We hear from four leading creatives about the future of content at the recent Future x Skills event at the Barbican

In 1996 Bill Gates said that “content is king” and for years, leaders in the digital sector have been investing and innovating the way we create and share content. But 23 years on does content have the same power or is there a new heavyweight shaping the way we do business in and outside of the creative industries.

That’s what Create Jobs explored at the Mayor’s Youth Digital Careers Event, Future x Skills through our panel session, “Content is King: The Future of Media and Storytelling in the Digital Age”. Happening across a whole day of talks at the Barbican, Future x Skills gave young Londoners the opportunity to find out more about the wealth of training and career opportunities available in tech, and how to get ahead of the crowd.

Taking over the closing session, “Content is King” saw five leading creatives with a wide range of experiences speak about where they think the content creation industry is right now and where they see it going. On the panel was Melody Sylvester (Head of Film, Engine), John Beardsworth (Content Director, MediaCom), Michael Berhane, podcaster and CEO of People of Colour in Tech (POCiT), Yasmin Mehmet (Talent Recruiter, Channel 4) with journalist and documentary maker Kieran Yates chairing the discussion.

Get creating

What was clear from the whole panel was that there should be nothing stopping you from creating content. Everyone spoke about what was available to the new generation of content creators that wasn’t previously available. From Instagram and TikTok to homemade zines and the phones in our hands, there’s a lot out there to support content creators nowadays.

However, as Melody reminded the group “being brave enough to make stuff is the first step”, which is sometimes easier said-than-done. Especially as creating content doesn’t guarantee you a job. However, she made it clear that the rewards were worth the risks, saying that just making this sort of content puts you around the right people doing similar things and gets you thinking in the right way.

Diverse voices matter

The panel spoke openly about the importance of diverse voices, and that having different perspectives and backgrounds in the room when content is being created is key to its success. John Beardsworth from Mediacom spoke about this in relation to work he is doing at MediaCom.

When speaking about a current MediaCom project with Universal Pictures; the next James Bond movie, No Time to Die, John spoke about how you can’t just show diverse faces on screen and have it land. That’s why Universal Pictures are working with new writers like Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge to help bring authenticity to the story.

You don’t need to rely on support from the big names

There was a consensus around the room that creating content on your own was challenging but it’s not always easy to get buy in from the big players in the industry. That’s why going it alone should never be a barrier says podcaster and CEO of People of Colour in Tech, Michael Berhane.

Talking about his own podcast, Techish, Michael spoke about how going it alone and creating content by yourself freed him and his podcast partner up to do it their way. This was supported by Melody Sylvester who is Head of Film at one of the giants in the content space, Engine saying “the bigger platforms are looking at what the smaller guys are doing.

Hosting a podcast which speaks solely on the intersection of tech, pop culture and life, Michael also expressed that being niche is a positive, “too many people are just chatting with their mates. The internet is made for niche; niche is not small.

Getting people to listen is the hard part though. Michael had “an established social following but sharing on social, creating soundbites, sharing with friends” is essential to help build a listenership. But, expect to wait a while. Michael only really saw a return form his podcast after two to three years.

Format is fundamental

What was evident from the group was that there are more ways than ever to create content but deciding on format was key for it to work for your chosen audience. Whether it’s a longform essay on Medium or 280-character tweets, you need to be sure you’ve thought about how your key audience absorbs content.

When looking at demographics, Melody said that “the perception is that young people want short, specific content running at 8 minutes.” This was supported by Yasmin, Talent Recruiter for Channel 4 who spoke about their decision in June to invest in short form content for teens which will be distributed on YouTube and social media.

But age isn’t the only decider. Michael’s podcast is aimed at fast-moving startup-owners, so they try to keep their podcasts short; “our listeners are busy, so they don’t want to listen to 2-hour long podcasts.”

But as Kieran highlighted, being adaptable is key. Finding something that works, but not being nervous to move onto new platforms like TikTok could be young content creators’ greatest advantage. With millennials and gen X being the first to adopt these new platforms they quickly become leaders at it. Something organisations are always looking to recruit for.

Storytelling will always win

“Technology comes and adapts, but truth and storytelling stay forever fundamental”, said Melody. Both her and Kieran spoke about the importance of the emotion behind effective content and how this will always last.

Experiencing different environments and experiences will always benefit content creators.

“Everyone has words and thoughts, but it takes real skill to make a story”

The whole panel believed that taking time to reflect on your story and finding that to tell is the key thing to making great content.

This panel was supported by the Mayors Fund for London, Citi Foundation and Berkeley Foundation. It was hosted at the Mayor of London’s Youth Digital Careers Event, Future x Skills which was delivered, in partnership, by the Workforce Integration Network (WIN) and the Digital Talent Programme.

Image© GLA/Caroline Teo and GLA/Ben Broomfield