Reimagining the System of the Fourth Estate

This article was co-written by Aman Merchant, Co-founder and Chief Provocateur, Radicle, and Sofie Y. Mitschke, Program Manager, Radicle.
Known as the Fourth Estate, the role of media has an immense impact on our society. From shaping public opinion, changing consumer needs, shifting global politics to national security, it is one of the most influential sectors of our time.

Yet, it finds itself in an incredibly challenging period. Not only is it faced with huge levels of digital disruption, but the fallout of the political and financial crises of recent years has led to a historic low in public trust in the media and our institutional infrastructures. Venerable brands around the world are fighting their corner against niche upstarts such as Breitbart who have developed significant and incredibly loyal followings.

The same goes for the intertwined world of entertainment which, amongst others, has undergone strong criticism in relation to the gaming industry’s impact on violence, loneliness and isolation among the youth.

This article focuses on how the media and entertainment sector can use its influence and power to create a radically better future that brings us closer, create empathy and trust in our broader society, as well as how it needs to reinvent itself to survive beyond its current form. By exploring future trends in the industry globally and in the UAE, we’ll tease out radical and bold ideas on how a trendsetting nation state such as the UAE can leverage emerging technologies to create a better and more humane future, across the public, private and the third sectors.

Three Leading Global Trends

● In 2018, the global market of Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Reality (AR) hit a value of $814.7 billion, and is expected to continue increasing at a 63 percent CAGR until 2025. This is already beginning to shift the regional market, with players like the twofour54-based Mental Media, offering unique VR-based solutions to the world of education, that will trickle through to the media sector.

● Another emerging market to keep an eye on is the Edutainment Market. Entertainment designed to educate and amuse its audience has gained a growing popularity. Driven by the increasing investment in the education technology sector, the edutainment market is set to grow with a CAGR of 17% from 2019 to 20271.

● The third industry trend worth mentioning is the rapidly growing market of audio content and streaming. With a projected annual rate growth of 7.8% until 2022, audio streaming is expected to excel $2 billion in ad volume in 2021.

AI — A tool to Combat Fake News?

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), investment in artificial intelligence systems will reach over $100 million in the MEA by 2021. Among the GCC countries, the UAE has invested most in AI technologies, backed by it’s ambitious national AI strategy to position the UAE as a world leader in AI across industries by 2031.

A recent example of how AI is influencing the media and entertainment sector in the UAE is the joint partnership between Abu Dhabi Media and a Chinese-based technology company, Sogou, who are developing one of the first AI News Anchor that will present news in Arabic and English on ADM’s channels.

Imagine if leading media houses in the UAE partnered up with global AI start-ups to launch a media authentication AI-powered platform, which tackles fake news and misleading content on the internet in the UAE?

Innovative Edutainment for a Social Cause?

The concept of Edutainment is well-known in the UAE. From Kidzania, the Dubai Education Zone (DEZ), Mleiha Archaeological Centre in Sharjah who recently launched edutainment packages for kids to experience the history and archaeology of the UAE in a fun and educational manner, to Etisalat’s announcement of provision of edutainment services across the UAE in the near future, this is a buzzing space.

Imagine if the UAE invited talented start-ups in edutainment across the globe to co-create new tools and services for children of determination in close collaboration with care-givers and professionals?

Audio on Demand

Audio content and streaming are on the rise at global scale as well as in the UAE. Around 95% of the UAE’s population aged 10 and above tuned into radio every week in first-quarter 2018 according to a study by Nielsen, a global measurement and data analytics company.

Another emerging trends is podcasting, which has undergone an explosive growth in the past years. A report published by the market tiers MENA shows that 92% of the regular podcast listeners trust podcasts more than traditional media, and with 770,000podcasts(and rising),the options available to a discerning listener will only get richer.

The question is whether podcasts will put radio out of business, just like Netflix (and later AmazonPrime Video and other big brand recent launches by Disney and Apple)had done to players like Blockbuster?

Imagine if radio and podcast players collaborated with non traditional partners like traditional(though dying) print media and online streamers to create end-to-end media experiences for consumers? T-Series in India is one example that has slowly moved its influence from radio to youtube, such that it has the largest watched youtube channel in the world.

The Shift

In an age of fake news and struggling business models, a new wave of media companies and institutions are needed to remake this 4th Estate and rebuild the institutional trust. This future needs not only new content makers, but also new infrastructure and new institutions of this. It needs new means of developing public interest covering content and journalism along with new models of governance (e.g. verification tech, Hippocratic oath), new business models (machine 2 machine economy, learning driven as opposed to advertiser driven, platforms with chat bot driven media) and new leadership mindsets.

Ecosystem players like the Abu Dhabi-based twofour54 have a great opportunity to lead this transformation in a responsible and culturally appropriate manner, by creating sandboxes of media experimentation that invite systemic collaboration from global players that often typically operate in competitive silos.

The region has already jumped on the fourth industrial revolution highway -is it ready though to take a media deep dive and go through its own creative destruction to come out anew on the other side?