The Future of Content: Multi-Access

This post is part of The Future of Digital Content series, which discusses six traits I believe will be at the heart what content will look like in the coming years. These traits form a roadmap that lies at the heart of my research and experiments. The traits also work together, mixing and meshing, to paint a picture of how our future selves may read, watch, learn, and listen.

Read the rest of the series.

We Want It Our Way

Our first brick in our roadmap is the idea of mulit-access content. You’ve heard a lot about this lately, mostly from entertainment companies promising your movie on all your devices. And, yes, that’s a big part of what Multi-Access Content will mean. But it’s also only the beginning. Bill Gates once said that content (substance) is king. I agree. A new study by Google adds to that equation by saying, “Multiscreen is Queen.”

First, lets make a clear distinction in our words: content, substance, and form. Content is the whole enchilada rolled up deliciously for your audience. The content is the magazine article, the book, the move with all its sub parts (video, audio, text, whatevs) working together. Substance is half of that equation, the half that defines what you are saying. It is the story, the pitch, or the information. This substance can be transmitted any number of ways, just as a story can be told (with modifications) as a novel or movie. Form is how that substance is presented to your audience.

Now, lets throw those distinctions away. Form influences substance. Substance changes the form. Content is ever growing.

What does Multi Access Mean?

Now we get down to it. In most contexts today, multi-access means multiscreen, i.e., you can watch your move on you television, phone, and toaster. I propose Mulit-Access can mean more: 1.) accessing the same content in multiple ways, 2.) linear content that mixes access methods, and 3.) non-linear content that mixes access methods.

Let’s look at each in turn.

All Roads Lead to Rome

The future of content will allow you to access the same content in multiple ways. Not only will you be able to stream your favorite television show into your glasses, but you will read your favorite book through a website. Magazines will have print, virtual, and whatever else editions. Books, audio books, ebooks, blog books, all of this is a way to access the same content anyway you like. Even more important, the audience must be able to move seamlessly between access methods. If reading a book on my kindle, I need to pick up where I left off when I move to my print book or audio version. Any notes I have need to be accessible everywhere.

The buffet of choices only works if consistency is the prime ingredient (see what I did there?). Within reason, my digital textbook should offer content in the same way as my app. I don’t want to get a migraine switching between my content platforms.

Finally, all this content should be secure, easy to access, and (within reason) unrestricted. People don’t want to pay extra for multiple methods. This is my content, let me at it.

This One Interesting Road Leads to Rome

The second part of our multi-access definition is linear content that mixes access methods. In this case there is one line of narrative the audience is to follow, whether it is a fiction story, a news article, or a teaching lesson. There is a Point A and a Point Z with stops in the middle defined by the content creator. Of course, a little wiggle room can be in order, but only so far. That line, however, does not need to stick to one medium or content form. The news article can switch between video, audio, text, and graphics. Books can use images and text to tell a singular story. Chris Michaels, Author has a blog dedicated to this very idea.

By definition, any switching in media requires a switching in access type. Even in a website, you access text differently than the embedded video (through a player). What’s important in this case is that the alternating is seamless, easy, and intuitive. In other words, be intentional and thoughtful. Map out the audience’s path and follow it closely.

Pick a Road and Wander the Labyrinth

The last aspect of Multi-Access, non-linear content that mixes access methods, foreshadows a later trait in our roadmap, Immersive and Expansive. In this case, there is not a predefined route the audience must take. Instead, there are multiple access points that connect to other bit of content in a web of awesomeness. Each of these points are presented with their own form (videos, text, live action, etc.).

The role of the content platform here is to facilitate the journey and keep the audience from getting hopelessly lost. How can the audience keep track of where they have been? How do these pieces fit together? How can everything be kept consistent? These are important questions I ask as I develop experiments and tools to present this kind of content.

Trends and Numbers

No prediction post is complete without lots of numbers and graphs. We’ve done our homework. This isn’t just a wild guess. At the bottom of this page are listed some of our more helpful sources, but here are some basic trends I see continuing and merging.

From Google:


From Tech Cruch:


Other Studies:

Closing Thoughts

The most interesting content of the future will employ some combination of these strategies. Right now, many of these concepts are in the realm of experimentalists and geeks, much like computer animation was in the early 199os. However, as technologies come of age that make it easier to present multi-access content, I expect creative people to find new ways of presenting all the things we love.

This trend is not restricted to digital content. Multi-access means multiple access which, of course, should include print, audio, live action, and any number of other creative mediums.

Next, let’s look at Mixed Media.

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Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
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  1. Although as I realize which post this comment was attached to, I guess this one is speaking mostly of digital content. My bad.

  2. I’m resistant to your idea because I’m very fond of my books. On the other hand, I have books on my e-reader where I can switch between audio and screen reading. I like that very much. As you’ve pointed out, this is already happening and I suspect …. we’ll all not only get used to it but will enjoy it. I think it’s possible that the end result would be more people reading – not less – and that is exciting.

    • Very insightful. I would agree that I like my books, and I think something I don’t emphasize enough is that this does NOT have to be all digital. There are plenty of ways to do mixed-media and interactivity “off the grid” as it were.

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