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TED Has Competition — From An Advertising Firm

Journalism, “amateur” content and web-only television are increasingly being created by brands themselves.

If you’re a fan of TED-style talks, and millions are, the new THNKR Channel on YouTube is for you. It’s a little more intimate than TED, and typical of the kind of two camera, one subject shoots that elevate video monologues to something approaching watchability.

But here’s the catch: THNKR isn’t a nonprofit like TED, or even a traditional media organization. It’s the creation of Radical Media, a “transmedia” company that typifies a larger trend in which brands and advertisers bypass traditional media outlets and just create their own content.

Here’s how Radical Media describes its “entertainment” division:

AS THE LINE BETWEEN advertising and entertainment blurs, our Entertainment division is a solution to a changing media landscape. In conjunction with our Design + Digital Group and Integrated Marketing team, we work closely with our agency, network, and brand partners to integrate their visions into the DNA of the content we create.

In addition to films and music videos, Radical Media also makes television commercials and, well, “transmedia.”

Here’s where it gets really confusing: While Radical Media is essentially an advertising firm, it was purchased in 2010 by the RTL Group, which owns 46 television channels and 9 radio stations and is Europe’s largest mass media company. In other words, a media company owns an advertising firm that moonlights as a media company. Huzzah!

The question is: does any of this matter? Brands have been sponsoring, and in some cases producing, entertainment since the invention of television (and radio, for that matter). And let’s not forget that newspapers, in their day, were mostly the bullhorns of whichever rich person happened to own them.

Still, it’s kind of funny how USA Today, a newspaper, is running the first episode of the new, THNKR-produced Youtube show “Prodigies” on its website as if it were news, but prefaces the clip with a video advertisement. While the odds are low, it’s entirely possible that on any given viewing, Radical Media produced both the “advertisement” and the “content”! 

Maybe the real lesson here is that we should stop struggling to discern whether our media outlets are compromised or our brands are trying to fool us into watching extended advertisements, and just embrace the fact that the Coca Cola Variety Hour followed by the Shell Oil News Burst will someday represent the apex of our post-mass media entertainment landscape.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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