I have a couple of children, and that’s where I want to start this story. I have a newly-minted teenager, and I have a preteen. And sometimes, I get into my head to have a conversation with them about what life was like before the Internet was invented.
Sometimes, I’ll try to explain to them how quickly everything’s changed, how much a part of our life it’s become, and how quickly it’s been manifested. And they will give me this look that I imagine must be a dead ringer for the look that I gave my parents in the 1970s when they tried to explain to me about what life was like before television was invented, and I remembered not really being able to get my mind around that concept.
I mean, to a kid growing up in the 1970s, television was a kind of media god, I guess you could say. There really wasn’t that much competition. Nowadays – those of you who have kids know this – nowadays, it’s like one deity in a vast, diverse media pantheon, right? My ten-year-old daughter for example watches YouTube, easily as much as she watches television. When she watches it, she often watches things that would never be on television.
I’ll give an example: one of the things she really likes right now involves two girls that are also about her age, I think their names are Kacy and Jacy, and I think they do something called “The Tin Can Challenge,” but what it really is they get together a bunch of strange food, they mix it together, then they eat it, and then you get to see the reactions on camera. And my daughter think this is hysterical by the way.
Nothing that a network news program whatever put on TV, but my daughter loves it. And you know, being 10 years old, I imagine that this Kacy and Jacy team have a parent who films this for them and who puts it on YouTube for them. But within a month of doing that, and this is where it gets crazy, they will get, generally, over a million views. A million views, and we are blasé about this. I’ll tell people this, and they’ll think to themselves, “It’s not even that surprising. Great! Good girls! Way to go! A million views!”
When I was a kid, when many of you were kids, there’s nothing we could’ve done to get a million views anywhere. Right? I mean, there were these shows you could get your five minutes of fame if you had some weird talent. You could go on “That’s Incredible,” or “The Gong Show,” or “Real People,” or something like that.
But basically, in the twentieth century, the media that was so dominating in all of our lives was a really tightly-controlled thing. Very few people actually had anything to do with it. It wasn’t a conspiracy or anything, it just wasn’t easy to do media, right? I mean, try getting a radio signal, or a television broadcast out to the public. You need things, don’t you? You need equipment, an infrastructure, and you need money, don’t you? It’s something that by its very nature only a few people can do.
And I remember getting this lesson myself in the 1970s when I was about 10, and I decided I wanted to start my own newspaper. Sounded like a great idea, right? Very “Little Rascals/Our Gang”-style. I knew I was serious about it because I went into my dad’s wardrobe closet, took out like his best shirt, I’m sure he was thrilled, right? Got a tie, I have no idea what I tied a tie like. I still can’t tie, when I was 10, it must have been worse. Slicked my hair back, went down into the room in our house we had designated as the media offices, with my whole neighborhood of kids in there working on my little fantasy, and we were able to have this little newspaper game until my dad decided a couple days later to break the ugly truth to a kid in the 1970s that as a 10 year old, you can’t have your own newspaper.
You had to have a few things, you had to have printing presses, you had to have a distribution network. All of this sounded relatively logical, I guess, to a disheartened, heart-broken, 10-year-old media mogul, right? But you know, fast-forward 40 years, and the Kacy and Jacy Tin Can Challenge that my daughter watches on YouTube looks like it could be on television in terms of its quality level. And more than a million people have seen it. And just so you know, that’s more audience members than almost any newspaper in America has. Right?
Think about that for a minute. The amount of change that has happened in media, and the way it has been opened up to the general public is unlike any thing that’s ever been seen. If you went and looked at twentieth century media, It was, by its very nature, hard for people to get into. There was a need to have a mass audience, there was no place for anything that didn’t have a mass appeal. You go back, let’s say 1990, and you watch something like the Golden Girls on television, which was a popular TV show, but not a super popular TV show, but they had 20 to 30 million viewers for every new broadcast. That, at the time, was about 10% of the entire American population. They don’t get numbers like that for sitcoms anymore, those are crazy numbers.
Nowadays, you get 5 million people watching a program, and you could live off of that. Back then, 5 million people got your TV program canceled. You have opportunities that didn’t exist back then. In the 21st century, you can go out and reach billions of people. Once upon the time, when I was in radio, you would go out, and you had a physical transmitter distance that you could go and as soon as you drove out of it you couldn’t hear me anymore. The Internet though is billions of people. It’s this enormous pie, and if you only can reach a tiny little fraction of that pie, it’s still a ton of human beings.