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JSR's Simon Amster on the evolution of content

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As creative partner at photographic and illustration management agency JSR, Simon Amster sees a lot of content. With a background in broadcast at the likes of Disney and NBC Universal, he’s observed how the meaning of the word has changed over the years and continues to do so in today's cluttered landscape. But it feels as if he's been always been well prepared to adapt.

“In TV, I spent my life doing things that were all kinds of different lengths; we were making advertiser funded programmes or what you’d now call branded content along with sponsorship things 15 years ago before anyone knew they were a thing,” he explains.

“if you went to typical agencies, everyone’s always been built to do 30-second spots and they’re kind of suddenly learning how to do things of different lengths with new delivery aspects.”

The emergence and evolution of the internet as well as more recently video on demand (VoD) services are opening limitless opportunities when it comes to experimenting with content. New viewing habits have meant creatives have had to evolve and consider different approaches to briefs rather than relying on the taditional TVC model.

“Anyone who’s in TV is literally suddenly up shit creek,” Amster adds. “You look at TV promo departments and they’re falling left, right and centre. The promo department at my old company Disney isn’t even called that anymore, they're called ‘digital creatives’ because most of their work isn’t on the broadcast stream and if it is it’s on VoD or things like that.”

Disney is launching its own direct-to-consumer service Disney+ in November in the US and is just one of the many new age platforms that are offering more tailored viewing experiences. In the past few years, along with the likes of Netflix and Amazon, tech companies such as YouTube, Facebook, Hulu and Apple have continued to help themselves to a slice of traditional TV’s pie. So, will terrestrial channels last or simply become irrelevant to the modern-day consumer?

 

"I still like having a box in the corner that the family can watch."

 

“The Success of stuff like last year’s [UK drama] Bodyguard suggests there’s still a market for big TV stuff,” considers Amster. “I still like having a box in the corner that the family can watch. I like it because it’s a shared experience. Live sport is also difficult not to do in that model.”

But he does admit that technology has influenced family viewing time with everyone turning to their own devices most of the time. “There’s a place for a group dynamic, but we watch most of our stuff now on Amazon, Netflix and Sky,” he adds.

“The truth is we’ve got a house in France and don’t have a TV in it. We’ve got broadband and everyone can sit on their own screen and watch what they want all the way through the house but there is no need to have a box.”

Amster recalls a time when working on a TV show like High School Musical in the UK was an event and big deal in terms of scheduling. Having launched the show, he says it was pulling in 3.5 million kids on a Friday night, which wouldn’t be possible today.

“There’d be absolutely no reason for them to do it now,” he explains. “They’d record it and watch over the weekend or online. It’s a different model and any kind of broadcast element has to get their head around it.”

 

"Everyone thinks Facebook, Google and Spotify is free so asking someone to pay for invisible rights for IP is hard."

 

As well as online video and VoD platforms, another growth area for content has been social media. The democratisation of technology and channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch and so on have meant users now have more power than ever. Brands have had no choice but to buy into influencers and their massive followings to push their products. But with a more level playing field where everyone is a creator, naturally standards are expected to drop.

Amster makes the point that Instagram photos are considered as content and agrees that the quality of work has naturally taken a dive with anyone being able to contribute in the modern age. “There is a lot of crap out there and there’s still a quality threshold you need to apply,” he says. “Everyone’s a photographer now. There are three billion photos uploaded to social media every day so it’s really fucking hard to tell the difference between a good one and something your mate’s put up with a load of filters on because they all look great.”

“I used to be a film critic and there were maybe 25 in London, a really small group of people. Now, there’s probably 2,500 because anyone that goes onto Facebook and says ‘I saw a film, it was shit’ suddenly thinks they’re a critic," he adds. "Everyone’s critical facility has changed and that’s had a massive impact on the quality of work that’s produced in all creative agencies now.”

As for one of the biggest challenges the industry now faces when it comes to dealing with content, Amster says intellectual property (IP) usage and ownership can be a tricky space to navigate. 

“IP is a really big thing. It’s really hard because everyone wants IP and it’s tough to convince artists to sell that or give it away, but people are expecting it now so it’s an interesting one,” he explains. "The problem with the world is everyone thinks everything is free. Everyone thinks Facebook, Google and Spotify is free so asking someone to pay for invisible rights for IP is hard."

Amster compares the situation to when the process of film editing turned from linear to non-linear and says the wrong thing to do would be to try to fight change. "You need to go, okay I need to understand what this means for my artists and the industry and work out ways you can be effective with it because otherwise you’re just going to get left behind," he concludes.

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