5G to enable remote robotic surgery! UK telcos spend big in 5G spectrum auction! Europe lagging behind in 5G! Pre-2020 to deliver ‘5G lite’ only! China leading 5G charge!
If there’s one common thread uniting coverage and opinion on the next-generation connectivity standard, it is a sentiment of uncertainty. Commercial deployment – the who, what, where and when – is predicted and retracted, with China, Korea and the US all ‘leading the race’ at varying stages and to varying degrees.
Babel represents clients from across the telecoms and associated technology sectors, meaning we’ve been following – and sharing – news and updates on 5G for some time. So when 5G World arrived in London on Tuesday as part of the city’s Tech Week, the team were intrigued to learn what stakeholders were saying, predicting, claiming and – hopefully – delivering.
The show didn’t officially open its doors until midday on Tuesday, but keen to stay one step ahead of the game, we arrived bright and early for the GSA Workshop which preceded Day One’s timetabled activity. The Global mobile Suppliers Association celebrated 20 years of industry involvement and support with a series of presentations from the likes of Ericsson, Huawei, Intel and Viavi Solutions.
Caroline Chan, VP and GM of Intel’s 5G Infrastructure Division, focussed on mobile edge computing (MEC), whereby cloud and processing capabilities are moved to the edge of the network, therefore closer to the end-user. Chan named China as the birthplace of MEC – and the place, from a tech standpoint “where everything seems to start” – and developments in this area, as well as in 5G, rapidly moving from hype to deployment.
Recent sporting events in Asia have stoked 5G/MEC R&D efforts, with each spectacle moving the region one step closer to deployment. Chan highlighted the Pyeongchang Winter Games – “the coldest two weeks of my life” – as a major milestone, and revealed work that Intel had done with e-commerce group Alibaba, involving facial recognition technology. As sinister as it may sound, the tech was used to predict consumer behaviour and the movement of crowds; something which will be of huge value to retailers, city planners and for traffic monitoring and control, said Chan.
Yet Asia may not be heading up the 5G game for much longer though. According to Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report, released on Day One of 5G World, North America will soon take the lead. All major operators in the US are expected to have deployed 5G before mid-2019, and by the end of 2023 almost half of all mobile subscriptions in the region will be for 5G. North East Asia follows at 34% of subs, and Western Europe trails behind at around one-fifth.
And how about London? How will 5G World’s host city contribute to that 21%, and how/will the city leverage 5G to enable “the forth industrial revolution”?
East London’s Docklands could not be a more apt setting for the event, Ulrich Droppmann, VP of the GSA’s Executive Board (also Head of Standardisation at Nokia), commented. Now a riverfront development, the area was initially created to support the swell in international trade, and the industrial and agricultural change which swept south from manufacturing heartlands in northern England. This first revolution was followed by periods shaped by mass production and electricity, communications and the internet, and now, digital transformation: the “forth industrial revolution.”
The roadmap for what this might involve was presented by London Mayor Sadiq Khan at 5G World. His Smarter London Together plan encompasses a number of proposed initiatives, including data sharing amongst public services, a London-wide cyber-security strategy, and commissioning smart city infrastructure from vehicle charging points to pollution-monitoring lamp posts.
The 5G World event didn’t provide all of the answers to where, how, and when we’ll actually be part of a 5G world. However, it did provide a slate to sketch details of what this might look like. And of course, it was a platform for exhibitors and attendees to flash shiny, impressive, futuristic visions to media and stakeholders, while behind closed doors and in C-level discussions, figure out how and if they might bankroll this new world.
Cyborgs are a reality; living, breathing and walking among us. Think I’m joking? Just ask Elon Musk, who believes that in order to stay relevant (and avoid becoming “house cats” to AI) humans must enhance their capabilities through a “merger of biological intelligence and machine intelligence.”
As Babel’s Senior Content Writer, does this mean I should switch my slow, cumbersome hands for digital appendages which can type at lightening speed and think for themselves – or else risk replacement-by-robot?
Perhaps not (yet), but a quick delve into the topic of the modern cyborg reveals some fascinating advancements which have taken place.
At the wacky end of the cyborg scale we have Australian Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow (real name), who embedded the chip from his Oval travel card into his hand, allowing him to tap in and out, card-free. Amazingly, this is not his first foray into self-chipping; he has two further implants, including one in his arm which he uses to store documents.
Proving that chips in arms can do more than aid your commute is a project at the University of Utah, in which a man had a chip implanted in his arm, allowing him to ‘feel’ for the first time since losing his hands in an accident. According to Wired, the chip communicates with a computer monitor, which displays a virtual hand controlled by the individual, who is also able to ‘feel’ the surface of whatever he touches via software and electrical connections to his brain.
In another instance of cyborgianism, Neil Harbisson demonstrates technology’s ability not only to replicate human senses, but to create experiences which exceed the parameters of what’s naturally possible. Harbisson was born unable to see colour, but instead of sailing through life in monochrome, the artist decided to implant an antenna in his head which allows him to ‘hear’ colours. The ‘eyeborg’ translates light frequencies into vibrations, which his brain interprets as sound. As well as the standard colour spectrum accessible to the average human, Harbisson is able to hear ultraviolet and infrared, transcending the constraints of human vision.
The artist has used technology to enhance both himself and his artistic work; so (hand replacement aside), would I be tempted to do something similar? We’ve been relying on technology for years now to aid content creation; the first computer spell checks, for instance, emerged in the 1970s and remain an essential tool today. More recently, we’ve seen an increasing number of news outlets leverage artificial intelligence to write reports and articles (The Washington Post), automate earnings coverage (Associated Press), and judge the veracity of news stories (Knowhere News).
Writing in a way which is entertaining, accessible and accurate, requires a human touch, which is lucky, because otherwise I’d almost definitely be out a job. ‘Good’ writing is that which forms and builds a relationship between writer and reader – whether that’s by making them laugh, making them curious or prompting an action. This necessitates a human insight which technology, so far at least, lacks.
Weird and wonderful or life-altering and enhancing, the amalgamation of man and machine is possible, and in evidence. I may bemoan AI’s encroachment into my writing space, but am happy to continue using spellcheck and am confident that (during my lifetime at least) I can remain 100% human, without fear of becoming a “house cat” to artificial intelligence.
In both our professional and personal lives, being able to influence others to buy into our ideas is invaluable.
Despite what some outside the industry may think, persuading and influencing in PR is not about bending the truth, insincere flattery or omission of facts. It’s about negotiating, considering a situation from the perspective of the other person (as well as a third-party observer), understanding how others operate, and anticipating and overcoming potential challenges to ultimately achieve the best results.
This also extends to content. Solving challenges, identifying demands, and delivering on expectations; feature articles, press releases, pitches – and, yes, blog posts – must present a compelling reason for a target audience to get on board with an idea. Some may have the gift of the gab, but in my content management role at Babel, persuasion by pen is vital.
No matter how you communicate, working in PR – and promoting a wide range of products, people and initiatives – means utilising ‘towards motivation’. This involves selling someone future benefits and focussing on positive outcomes; a key trope of all successful PR and comms activity.
We may not realise we’re doing it, but as I learnt in a workshop last week, this is a key part of communication, relationship building, influencing and persuading.
However, using emotion to inject a sense of peril, driving someone through fear, and focussing on negative consequences, can also influence behaviour. This is ‘away motivation’. The decision as to which approach to take will depend on who it is you’re communicating with, and if you understand what drives them.
We face countless scenarios on a daily basis where we (unconsciously) choose whether to utilise ‘towards’, or ‘away’ motivation. These may include contacting a journalist about a client’s product launch, pitching a campaign idea in a meeting, or re-negotiating a deadline.
To persuade and influence someone is to reduce barriers to resistance, and to make it easier for others to say yes. It is about enabling someone to first accept your recommendation (whether that’s to edit an article, scrap a stunt from a campaign or add an additional colleague to an account); then to feel positive about your suggestion; to remain convinced after the discussion has ended; and finally, for that person to then persuade others that your suggestion is the correct course of action.
How can you achieve this in practice?
First, show as well as tell. If you’re trying to convey an idea to your team in a meeting, talking the talk might not be enough. Instead, get creative – use a whiteboard, draw pictures, use visuals. There’s a reason why video, images, gifs and memes spread like wildfire online: they’re memorable, accessible, and as such we feel compelled to support and share these ideas.
Second, preparation and fact-finding. You can’t anticipate and prepare for every objection you encounter. However, you can do your homework before that meeting/phone call/pitch to discover why someone might object, and then during the encounter, listen, clarify and address this hurdle when it arises. Again, this is also applicable when writing – understanding what the challenges are enables you to show how they can be overcome.
Third, make sure you close every exchange. Persuading someone in the moment doesn’t necessarily translate to enduring conviction. So, ask the other person how they feel about what you’ve suggested/requested; outline next steps; pinpoint a time and date for a follow-up meeting; and be clear about any deadlines.
Of course, this all takes confidence. But if you can convince yourself you can do it, think of the positive outcomes of the approach, then you’ll likely win a lot of friends and influence a lot of people.
We learnt recently that for the first time, children in the UK are more likely to watch content on mobiles, tablets and laptops, than on traditional television screens.
Parents and grandparents may lament this shift from TV as a communal activity to a solitary pursuit, but the change is simply another stage in the constant evolution of our TV habits. These have included our nightly devotion to long-running soaps, our voracious appetite for instantly-available back-to-back programming, our gradual acceptance of paying for multiple services, or the emotional grip content can have on a general public – Game of Thrones, I’m looking at you. And everyone from the Beeb to the niche providers have been throwing money and ‘talent’ at attempts to satisfy these content cravings.
What does this mean for 2018? Is content still king, or is it more about how we consume – or ‘experience’ – content that will impact our viewing behaviour and the financial fate of broadcasters?
We now have a veritable feast of programming to choose from, as the number of service providers grows and the investment pumped into acquiring – and producing – content continues.
This is clearly paying off for some. Netflix plans to spend up to $8 billion on content this year, a move which will be welcomed by its growing customer base: the content provider/creator reported its strongest ever quarterly subscription gains, adding a record eight million subs at the end of 2017. This is despite the company upping the price for its basic service by 50p to £7.99 a month, and increasing the cost of its premium package by £1 to £9.99.
With its vast library and investment in original content, Netflix seems to be leading the charge. But is so much content too much content? The total average time viewers spend searching for content increased by 13% to 51 minutes per day, according to an Ericsson report, so Netflix’s bottomless catalogue could end up dissuading rather than engaging viewers.
As a counter to the mainstream mass-content approach – a strategy also employed by the likes of Amazon Prime and YouTube –we’ve also seen the successful emergence of niche providers. Video collections are carefully curated to appeal to select groups, with the aim of achieving consistency in quality and reducing search time. Favourites in this area include Walter Presents, a streaming service from Channel 4 that shows foreign programming and films; Mubi, which adds and removes one (indie/cult classic/arthouse) film to its 30-strong collection each day; and Docsville, which – as the name suggests – has a library of documentary films founded by BBC Storyville’s Nick Fraser.
Ah yes, the BBC. For the past 90 years the Beeb has staunchly sustained its presence in any TV-based conversation. Despite disagreements over TV licensing costs, abuse scandals, gender pay disputes, and various conflicts with various governments over the years, the broadcaster has retained a place in the hearts (and on the screens) of the British public.
I have a Netflix account, I have login details for my unsuspecting sister’s Amazon Prime, and I’ve even dabbled in Google Play. But the BBC remains my go-to, and in the face of competition I believe others share this sentiment, and will continue to do so. The public broadcaster is the largest in the world by employee numbers, operates under a Royal Charter, is regulated by Ofcom, is sustained by a license fee ignored by thousands, juggles commercial divisions with adherence to impartiality and commitments to inform, educate and entertain. It may be a British institution but it has a global workforce and a global audience.
Yet the service has managed to evolve in line with changing consumer attitudes, as shown by the record iPlayer viewing figures over Christmas. Or the commercially-savvy merger of BBC Studios and Worldwide. Or even the current zeitgeist for a plastic-free future, as espoused by the deific David Attenborough via BBC hit Blue Planet.
Whatever happens during 2018, I’ll remain an avid viewer of the twists and turns of all facets of our broadcast industry.
The diversity situation in the broadcast industry is “pretty grim”, admitted Ofcom’s Chief Executive, Sharon White, during the regulator’s Annual Plan event in London this week. The session is open to the public and offers an opportunity for attendees to hear – and question – the organisation’s strategies for the comms industry over 2018/19.
Whilst the presentations, from across the scope of Ofcom’s business, focussed predominantly on network investment and “putting the consumer at the heart” of all it does, there remained a couple of spotlight-grabbing elephants in the room: diversity and pay discrimination.
These were touched upon by Siobhan Walsh, Director, Content Policy, during her speech detailing Ofcom’s intent to regulate standards and delivery of content. In addition to an annual report on the BBC’s performance and evolution, Ofcom will also be “looking at areas of diversity, and particularly how the BBC portrays and represents our diverse communities.”
During the Q&A session which concluded the event, the audience was quick to probe the Ofcom panel on its proposed diversity summit, as well as pay discrimination at the BBC. The organisation has “tried to do a lot of data gathering over the past few months”, to give “a baseline position of what diversity looks like in broadcast”, commented White. Ofcom’s “initial thinking” has been to gather the heads of the five mains public service broadcasters, to “talk through quite frankly where we are, and also what has and hasn’t worked.” Considering the recent escalations around gender equality and pay discrepancies, this should make for an interesting discussion!
Whether or not Ofcom has a role to play in pay discrimination is, according to White, still a topic of internal conversation. The regulator will progress its review of diversity on-screen and off, and consider whether looking at remuneration should form part of this. Ofcom’s commitment to diversity, said White, could include an examination of “organisations’ commitment and track record in terms of equal pay.” Watch this space!
The government’s introduction of a universal service obligation (USO) for broadband last year – part of its Digital Strategy – formed another point of discussion at the event. This is meant to ensure that everyone in the UK has access to internet speeds of at least 10Mbps by 2020, a benchmark set by Ofcom, based on the requirements of the average family. There will be “lots of work happening this year”, said White, to ensure that in the future – and post-Brexit – the UK’s digital infrastructure reflects the modern economy.
Clive Carter, Director of Strategy and Policy, elaborated, promising further investment in copper, fibre and mobile infrastructure. In August it was reported that the UK’s average broadband speed places us at an embarrassing 31st in world, behind most of Europe, so its vital these promises come to fruition. The other challenge which plagues many in the UK is the lack of mobile coverage; less than half of the country has access to 4G coverage from all four operators.
This is an “enduring concern” admitted Charles Jenne, Policy Director, Spectrum Group. Jennes touched on Ofcom’s plans this year to provide consumers with information on coverage, including regular updates of its online mapping tool, and ensuring the data is accessible to all. Mobile operators are required to provide calls-and-text coverage to 90% of the UK, and O2 must deliver an indoor 4G signal to at least 98% of premises. Anyone who’s struggled, one arm aloft and eyes glued to their screen, to get phone signal (i.e. all of us), will be keeping an eye on whether these obligations are met this year.
A final concern which shows no sign of demise is fake news. Whilst the origins of misinformation usually stem from the online domain, content can quickly spread via TV, radio, VoD services, over the airwaves and across operator networks – all of the areas Ofcom is required to monitor. This arose in the panel discussion, to which an Ofcom representative replied that the body is being “cautious” at present, with an aim to first gain a fuller understanding of the fake news issue. Ofcom has no desire, currently, to extensively regulate the online space: although merely a “thought bubble” at present, White admitted that at some stage Ofcom may need to flesh out just what kind of role it should play in this regard.
The event presented a whistle-stop tour of Ofcom’s intentions for this year, and also covered areas like shared spectrum, competition, the interaction between the electricity and communications sectors, an interactive service quality tool, a new BBC TV channel in Scotland, empowering consumers and preventing harm.
Against a backdrop of digital transformation, recent moves by Disney, a Sky/Fox merger, and (in)action over equal pay, Ofcom has a tough workload for the year ahead!
Around this time last year I wrote a blog looking back at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. This year, to take my mind off the first week back at work in cold, stormy London, I’m looking ahead to the rumoured happenings in the scorching Nevada desert.
CES opens next Tuesday, and will set the tone for happenings and discussions at MWC in February. Whilst the Babel team is sadly not heading to the States, we will be present in Barcelona, so will be keeping a close eye on CES news as it unfolds next week.
Samsung will likely use CES as a springboard into MWC, showcasing its latest Galaxy A8 and Galaxy A8 Plus smartphones, before their official launch UK launch, reported to take place in April. The company could also be demoing its latest wearables, a TV featuring MicroLED technology, as well as the results of its shift into new industries: expect smart glasses and medical devices.
Developments in health tech will also be a theme at MWC this year, with the emergence of the IoT enabling connected health devices, remote monitoring and greater efficiencies in healthcare.
Google will be flexing its muscle at CES, with eight hospitality suites and a large booth, marking its first official presence at the show in some years. Google’s Home technologies will be in the spotlight, as the company continues to dominate the smart speaker market, alongside Amazon.
A quick check of the MWC website shows that Google will also be present in Barcelona, with four booths likely showing very similar wares as in Vegas. Google for Entrepreneurs has also marked its territory in the Fira, using Mobile World Congress to promote this arm of its business. Google for Entrepreneurs partners with start-up communities and builds ‘campuses’ where entrepreneurs can learn and connect with others.
Where there’s a technology show, there will also undoubtedly be robots. This year, CES is dedicating an entire ‘marketplace’ to intelligent, autonomous machines. The show is rumoured to stage Sony’s revival of Aibo, an AI dog embedded with cameras and sensors which enable it to ‘learn’ and react to its environment.
It may not have robot dogs, but it’s certainly had humanoid bots: I met Softbank’s Pepper at MWC 2017, and this year we can expect further advancements in this area. ‘Introducing the Augmented Human’, a conference taking place on Wednesday of the show this year, will be one to keep an eye on. Discussing wearables, implants, haptic tech development and brain-controlled interfaces, the session promises to map the human of the future.
Finally, CES will fire the starting gun on 2018’s connected automotive race. The show’s opening keynote will be delivered by Jim Hackett, CEO and president of Ford, who will discuss the role of smart cars in the smart cities of the future. Ford is just one of almost 300 vehicle technology exhibitors at the event, so what can we expect?
Mercedes-Benz will reveal its infotainment system, MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience), and use Vegas as the finish point of its Intelligent World Drive, which has seen the company test automated driving functions across five continents.
Ride-hailing app Lyft, meanwhile, is partnering with self-driving tech company Aptiv to offer brave attendees trips in its taxis during the show. Fortunately, there will still be a back-up human in the driver’s seat, ready to take the reins from the robot if necessary.
There were four car manufacturers at MWC last year and, considering the crucial role 5G mobile networks will play in the development of smart cars, we’ll likely see even more this year.
Until then, we’ll be busy prepping and planing for Barcelona, whilst dreaming of Vegas’ sunny skies.
Astound Commerce adds social marketing to suite of e-commerce services through integration of Groove
London, UK – 7th November, 2017 – Digital commerce experts Astound Commerce today announced the integration of Groove, an award-winning digital and social marketing agency, into its existing e-commerce and digital solutions offering. Through this integration, Astound now provides a comprehensive, fully integrated approach to digital strategy, combining e-commerce, marketing, customer experience, technology, analytics and insights to deliver value to global brands and retailers.
This deal combines Astound Commerce’s digital commerce leadership and technical go-to-market capabilities with Groove’s marketing and social publishing expertise. The result is a global digital connected commerce agency built to meet the needs of brands and retailers as technology and consumer expectations evolve.
“The power of uniting Astound Commerce and the experts from Groove goes well beyond technology and marketing execution,” said Igor Gorin, CEO of Astound Commerce. “Our like-minded companies share a passion for solving complex technical and business problems, engaging and connecting brands with customers and a vision to deliver better solutions faster.”
“Our customers have been requesting the types of services Groove offers for some time and so it is fantastic to be able to expand our offering through this acquisition,” commented Astound’s UK MD, Terry Hunter. “We are looking forward to helping brands and retailers engage with customers like they never have before.”
Over the last 17 years, Astound Commerce has built a powerful digital commerce agency based on the relentless pursuit of concrete results for global brands leading the digital revolution. Groove’s social marketing technology uses behavioural science to create unique digital experiences that build emotional connections between brands and consumers. Astound Commerce’s new and existing clients will be able to harness this expertise to increase customer engagement.
“We’re excited to join the Astound Commerce team,” said Sean Dunn, Managing Director and founder of Groove. “This move is a direct response to the changing landscape and its effect on the buyer-brand relationship. By connecting authentic brand relationships to leading-edge technology, our combined solutions will ultimately help our clients win in the age of the connected consumer.”
To learn more about Astound Commerce’s unique approach to digital commerce, click here.
When science and tech oracles Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking are warning of the dangers of technology, we know things can’t be good. Lethal autonomous weaponry, cyber bullying, fake news, data theft, porn-addict kids, as well as the estimation that only 5% of young workers are safe from being replaced by robots, are all signs of a society riddled with technology.
Does the unstoppable escalation in tech development mean that we are condemned to a future governed by AI, devoid of human interaction, and in which every individual’s move, thought, and communication is tracked and logged by a ruling elite of social media firms?
There has been much scaremongering around the dangers of technology, so instead of indulging these doomsayers, I thought it was about time that tech got some credit for the advances it has brought and the good it has done.
Take education. Connected devices provide students with access to online resources, and offer a link between pupil and teacher no matter where they’re located. The decreasing cost of hardware and connected devices, as well as more reliable and available internet connectivity, have helped accelerate learning and advance literacy levels in developing nations.
Technology has also had roaring success in the animal kingdom. At the start of this year, the Internet of Life launched a project which saw connected devices implanted into the horns of rhinos in Tanzania, to remotely track the animals and respond to poaching incidents; a major factor in the decline in rhino numbers.
We’ve all heard about 3D printers being used to produce guns, but there is also a sunnier side to the technology. Positive initiatives include that by WASP (an acronym for the humbly-titled, ‘World’s Advanced Saving Project), a not-for-profit with the goal of manufacturing houses with a ‘near zero’ environmental impact. The wider 3D printing industry could also contribute to a greener future, by eliminating the production of unnecessary components and only using the required amount of material, whilst enabling ‘on-demand’ manufacturing. A study published in the Energy Policy Journal has suggested that 3D printing could reduce energy use by between 2.54 and 9.30 exajoules by 2025, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 130.5 and 525.5 megatons over the same period.
But what about those UAVs bombing territories, controlled at the touch of a button thousands of miles away? Or even the many near-misses between airborne devices and commercial carriers? Whilst these examples severely colour the reputation of the industry, drones have and are being used for good. From detecting nuclear radiation and aiding disaster response teams, to the launch in Rwanda last year of the world’s first national drone delivery service for blood, vaccines and medicine; the scope of industries and communities set to benefit from developments in this space is huge.
So, what can be done to ensure that the all the good is wrung out from technology, whilst all the bad is hung out to dry? Tightening up cyber security and data protection, standardisation and regulation, as well as a renewed focus on training and skills, will all help right our pathway to a safe, green, ethical future, which benefits all. However, it should also be remembered that reliance on technology and devices should not be at the expense of human thought, communication and creativity, or for the profit of the few. Growth doesn’t always equal prosperity. Any decisions on restricting technology, content moderation and censorship must be considered, and the consumer and the C-suite must engage in, not be swept up by, the tech debate. Humans need to think less of themselves, and more for themselves.
There was a time when the pen was mightier than the sword. The impact of the written word on society, politics, and the arts has been transformative, devastating and controversial.
In the mid-fifteenth century, Gutenberg’s printing press democratised access to knowledge and learning, and, as books had historically been the preserve of the church, enabled ideas and creativity to break free from the constraints of religion. Science and alternative ways of thinking flourished, sowing the seeds for the Renaissance in the Western world.
Fast-forward five hundred years and semantic strength is still in evidence. Print media continues to exert power over public and government – for better or worse – and ethical questions still surround the responsibility and rights of those brandishing the metaphorical pen.
The Conservatives unexpectedly swept to power in the 1992 General Election after the Sun published the headline ‘If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights,’ on polling day. In a second historical wielding of words, the Sun then followed up with a clear admission of its role in the election outcome: ‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It’.
More recently, the Daily Mail joined the Sun in the line of fire over the paper’s Brexit-backing words. A front page screaming claims of ‘dying’ Europe’s ‘lies’ and ‘greedy elites’, as well as similarly critical messaging from the Mail, have subsequently been blamed for influencing last year’s referendum result.
The death of print media has long been forecast, with millennials and gen z-ers abandoning the printed word to stoke their insatiable appetite for digital video content. For many, the appeal of online video as a news source is a no-brainer: why pore over the pages of a newspaper, wasting time reading through articles to find the desired content? Video on the other hand can deliver instant, emotive news bites, with clips easily shared via social media.
So, as ‘the younger generation’ move into adulthood, and begin to birth a cohort raised on a similarly digital-first diet, will video replace the humble word as the main mouthpiece of the media?
As a writer, I, like many other PRs and journalists, spend my days investing time and effort into honing clients’ messaging, and working to translate complex, technical and often intangible ideas into engaging prose and arresting news. But with more of us turning away from the printed word and toward visually appealing video, is mine a dying art?
Video content is expected to account for 82% of global IP traffic by 2021, fuelled by social media, citizen journalism and live broadcast platforms. Indeed, in a recent report, consumers named breaking news as the live video type they are most interested in. Breaking news events, filmed in-the-moment on a smartphone, broadcast in near-real-time, and shared at similar speed via social channels, have revolutionised news creation and consumption. But whilst the popularity of video will continue, it will never contend with the might of written content.
We reportedly still dedicate 97.5% of our time on online news sites to reading text, with a paltry 2.5% of average visit time spent on video pages. The written word allows the reader to interpret and imagine both the subject of the text and the writer in a way which cannot be achieved through video alone. Long-form whitepapers, analytical reports and press releases are a staple of the PR world, and newspaper headlines still have the power to make the headlines. So, whilst the word may not spark Renaissance 2.0, written content should not be written off quite yet.
The news of Uber losing its London license last week came as a shock to many, a sizeable number of whom will mourn the loss of their low-cost, always-just-around-the-corner ride. Since then we’ve seen celebration by black cab drivers, a petition to save Uber backed by thousands, followed by a rare apology from the firm and a hunt for a new UK chairman – all whilst the company steels itself for what will inevitably prove a turbulent tribunal process.
London is not the first city to square up to Uber; the app’s global success has long been marred by protests, legal wranglings and permanent bans of its operation. Recent events at home reminded me of an experience with the company whilst on holiday in Bali last week, a peaceful, postcard-perfect Indonesian isle which I learnt is no exception to this controversy.
Loved by consumers, loathed by taxi drivers, Uber is now available in over 724 cities and 84 countries worldwide. What began as a ride hailing app for premium cars in select areas in the US is now rapidly replacing traditional taxi services as the go-to mode of paid-for transport. The service has also spread its technological tentacles into logistics, and now offers food delivery through UberEATS as well as a growing delivery network for small businesses.
It has even achieved the verb status much hallowed by start-ups, joining the ranks of Google, Instagram and Skype. Passengers benefit from instant notifications, driver ratings, real time journey information, mobile payments and ride sharing, for a lower rate than traditional taxi and minicab services. Embracing Uber in Bali last week meant I paid half the cost quoted (post-haggling) by a taxi driver, for the same journey. What’s not to love?
Well for a start, waiting for and alighting from my Indonesian Uber was a somewhat uncomfortable and illicit process. Although not banned by law, many vigilante hotels and restaurants have erected signs outside their premises forbidding Ubers from stopping or picking up passengers. Their allegiance to local drivers outpriced by OTT competition is part of a wider backlash: Uber was forced out of Denmark after taxi meters were made mandatory in 2014, temporary bans have been enforced in Italy, France, Spain and Finland. Australia’s Northern Territory government remains in a stalemate with the company over regulatory changes required to allow its operation. And now London is baring its teeth.
Fortunately, my Bali hotel did not debar me for dabbling with the dark side of taxi transportation. But is the attitude of the hospitality industry on the island – as elsewhere – merited? My Uber driver also worked for a tour company, and accepted lifts through the Uber app or in cash, therefore keeping 100% of the profits. I get a cheaper journey, he earns some extra money on the side: win-win. Those who lose are the taxi drivers who quote inflated rates, take advantage of unsavvy travellers and whose industry has not been unfairly decimated, but rather exposed as unfairly overpricing consumers.
Yet this is far from the whole story. The opposing argument is that driving down costs for services and products – at any cost – are symptoms of bloated consumerism and savage capitalism. Why should anyone pay more than the lowest possible price for a taxi ride – or anything? Well, to ensure that services are of a certain quality, that workers’ rights and wellbeing are safeguarded, and that the correct taxes are paid. Cheap may be cheerful for the corporate CEOs and the service end-user, but rarely does it indicate the ethical treatment of all in a production line.
It’s a tricky one. Whilst Uber has been accused of exploiting its workers, my Balinese driver said that his decision to ‘work for’ the company was simply him adapting to consumer demand, and that it is in fact the regulated taxi firms which often exploit their passengers.
The future of Uber in Bali and London – as in many other locations across the globe – is far from guaranteed. Legal cases will no doubt continue to be brought against the tech firm and cab drivers will no doubt continue to hold protests. However, consumers will also continue to demand and use services for the lowest cost and at the most convenience, and the firm’s might will ensure its vehicles are on the road until legal cases conclude. Which means we’ll be Uber-ing in Bali and London for the foreseeable future.