'd hit my peak SXSW18 experience last night, when the Austin Rodeo I attended transformed into a Ludacris concert, which become a square dance, before ending as a petting zoo.
But alas, that title was reserved for today's awesomely brain scrambling presentation on ‘the end of content’ by Giphy CEO Alex Chung.
First up, some things you should know about Giphy:
They consider themselves a ‘humanist search company’. Yup, a new Google if you will. You see Google is 20 years old. It was made by academics at a time when the internet was largely academic. It prides itself on how little it's search results page has changed in this time. Which is weird, given how much everything else has. Mobile. Social. Messaging. And fun. 20 years ago the internet wasn't really fun. Today, it is. And increasingly, we expect it to be. Giphy believes that search should be more fun, more human, more visual and more entertaining.
Their numbers are absolutely monstrous. Each day, Giphy serves up 5 billion gifs. Over 300 million people receive one, culminating in over eight million hours of viewed content daily. Eight million hours - of gifs! For perspective, they currently serve 10% of the search volumes that Google does. Yes, 10%! I've often wondered what would, or even could, one day unseat Google's dominance of how we find things online. I knew it would take a different paradigm (like what Google did to Yahoo!), not just a better version of Google (what Bing tried to do to Google). I'm not saying Giphy is it, but it's by far the closest thing I've seen.
Their CEO is a brilliant thinker and a brilliant presenter. The entire 45 minute talk was accompanied by hilarious gifs that were sentence to sentence appropriate (which, admittedly, made it pretty tough to write good notes). Chung is one of those guys where when you watch them present, you feel kind of bad for their mouth. It’s doing its best but has been dealt an impossible hand - trying to keep up with the velocity of his brain. It’s not that his presentation was rushed, you could just tell his mind works on a whole different level.
The set up of the presentation was that we’ve reached ‘peak infinity’ for content. Creation has been so democratised that’s there’s an incomprehensible amount of it out there. Millenials are already watching 8 hours of the stuff a day, and until such time as we completely regress (or progress?) as a society, we’ve essentially maxed out our ability to consume it. There will never be more than 24 hours in a day, making it a zero sum game.
So what are we meant to do? Admit Netflix has won, pack up our toys and go home? They do plan to spend $8 billion (with a ‘b’) on content production next year…
Of course not! According to Chung, we’ve seen this exact situation before and worked out what to do with it. You see, it’s kind of like real estate, and we’re in the middle of a housing crisis. The content just keeps piling up, but there’s nowhere for it all to live.
Of course there’s Malibu. Prime time. Uninterrupted, appointment based viewing. Where everyone wants to be. Of course, land in Malibu is in super short supply and they’re not manufacturing any more. If we’re honest, Netflix and HBO have basically got this covered with their franchise shows like Stranger Things and GoT. But Giphy have a 23/7 outlook; there’s an hour for prime time, and everything else is up for grabs.
So when Malibu’s full, what do we do?
One option is we downsize. We get smaller. We move into apartments. It’s a little squishier but we’re still in the action. We share the space with others, which is kind of OK, but not exactly where we wanted to be. Maybe we’ll do some collaborations. You know, bring in a housemate or two, do a strategic partnership. But it can be awkward and annoying and often isn’t sustainable in the long term.
This is where the world of ever smaller content comes in. We’ve surprised ourselves with just how small apartments can get. The same will be true of content - and ads - online. Attention spans are down to 10 seconds. The average shot length in a movie or TV show is four seconds. Six second ads (and gifs) make a lot of sense.
Content this small can be ubiquitous. It can go anywhere and everywhere, fitting easily into the cracks of our 23 non prime time hours each day.
Next stop for a little more room is the suburbs. It’s roomier, and quieter. But, you know, it’s kind of boring. Chung had no hesitation referring to mainstream sites like Facebook as the suburbs.
We can spread ourselves out and make content a little longer here - though there’s a good chance nobody will take much notice. And while we’ve got room, and a nice compromise, we’ll often long for something better.
So we move way out. To the country or the farm or some place that normal city people just go to on holidays. Here, we have vast, open spaces and can pretty much do whatever we want. Sure, it’s nice to visit but let’s be honest - nobody really wants to live here.
In ad/content land, this could be the world of brand sites, niche pockets of the internet, or day time soap operas - where beautiful people do boring things.
If none of these solutions work, there’s always the ‘innovative’ approach. Trailers, mobile homes, houseboats and abandoned buildings. Sometimes these actually work out great, but often they’re considered ‘alternatives’ for a reason.
For Chung, this is where the likes of AR and VR come in, layering content on top of things that already exist, but haven’t previously been considered for the purpose we’ve got in mind.
All of which begs two questions.
1. What is Reddit?
Apparently, Reddit is that weird place downtown that everyone secretly goes to without telling anyone else. and;
2. Why do we choose to live in cramped, inner-city apartments when there are so many viable alternatives?
For the guys at Giphy, the answer is that it’s just more fun, which is exactly what they’re trying to bring to search, messaging, and the internet at large.