Bite-size entertainment is nothing new — we already see it on TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts, and KaryaKarsa — as opposed to longer-form content ranging from movies, VOD/OTT series to novels. But let’s take a closer look to what is actually happening.
In the 20th century, almost all entertainment was defined by either retail, or broadcast. Retail could be divided up by sale of product (VHS tape, CD, cassette, or even a concert/cinema ticket), and broadcast was basically TV and radio. Media was centralised for maximum impact and efficiency, subscriptions mostly only exsited for newspapers and magazines, and for the most part, the internet wasn’t something an average consumer would use. The arrival of software that could easily duplicate anything — video, music, images — and the propagation of internet services around the globe gave an almost clear demarkation that the Old World Way of entertainment was over, giving way for Everything Is Free On The Internet.
After a turbulent first decade mistakenly fighting piracy without providing clear alternatives of legal content over the internet, with increasing internet speed along came streaming services, which I would categorise as separate from retail and broadcast. Here’s why (note that I made these definitions):
- Retail: sale of product (sometimes using a certain medium, like a DVD), making the entertainment product a commodity
- Broadcast: one-way delivery of entertainment content through video, radio or even internet on a schedule, usually paid by ads in the broadcast.
- Streaming: on-demand delivery of entertainment content, usually through the internet, either free with ads or through a paid subscription.
The arrival of streaming together with faster, cheaper internet (at least for most internet users), along with consistent action towards crappy pirate sites directed most entertainment users to the legal, easy-to-use services, offering a buffet overload of content for a monthly fee. To sum up the shift in entertainment economics in the last 30 years: from a business driven by unit sales of a product, it almost collapsed to piracy, after which it recovered with subscription-based business.
I am writing this article while listening to The Carpenters’ “(They Long To Be) Close To You” for the nth time, which is where I make my point: while streaming services offer great value for the entertainment end consumer, we don’t really utilise the access we buy to the millions of songs given by the subscription fee. We don’t watch all movies and series that Netflix has to offer. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult for us to discover new content [that isn’t being pushed by the platforms]. We are back at the point of centralisation of media, like when recording companies would just spend marketing dollars for a new Mariah Carey album simultaneously worldwide, and could predict when the single would hit number #1 on charts and how much their album shipout numbers would be.
The producers of entertainment, which last century would probably use previous data to make sales projections, are now…. using previous data to make products. Every time I turn on Release Radar or New Music Friday, almost all the music sounds the same to me, because all the producers are looking at the same data. Sure there is a lot of great content out there, but I am continuing to fail to find it through Spotify. And I am now one of those people who pay for Netflix but perhaps watch 4 hours’ worth of content every week (probably half asleep).
(small aside: this reminds me of when we subscribed to a lunchbox service at the office, but since it was cheap, the variation of food was subpar and often the food went to waste.)
Anyway. With the explosive growth of Tiktok for short videos (along with YouTube Shorts and IG Reels looking to replicate that experience), it is pretty obvious that bite-size content is here to stay as some sort of antithesis to the overwhelming catalogs of streaming services. Now, bite-size video uses an ad-funded model to reach the maximum potential of users — but it’s not a leap to see that a pay-as-you-go model for bite-size content will work. (Disclosure: selling serialised stories per chapter at cheap prices works on KaryaKarsa.)
The question is, why? (Yes, the answer is below).
First of all, if you like a story, whatever the format, there’s an extremely high chance for you to buy the second installment of the story, which is why many movie studios would rather make sequels than new movies. If you’re invested in the story and the characters, it’s almost like an addiction. Combine that with the serialised model, where there is new content on a regular basis, together with cheap prices — like waaay below a subscription price to a service which you would not use much anyway — delivers cheap entertainment to more people. This can be further helped with making sure the payment methods are locally relevant, i.e. mobile wallets or minimarkets for underbanked countries, as opposed to everything-credit-card-and-subscription which seems to be the model favored by Western-originating online entertainment companies.
In price-sensitive markets it is quite common to find people wanting to share a Netflix or Spotify account and split the costs, despite efforts to crack down on account sharing. Here in Indonesia, where cigarettes are cheap, some still buy them by the single cigarette, and not per pack, despite it being possibly more expensive combined. Consumers will spend what money they have today on what they can today. This is what some people also call the sachet economy, where consumers would rather buy sachets of shampoo for just one shower, instead of a whole bottle.
I have long advocated for musicians to have a value chain of content — something available at different price points for different spending power — and this is no different. Storytellers on KaryaKarsa are able to sell their content to a smaller audience for a larger payback, which is possible for them because it is easier to build and monetise said smaller audience. It is easier to foster the communication and relationships to build that loyal audience, which is something that becomes increasingly difficult to do as the fan base gets larger (but not impossible). And by selling access to only content that the readers want, they are once again in control of their budget and their entertainment needs.
This shift is happening. And it’s creator-driven, as the communities that are willing to pay are built around them, and not media production companies (although I must say there remains huge potential there). The advertising industry has earlier shifted to a creator-driven narrative where influencers command attention better than ad placements, so creator-driven media and IP is definitely a no-brainer. And by having more products to offer at different business models — as in providing cheap, retail entertainment products and not just pouring everything into a streaming bucket — will provide access to more entertainment consumers and expand the whole industry in terms of market value. And when the creators are paid better, we get better and better content.