Unless you happen to be a Magic Eight-Ball or a member of the Dharma Initiative, it’s safe to say that you probably don’t have the capacity or resources to predict the future with any profound degree of accuracy. And yet there’s a fundamental quirk of human psychology that insists on projecting events into a gleaming future tense, a tendency that is exacerbated by our hyperaccelerated media culture.
Arguably no programmer has ventured further ahead of the curve than ESPN, which remains adept at identifying consumer trends and technology refinements well before they become established currency. But as consumers increasingly control a splintering media space, programmers and their advertising partners are engaging in a far more cooperative form of divination.
To that end, ESPN teamed up with GroupM’s Mindshare and packaged-goods giant Unilever, drafting a new report that looks not only to predict the future of media but also develop strategies to en-gage consumers in an even more fragmented marketplace.
“Media 2015: The Future of Media” suggests four scenarios in which media appetites range from Hungry Hungry Hippo to Kate Moss, while the sources of information they turn to stretch from a handful of outlets to a virtual plurality. In response to each model, the partners have devised specific tactics for meeting these new challenges head-on.
For example, in one scenario, time-suck social media like Twitter  is in the ascendancy, accelerating the disruption of an already atomized marketplace. In such a world, advertising will be tailored to time and place, and agencies looking to help clients navigate the landscape will be charged with managing a torrential flow of data.
“In a sense, we’re living in the future now, minus the flying cars,” said Mark Potts, Mindshare’s North American managing director for consumer insights. “It’s an ‘always-on’ world, but at the same time, there’s a parallel world where consumers don’t always want to be plugged in. This is a way for us to flesh out and organize our thinking.”
A second scenario, dubbed the “Portal of Me,” posits a world where media access remains fluid, but consumer attention is focused on a few trusted brands and outlets. Content will be customized and filtered by third parties that tailor information to the specifications of consumer-provided preferences. Under this model, the consumer cedes a certain control, and brands permitted access to these walled gardens will have demonstrated a value that transcends privacy issues. Desire will beget consent.
“It’s less about the platform than how consumer behavior will change because in four years years, we’ll be talking about a company that doesn’t exist today,” said Rob Master, Unilever’s North America media director. “We’re setting a new course in terms of how we think about connecting with consumers.”
While the two other models assume a more fixed media environment, where consumers fall on the matrix has much to do with age and education.
“The future will probably look like a combination of each scenario, but TV will stand up in the longer term,” Potts said. “We’re not sounding the death knell of traditional advertising. We’re just preparing for every contingency.”