Amazon Prime Video’s new superhero satire is too niche to be a big hit, but as chief strategy officer Brad Berens describes, it pieces into Amazon’s strategy of taking shrewd advantage of the blind spots of other businesses.

As I write this sentence, I have watched six of the eight episodes of “The Boys” — the superhero series that Amazon released on Friday, June 26th.

“The Boys” is great fun, occupying similar thematic territory as the Deadpool movies. In other words, it’s a live action, profane, funny, dramatic, sad, action-packed satire of the many hit superhero movies and television shows released over the last decade. It takes particular aim at DC Comics’ Justice League since several characters are thinly-veiled versions of league members: Homelander is Superman; Queen Maeve is Wonder Woman; Black Noir is Batman; A-Train is The Flash; The Deep is Aquaman.

The conceit, put simply (and please forgive the bad language), is a question: what if superheroes were assholes? If you have a stomach for dark humor and violence clad in tights, then the show is well worth watching.

But this is not a review… (more)

Those of the Baby Boom generation remember a time when, upon returning home, they would just turn on the television without knowing exactly what they would watch. This is still the case for many people, who know they want to watch something, even though they aren’t sure what that will be or even what programming is available.

What about the internet, which has now overtaken the television as the main mass medium for many people — especially the young?

How often do you go to the internet without having a specific destination?  (more)

From the Center’s Digital Future Study.

Infographic by Joanna Kim.

See all of the Center’s infographics here

Legislators and regulators have the “Big Four” in their cross hairs, but Center director Jeffrey Cole asks: is it fair to compare these companies to the Trust Busting of the 19th and 20th centuries?

By any objective measure, the “Big Four” (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google) are so big and powerful they control their industries, causing many critics and governments to question whether they are monopolies. In any normal environment, they would be broken up. The Big Four have become some of the biggest and most successful companies in history, and that size and success is making them targets.

Indeed, at least three of the four are genuine monopolies. Google accounts for over 90% of search in every country in the world except China. Placing advertising in and around search has built Google in 20 years into one of the most profitable companies ever. In those 20 years, Google and Facebook have been responsible for 40% of advertising disappearing from television, radio, newspapers, and magazines. (Facebook is just 15 years old.)

Facebook has 2.4 billion users around the world out of 7 billion people on the planet, or more than one-third of every man, woman, and child. But Facebook’s reach is more impressive than that since 1.3 billion people, the Chinese, can’t get Facebook. So, Facebook reaches 2.4 billion out of 5.7 billion, or 42%. And it’s still more impressive than that because the 5.7 billion figure includes non-users of the internet. Today there are about 3.4 billion people who are online and not living in China. 2.4 billion of them are on Facebook, or 70%. No other platform comes close to this, and this percentage doesn’t include Facebook’s wholly-owned Instagram or WhatsApp.  (more)

With a smartphone in your pocket, you almost never have to experience negative emotional states, and that’s a problem. CSO Brad Berens explains.

By Brad Berens

One reason there’s an obesity epidemic is that humans evolved in a world of caloric scarcity: getting enough food wasn’t easy for most of the population for most of human history. It still isn’t easy for many, many food-insecure people.

However, the people who are food secure find themselves in an evolutionary conundrum: our instincts tell us to eat a lot whenever we can because there may not be food later. If we follow our instincts, we get fat. To stay fit, we have to make an unnatural choice: stop eating even though there are still calories available.

This conundrum is relatively new. We’ve had decades to get used to calorie-convenient things like supermarkets, fast food, frozen food, microwaves, and food delivery. We’ve also had decades of fitness gurus telling us to exercise (the first one I remember was Jack LaLanne) and diet after diet, all trying to help us fight our instincts.

Someday, medical science may develop ways to tweak our metabolisms to crave less food as easily as we use glasses to tweak our vision: wouldn’t that be nifty?

Today, we have to choose to be B.L.U.E.– bored, lonely, or uncomfortable…ever. Those are unnatural choices! However, choosing to be B.L.U.E. is just as important as choosing to eat less so as not to get fat and die prematurely.  (more)

With new digital technologies, completing work-related tasks away from the office has become increasingly easy. Telecommuting can be advantageous for a variety of reasons, but it might also have some downsides.

One benefit that workplaces supply is social. A question that arises from the use of digital technology is to the extent to which people would miss their social interactions if they no longer had to come into the office to work.

In the Center’s Digital Future Survey, we asked internet users who have access to the internet at work how much they miss social interaction with their fellow workers if they are not in the workplace.  (more)

At a glance: social media and sports content

From the Center’s study of sports fan behavior and media use.

Infographic by Wencheng Jiang.

See all of the Center’s infographics here

With new streaming services competing for audience attention and subscription dollars, and studios reclaiming its content, can Netflix survive? Center founder Jeffrey Cole has five suggestions.

The Streaming Wars have begun. The service at the greatest risk and with the most to lose is Netflix.

Ever since it made the awkward transition from the “Red Envelope” business into streaming eight years ago, Netflix has been on an unprecedented glide path to success. Netflix is the unchallenged leader of the subscription streaming category that it largely created. Hulu (with 25 million subscribers compare to Netflix’s 60-65 million in the U.S.) competes to be the streaming service in addition to Netflix, which has a $12 lock on the consumer’s wallet.

Netflix’s mix of recent theatrical films (similar to how HBO and Showtime began) coupled with old television series and $12 billion in original programming has proved to be an unbeatable combination. When you factor in all the password-sharing among families, college students, and friends, Netflix may actually have close to 80 million viewers in the U.S. and over 190 million worldwide.

But Netflix’s days of being unchallenged are over. Several of the key studios, alarmed at the monster competitor they helped create by selling Netflix their content, are now pulling that content back as they start their own competitive streaming services. This year Disney+ will go online, followed in the next year or so by Warner Bros., Universal, Apple, and likely several more. In three years, the consumer will have to spend $40-50 a month to get what they have been getting in one place from Netflix for $10…  (more)

The stakes of brand marketing can seem low, but as Chief Strategy Officer Brad Berens describes, our sense of self evolves in the digital world, how we create our identities around products becomes more important.

This week’s episode of the delightful NPR podcast “Hidden Brain,” “I Buy, Therefore I Am: How Brands Become Part Of Who We Are,” explores how the stories that companies tell about their products impact our lives and intertwine with our identities. In the podcast, host Shankar Vedantam interviews Wharton marketing professor Americus Reed about how branding works, why it works, and why we should pay attention. It is well worth 33 minutes of your time.

What the podcast neglects to do, however, is distinguish among the different sorts of branding, a topic that I’ll take up in this column particularly as it relates to the digital future.

It’s worth reiterating that the original sense of a brand is a mark burned onto a cow in order to distinguish that cow from the many other very-similar-looking cows grazing the range. Branding at its core is about creating a distinction where there isn’t a naturally occurring one.

Here, then, are the three sorts of brands.  (more)

The Center’s new 147-page “Surveying the Digital Future” report includes more than 100 issues that explore the impact of digital technology on American users and non-users.

New subjects in the study include views about using body-implanted chips for increased security, fake news, mainstream media, and regulation of social media.

Download the report here.

Nearly 60 percent of American banking customers would consider moving their money to accounts offered by familiar companies, such as online retailers, search engines, or big-box stores, even though they have no experience with financial services, according to a new study on the future of money and banking by the Center.

“We strongly believe banking is the next industry to be completely disrupted by digital change,” said Jeffrey Cole, director of the center. “Our research shows customers are far ahead of the banks in looking to the web and apps as their preferred banking methods. Download the Future of Money and Banking Report here.

The Center has published the ninth edition of World Internet Project report, the collaboration between the Center for the Digital Future and partner organizations in countries worldwide.

The 54-page study explores views and behavior about internet use and non-use, devices for internet access, years online, user proficiency, reasons for not going online, politics and the internet, freedom of expression online, media reliability, online security and personal privacy, and activities on the internet.

Download the World Internet Project Report here.

Center director Jeffrey Cole explores transformation of the media for the keynote address at the leadership meeting of the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

View the video here.