The changing world of content consumption

Every now and again I get a reminder of how things used to be. Seeing a newspaper for sale at the petrol station, or having visitors stay with you who insist on watching the commercial TV news at 6:00pm. It reminds me how much my own media consumption habits have changed over the last few years.

It’s not a new trend and I’m certainly not the most cutting edge person in the world but I still marvel at how complete my transformation has become.

About five years ago I would have:

  • Read news websites (since about 1996)
  • Leisurely read the printed newspaper on the weekend over a coffee
  • Watched occasional TV news
  • Recorded TV shows onto VHS that I really didn’t want to miss if I was organised enough in advance
  • Rented DVDs from the local rental store

Since then a lot of things have changed in my life and with the technology that surrounds me. The most major impact was I became a parent. I could no longer guarantee that I was free at a particular time of the day to sit back and relax, and certainly not for large contiguous blocks of time. I was no longer in control of my own schedule.

Around the time my son was born I entered into the PVR foray and purchased a Topfield PVR that let me record shows way more easily than VHS. I’d become a time shifter, watching shows on my terms – when I wanted, and skipping the ads I never wanted to see.

My son had some health issues that meant we spent a lot of time sitting around holding him which makes for a lot of dead time. Before long I’d convinced myself to get a HTC Hero, my first Android smartphone. All of a sudden I could sit there and read things off the internet while cuddling him to sleep or keeping him calm.

Disappointingly the Topfield became unreliable immediately after the warranty expired which saw the hard drive regularly dump all the recorded shows. It was replaced with a purpose built HTPC which is still going solid to this day.

The HTPC also opened up a whole new avenue of content – streaming things from ABC iView, Netflix, YouTube to supplement the TV shows we watch live but more regularly watch when they suit our purposes. Chock full of kids TV shows, my son can’t comprehend a world where we can’t put on one of his favourite TV shows or movies in a matter of a few clicks and mere seconds.

To be honest I rarely watch TV these days anyway, I find I spend so much time reading. Reading online content – Twitter has become a major source of breaking news, websites and of course eBooks. My only lament of all the books I have on my bookshelf is I can’t drop them in a big bin to instantly digitise and recycle them. No more radio in the car, I listen to podcasts or the occasional audio book. There’s *so much *quality content out there – and most if it is free – that it’s hard to keep up at times.

If I do find myself sitting down with a newspaper somewhere I get frustrated by the front to back nature of the reading – sure I can just flick around the pages skimming for stories I’m interested in, but it’s not the same. And that nagging feeling that the news I’m reading is at least 12 hours old – ancient!

So to me the biggest transformative changes in the last few years would be:

  • Proliferation of smartphones and tablets – content readers everywhere you go.
  • Maturity of online content sources – Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and even eventually TV networks replaying shows on their websites
  • Bandwidth – increasing quotas and decreasing prices make all of this possible.

It’s certainly a strange new world we live and it’s amazing to think what things might be like in the years ahead. Thanks for coming on this trip down nostalgia lane with me.