Image: Bill Selak, Flickr.

Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

  1. 2013 is on pace to become the first year ever in which the number of US paid TV subscriptions drops. The phenomenon is driven in part by the emergence of “cord nevers,” consumers who have never subscribed to paid television programming via cable, satellite, or a phone provider, instead accessing TV shows and movies through Amazon, Netflix, or broadcaster websites.
  2. Polling by Pew Research finds Chinese optimistic over all but worried about inequality, corruption, pollution, food safety, and a lot of other things.
  3. Adam Elkus examines some issues around simulations and modeling, including ethical issues.
  4. In all but 4 of 23 European countries bicycle sales topped car sales, data from 2011 (the most recent) shows. And since 2000, bike sales across the EU 15 have drastically outpaced car sales. The shift is attributed to the Great Recession.
  5. At Google’s Solve for X conference, a representative from Lockheed’s Skunk Works revealed the research lab would produce a working fusion power plant by 2017. The current iteration is about the size of a semi-trailer and could conceivably power a small city.

Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

Image: Losmininos, Flickr.

  1. According to the Wall Street Journal we’re entering “the age of bite-sized entertainment.” Shorter formats for music, videos, and e-books are easier to consume on the go and allow producers to test the popularity of content before investing in longer versions.
  2. Chris Nelder writes in Scientific American about new developments in flywheel technology that could put them on the same competitive cost basis as pumped hydro or compressed air. Bill Gray, the Silicon Valley inverntor of the Velkess flywheel is crowdsourcing development funding via Kickstarter.
  3. Ars Technica has a fascinating article on a NASA team that performed a teardown of a 50 year old Apollo rocket booster and collaborated with another aerospace company working on a modern version of the booster. The original booster contained 5,600 parts, many of which were hand fabricated; the modern version has only 40 different components, many of which are fabricated with 3D printing technology
  4. And end to poverty? The World Bank says that optimistic scenarios could see the end of the worst kind of global poverty by 2030.
  5. Vance Fried’s College 2020 forecasts that online education will dramatically reduce educational costs. In his vision of higher education, “college” will be become unbundled, with students seeking out residential colleges for the community amenities, but choosing courses and instruction from multiple online education services.

Image: Asthma_Helper, Flickr

In May 2008 I gave an interview with TV Week magazine in which I discussed the future of television. In the interview I said:

Eventually, that’s going to be what the TV networks as they exist now are going to have to do. Not just create programming and release it at certain times. Rather than broadcasting 18 episodes of “Lost” over 18 weeks, they’ll release 18 episodes and you can buy it in any way you want. You can buy it and watch on your television, you can buy it and watch on your phone or you’ll be able to buy it on DVD simultaneously with its release as a broadcast. You can have it in a definite form and watch it at your leisure. (Emphasis added.)

So I was intrigued to read in the New York Times a few days ago that not only would Netflix be premiering its first original production, House of Cards, on February 1, 2013, but that  all 13 episodes would be available for streaming at that time.

This all-at-once release reflects another point that I made in the TV Week interview:

Appointment television will still exist, but it will be a lot more finite. The appointment will not be each week or when the new show comes on, but the appointment will be the date that the show is released. It goes from being Thursday being the first new episode from the second half of the season for “Lost,” to Thursday being the release of the fifth season of “Lost.” The appointment becomes a more singular point rather than every week.

How we consume media–on which platform, at which place, during which time–is more in flux today than ever before. Netflix’s move into content producer is just one aspect of this. Traditionally, content producers would lobby established distributors (broadcast and cable networks, movie studios) to buy their content, as these were seen as the only way to reach an audience. No more. The advent of Internet streaming, smartphones and tablets, cheap Wi-Fi and content stores such as iTunes and Amazon means that who distributes the content is no longer a mark of quality or legitimacy. House of Cards demonstrates this: People are interested in this series because of the involvement of Oscar winners such as Kevin Spacey and director/producer David Fincher. It will be the rare viewer who will turn up her nose because it is being released via Netflix and not HBO or ABC.

Or to put it another way, just because there have been broadcast television networks for 70 years does not mean there will always be television networks. And Netflix is betting that this is the future.

Internet retailer Amazon announced today that it is starting a program that would allow library patrons to check out books using their Kindle. This sounds like a great idea. I am surprised no one has considered this before. Way to go, Amazon!

Image: GoXunuReviews

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