Roughly 20 years ago, I started AOL Studios and AOL Greenhouse, a project that provided funding for small Internet start-ups. Both were to create and invest in new brands that were endemic to the online medium and not with the intent to repurpose content from another source. My job was to lead AOL's effort to develop original content for dissemination over what was not yet widely-called the Internet.
In the grand scheme of things, 20 years is not a very long time. However, then, this idea -- that is so obvious and so ubiquitous today -- was seen as ridiculous by most people. Going online was something people were just starting to do: at that point, over 90 percent of Americans were still not online. It is not just that they were not watching videos, or sharing photos, or reading news online -- 90 percent of Americans did not make regular use of any online connection. Only five percent of Americans said they had ever been on the World Wide Web. That year, a research group reported that "e-mail appears to be making a real impact" because the average email user was finally sending three emails a day.
We believed that some day people would consume media -- the content they were receiving from newspapers, television programs, movies, and more -- online. And we believed in community -- specifically in the phrase "vox populi," meaning "voice of the people," and knew the Internet would be the platform that could bring the voice to the people.
We also realized that when a new medium is created -- for example, the Internet -- new brands and new talent tend to emerge from that medium. The magazine Sports Illustrated did not create the cable network ESPN and Rolling Stone did not create MTV. Instead, we saw new businesses emerging from this new platform creating new rules for their new medium.
Ten years later and ten years ago, I was Vice Chairman of AOL when Huffington Post was launched. Already, so much had changed. People still weren't watching much video content online -- YouTube had exactly one video posted for viewing in late April 2005, but change was in the air. That year, I told a reporter, "The great news about content online is that it will continue to proliferate and become more and more personalized and user-generated." A media revolution was about to get underway.
"In the next ten years, we will see the definition of media continuing to take on a new meaning almost every day. In a way, the term "media" itself may be endangered as a concept ..."
Everyone can see that the rapid pace of change in technology combined with the Internet has left no part of the media industry untouched, and the industry continues to grapple with what seems to be a constant stream of new technological disruption. Technology has changed how content is created, the cost of creation, the role of the publisher, the vehicle for consumption, and how content is discovered or shared. It has also become increasingly apparent that consumers want control over the content they consume and are using technology in every way they know how to get to that content.
There is an innovate-or-die mentality in most industries these days, and I believe that to be even truer in the world of media. I see this every day at my company Monumental Sports &; Entertainment, which owns three Washington-area sports teams, the Capitals, Wizards, and the Mystics -- and where we have built our own network to distribute content about the teams (and even the Mystics games themselves) without relying on broadcast or cable television. I see this in the companies we are considering investing in through Revolution Growth, where the pace of change and disruption in the media sector is striking and rapid.
In the next ten years, we will see the definition of media continuing to take on a new meaning almost every day. In a way, the term "media" itself may be endangered as a concept: who is and isn't a member of the media is harder to understand today than it was when television broadcasters and newspaper publishers were the rulers of the realm. Today, almost every person is their own "media" entity: publishing content on social media, posting videos on YouTube, streaming events via Meerkat and Periscope. Personalities, creativity and content -- not distribution -- are in control. We can watch what we want to watch, where we want to watch it, and how we want to watch it. Businesses built on restricting or limiting that are bound to fail.
Technology will continue to play an important role in how quickly and exponentially the industry changes and mobile will continue to become the most dominant platform for consumption. Platforms for peer-to-peer distribution will continue to emerge and transform how traditional media functions. And the pace of media consumption will accelerate much faster than it has over the previous ten years.
It was twenty years from "three emails a day" to the vast deluge of content headed our way, each day, via the Internet. It took ten years to get from the first video on YouTube to Game of Thrones on HBO GO. Whether you consider that a long time, or -- as I think of it -- the blink of an eye, now that we've arrived at this new reality, consumers will watch more and more content on more and more devices with more and more control than ever before.
This post is part of a series commemorating The Huffington Post's 10 Year Anniversary through expert opinions looking forward to the next decade in their respective fields. To see all of the posts in the series, read here.
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