My media habits: Charles Wigley, Asia chairman at BBH

Tackling all manner of media and mischief, Asia chairman at BBH Charles Wigley tells Mumbrella’s Dean Carroll about his consumption habits across all channels – including print, television, online, apps and even ‘papyrus scroll’

What are your must-read news sources you can’t live without on a daily basis, and why are those particular media titles so important to you?

“The BBC News app and The Financial Times.  The BBC because while it has a tad of a UK bias, it is still in its DNA to try and cover the world.

“The FT or ‘the hometown newspaper of the rootless global elite’ as someone rather brilliantly put it it because of the consistently excellent standards of its journalism.”

In terms of news consumption – do you prefer, print, television, radio, websites, newsletters, social networks, blogs, apps or something else entirely?

“Nothing like the comforting feel of print or the ease of the apps. People assume that new technologies simply replace old ones. That doesn’t necessarily happen. Often they layer.

“Video didn’t kill the cinema. Nor the radio star for that matter. whatever the Buggles said ( that’s one for my generation).

“Things that are useful, or even just feel good, tend to stick around. Apparently vinyl records accounted for 8.5% of long player sales in the US last year. Not bad for a cumbersome, easily scratched 100 year old format.

“People just like them – the sleeve art, the sound, the fashionability. That’s feel good, it’s difficult to rationalise or quantify stuff.”

Do you prefer long-form or short-form content?

“Entirely dependant on time of day and whether it involves drinking coffee or wine. The only proviso being that it is actually good. The dread word ‘content’ is a cover for too much commercially-driven cultural landfill these days.”

Can you name your favourite journalist and set out what makes them great?

“Lucy Kellaway of the The Financial Times. Years of wittily lambasting corporate bullshit. Then she went off and became a maths teacher at the age of 58 in an inner city London school – having founded ‘Now Teach’. Impressive stuff.”

What piece of journalism has changed the game in recent times, in your view?

“From our industry’s point of view I’d say the exposure of Cambridge Analytica. I suspect there are still others out there operating in a very similar manner though.

“And of course Facebook’s own advertising model is rather based on this sort of thing. Their service – and that of other social networks – isn’t free. We pay for it with our privacy.”

Are there any titles you have paid subscriptions to?

“The Economist. The Financial Times. The Week.”

In terms of films and shows, is your preference for terrestrial television or streaming platforms like Netflix?

“It’s not either or. It’s both. TV for news and sports, Netflix and Amazon Prime for drama. Again things tend to layer rather than replace.

“From an industry point of view, it is salutary to remember as well that live TV still accounts for the majority of global viewership and remains by far the most potent advertising medium ROI-wise.

“Swallow the new media hype whole at your brand’s peril.”

Are recommendation engines a good thing or do they cancel out the joy of serendipity in terms of discovering fresh content not aligned with your previous preferences?

“Anything that can help me navigate contemporary culture is welcome. I am not cool. I am 53. I’ll take the help where I can get it.”

What was the best film you saw of late – and can you describe why it made an impression on you?

Blade Runner 2049. Visually mesmerising and a storyline that may not be too far away. AI is going to be great for us all? The replicants aren’t so sure.”

Blade Runner 2049 kept Wigley’s attention

And what shows do you consider to be event TV, those programmes you just have to watch and can’t contemplate missing?

“I don’t think there is anything ‘I can’t contemplate missing’. We are all too plugged in most of the time and could likely benefit from being less so.

“The benefits of good old fashioned boredom – especially for creativity – are strong.”

In terms of devices, how do you access content most often – on mobile, desktop, tablet, laptop or television?

“Mobile, laptop, tv screen, papyrus scroll.”

How damaging is piracy and illegal downloads when it comes to the media and entertainment space?

“I actually think most people are fairly reasonable on this front. If they feel gouged price-wise, they’ll illegally download. But if something good feels reasonably priced – like Netflix or Apple music subscriptions at roughly $10 per month – they’ll happily pay.

“Too many traditional media companies have historically overcharged and are now reaping the result.”

And moving on, what’s been your favourite book in recent times?

The Cicero Trilogy by Robert Harris. Sounds heavy but isn’t. Harris writes the airport thrillers of history.”

So Kindle or hard copy?

“Battered paperback.”

And now to music. How do you buy and consume music?

“Apple music and my teenage children. As you can imagine, there is some degree of debate. Not all of it constructive.”

Which musical artists appeal to your tastes right now?

“Gesaffelstein – loud.

“But I’m also hankering after a return to the power ballad. Come back Roxette, all is forgiven.”

Social networks: Hero or villain when it comes to giving you access to content?

“Absolute time bandits.”

And are social networks like Facebook and Twitter actually media companies these days in your view, even though that is something they deny – perhaps to avoid further regulation?

“They are more like vast theatre stages or rostrums and we all know what happens when the wrong people get up on those.

“Despite much worthy sounding blather, they of course won’t self regulate because capitalism never does – and so governments ultimately will.”

In the digital world, algorithms rather than humans are the media gatekeepers. Do you miss the old days when the likes of journalists, critics and broadcasters played that qualitative role, or have we simply evolved to a better quantitative system?

“Yes, taste and experience are currently underrated. But their time will come again. Everything is a cycle.”

Finally, what does the future hold for the media space in your view – will artificial intelligence and virtual personal assistants take over to the point where we just trust the machines to tell us what we want to consume, in terms of news and entertainment?

“I hope not entirely. While on the one hand, it will be hugely useful. On the other, we’ll need to remember that someone – and their political views – are behind that helpful algorithm.

“This will need legislation, however ‘world saving’ the brand purposes of California tech companies sound. Also, one of the greatest dangers to society posed by our brave new world are the echo chambers we all live in.

“If you are a Democrat in the US now, you will likely only here other liberal voices on your social media feeds. If you are a Republican, only conservative ones. This is a problem.”


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