Peak TV, Vevo vs Spotify, Björk VR, ebook re-sales, & more

Today’s subscriber update covers digital developments in TV, music, VR and book publishing. Hope you enjoy. Please feel free to forward this email to people who you think might like to subscribe to Cybercultural too.

What You Need To Know 👀

  1. How digital technology helped form the Peak TV era 📺

According to Adam Wilson in Harper’s Magazine, the Golden Age of TV – ushered in by The Sopranos – is over and we’re now living in the “Peak TV” era. Wilson notes that streaming and binge-watching are two characteristics of this era, but also something called “poptimism” (which he doesn’t define in the article, but Wikipedia tells me it means “the belief that pop music is as worthy of professional critique and interest as rock music.”). Wilson continues:

“Poptimism emerged under a similar shift in consumption habits brought on by technological advancement—the digitizing of music and music discourse—and I’d argue that the triumph of TV poptimism is as essential to the Peak TV narrative as the rise of streaming. The way we watch TV has changed, and so has the way we talk about it. […] Cultural capital has been redistributed, Bernie Sanders–style. Comparing The Wire to Dickens now feels quaint. These days, book publicists promote novels by likening them to TV shows.”

My take: Certainly TV dominates the ‘water cooler’ discussions in our culture now, in a way that books used to do decades ago. Even if you didn’t watch Game of Thrones (and I didn’t), you can always find a TV show to talk about with someone – Fleabag or Succession are two series that have been talking points in 2019. But if we’re now in the Peak TV era, doesn’t that imply a downward spiral is about to follow? Given the popularity of gaming for younger millennials and Generation Z, I do wonder if gaming will replace TV as the next water cooler cultural content.

  1. Music video platform Vevo celebrates its 10-year anniversary 🎹

Hypebot reports on Vevo’s anniversary:

“The video platform, which serves artist videos through distribution partners that include YouTube, Amazon, Apple Roku, Sky, Virgin Media, and Vewd, touted its growth with daily views growing by more than 300% over the last five years.

According to Vevo, its current daily viewership averages more than 800 million views a day, with weekend days flirting with more than 1 billion views.”

My take: Vevo is effectively a music industry monopoly for music videos, with YouTube being its primary distribution partner. So it’s no wonder it has grown so much, as no other app can compete with it. But in terms of innovation, Vevo hasn’t really done anything to the format of the music video over the past decade. In my Weekly Wrapup last Friday, I noted that Spotify has been gaining traction with its “vertical videos,” which are essentially music videos optimized for smartphone. I think there’s much more innovation potential there (Canvas loops, Stories, etc.) than in anything Vevo will do in the coming years.

  1. Björk made music’s first “VR pop album” 🤩

Speaking of innovative forces, Björk is an artist who always pushes the boundaries of technology – and indeed culture. In this revealing Ars Technica interview, she discusses her VR project called Vulnicura VR (now available on Windows PC via Steam for $24.99):

“Björk is careful to describe some trepidation about VR as a format: “It isolates you from the world. It takes away your social skills. Blah, blah, blah, I get it.” But for the most part, she’s smitten with the emotional exchange inherent in the format and its physically transformative potential.”

My take: VR is still a fairly niche format for cultural content, but Björk has hit on what makes it a potentially groundbreaking one eventually: its emotional force, intimacy and ability to put you in another person’s shoes. Perhaps VR will be the future of music videos, after Spotify and others have finished with the smartphone trickery.

  1. Resale of e-books considered illegal in EU 📚

PublishersWeekly reports:

In a move that will be welcome news to publishers and other rights holders, advocate general Maciej Szpunar has ruled sites such as Tom Kabinet that sell second-hand ebooks “unlawful under EU law.”

My take: It’s a complicated issue, because people can re-sell physical copies of books and the authors get no recompense for that. So why are ebooks different? As one PW commenter noted, it’s because you can easily make multiple copies of a digital file. So unless there’s a DRM system in place that allows you to transfer a digital file to someone and never again be able to access that content, ebooks will always be much easier to pirate. On the second-hand ebook seller in question, Tom Kabinet, when you upload an ebook to sell, you have to check a box promising to “remove these ebooks from my digital devices.” That’s an ‘honesty box’ system and it seems unsatisfactory at best, cynical at worst. So in my view the advocate general’s ruling is a sensible step, until more progress is made on the technology side.

Good Reads 👓

  • Why Artists Can and Should Use the Live-Streaming Platform Twitch; Digital strategist Karen Allen in Variety (“…outside of games, Twitch has a very vibrant and supportive music community that is ripe to explode in the next year.”) 🎸

  • Books Help Kids Navigate Complex Times; by Tracey Hecht in PublishersWeekly (“…stories can be a wonderful place for children to identify and engage in social-emotional learning and dynamics—not only positive dynamics but a wide range of behavior.”) 📚

  • Who Wants To Watch Radio?; by radio consultant Fred Jacobs on Hypebot (“…to be a relevant part of people’s lives and routines, radio may have to reinvent its presence. Video is a powerful tool that only MTV and Vh1 had. Until now.”) 📻

  • Conference notes from Digital Book World 2019; The Alliance of Independent Authors (highlights from Digital Book World 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee, including the latest on interactive content.) 📚

  • What’s in and out at Dmexco 2019; Digiday editors (report from the ad tech conference Dmexco, in Cologne, Germany.) 💰

Tweet of the day 🐦


That’s the Monday update, hope you found it useful! Coming up tomorrow is this week’s in-depth analysis post, which will be made public to help get the word out to non-subscribers. Your early support of Cybercultural is much appreciated. 🙏