The 800-pound gorilla

Athan Stephanopoulos has set out on a worthy mission in the ever-expanding jungle of worldwide web: he is schooling the media students to take their place in the ongoing power struggle between traditional media and new, social media.

“To some degree, you are not telling the students anything they don’t already know because they are greater consumers of social media tools than just about anybody,” says the founder of GorillaSpot Inc., a pioneering platform of online applications that empowers media and brand companies to ‘digitize’ and ‘socialize’ their content.

“But what I don’t think they understand is the elements of the current structure; the clash of traditional media meeting social media, the power players that manage traditional media,” adds the social media entrepreneur, who spoke to students at Northwestern University in Qatar recently and also teaches a course on social media at the Graduate School of Business at the Fordham University in New York City.

In traditional media, explains Stephanopoulos, consumers always received the goods packaged in pre-determined bits.

“A movie came in a 2-hour block, a book came in 250 pages, TV came in 30-minute shows, newspapers had a certain format, everything was very standardized.”

But the rules have changed, turning what was previously a passive, one-way process into a lively two-way and often multidimensional interaction – one in which consumers now have much more control in choosing what they want to consume, when they want it, how they receive it, and on what device.

“They are consuming differently and a lot of these traditional media companies are struggling with trying to understand how these new tools and new technologies affect the way in which they can share but still keep their content,” says Stephanopoulos, who began his professional career as part of the communication team for the White House at the time, before finding his calling in the entertainment advertising industry.

Today’s changing media environment, he says, has precipitated new economic models that present challenges as to how to leverage the ubiquitous connections available on social media – Facebook alone has 750 million users – and how to build new economies on top of them.

His answer: An 800-pound beast trampling its way into the equation, GorillaSpot.com.

“Through GorillaSpot Inc. we build tools that we can bring to content owners and say, ‘Creatively yet safely, bring your content into the online space and allow your consumers to interact with that content. Let them share it. And by doing so you’ll have a better voice in the conversation that’s going on,’” says Stephanopoulos.

The company’s products allow users to engage and share premium entertainment with such names as Major League Baseball, Saturday Night Live, HBO, MTV, South Park and host of other movie studio, TV network and sport league content owners.

But it’s a battle half-won, as the road ahead leads to uncharted territory.

“I think it’s important to recognize that we are still at the early stages of the internet. I think anybody who thinks that they know the answer is fooling themselves and fooling everybody else. Nobody knows,” he contends.

For students of journalism and communication, the developments bring immense potential, as more of the online crowd embraces social media, with less production of original content there and more sharing of professionally produced work with online circles of friends and family likely.

“Current students have a better sense of what would be effective in the new marketplace because they already are the earliest adaptors of these tools and know where the rest of the consumer base will be in three to five years. After all, they are the digital natives,” says Stephanopoulos.

“The journey towards ultimate digital connectedness will be led by them.”