My media habits: Justin Peyton of Wunderman Thompson – ‘I have fully cut the cord’

Wunderman Thompson's Asia-Pacific strategy and transformation chief Justin Peyton talks about why he believes a world of personal assistants and immersive technologies is just around the corner, in an interview with Mumbrella's Dean Carroll

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?

“I get daily emails from the various industry publications, and usually a few headlines will grab my attention. But outside of that, I don’t have any titles or publishers I must read daily. That’s not to say I don’t read every day. I do. 

“It’s just that with so many different sources fighting for attention it’s hard to dedicate myself to just one thing regularly. 

“Instead, I find myself increasingly relying on newsletters to curate articles that I can review and read over time. For example, I love Azeem Arhar’s Exponential View which publishes a weekly newsletter with links to interesting articles and highlights from the week. Benedict Evan, from A16Z, also puts out a great newsletter with curated links. 

“That said, when I do have time to visit some publishers sites, I tend to rely on The New York Times, Wired, Fast Company, The Economist, McKinsey, and Harvard Business Review.“

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

“I’ll always love the feel of a newspaper in my hand. Sitting outside, reading the paper while drinking coffee is a joy, but sadly, one that only seems possible when I am on holiday. More often, I get my news online through blogs, apps, social media and podcasts. 

“I find LinkedIn is increasingly my social network of choice for bubbling up interesting news/articles. But I also find myself listening to more and more podcasts. 

“It’s a great format because it means I don’t have to stare at a screen. And shows like ‘Wait Wait .. Don’t Tell Me’ and ‘How I Built This’ are great to listen to on the way to and from the office.”

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

“Both have purpose, but I consume a lot more short format content. I may be the poster child for our ever-shortening attention span.”

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

“David Attenborough. Not sure if he qualifies as he’s more of a documentarian than a journalist, but I find his voice instantly calms me, and his films draw me in and educate me. 

“But more than anything else, his content is something that I want to share with my kids. They are just getting to the age where it might be interesting to them, so it’s something we can share.”

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

“I don’t know if I can point to a single piece of journalism that changed everything. Maybe the Panama Papers because they really showed the power of modern investigative journalism. 

“But I think the better question is what publisher is changing the game? And there, I have to admire The New York Times. Snow Fall was one of the first pieces of major journalism that I remember using interactivity for a purpose. And they continue to try and innovate with new formats. 

“The Voyages issue of The New Times Magazine had no printed words and was designed to be listened to with a mobile companion, but can actually be enjoyed even without the print version. I really admire what they are doing in terms of pushing the medium.”

Are there any titles you have paid subscriptions to?

“I pay for a few things: Wired, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review and MIT Technology Review are the big ones. I also pay for the Exponential View newsletter. You can get the newsletter free, but there’s a lot of work that goes into it and I really believe that great content and great effort is worth paying for.” 

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

“I have fully cut the cord, so streaming is now the only option. At home, Netflix and Prime Video are top positions on our Apple TV.”

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?

“I think they are a blessing and a curse. 

“A blessing because, well, who has the time to go through everything out there?

“A curse because in their algorithmic desire to personalise content, they can turn themselves into echo chambers that just reinforce a singular world view, thereby limiting rather than expanding our perspective.”

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

“I was actually talking with a friend the other day about how little movies seem to mean these days. We are bombarded with so much content that where movies once used to be an event we would talk about, today they seem to have been reduced to an intensive two-hour content consumption session that we forget within a week or so. 

“I may however be biased because I see most movies on the back of an airplane seat, and that kind of sucks.

“There are however a few movies that do stick out as having got me thinking and talking to people: ‘Free Solo’ – because it is terrifying and amazing; ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ because it brings World War I to life through personal stories in a beautiful and unique way and Toy Story 4 because I enjoyed watching this with my kids.”

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

“I was looking forward to the last season of ‘Game of Thrones’, and now I am excited for the last season of ‘Homeland’. Beyond that, I am not sure if there’s much that I’ve really waited for in a long time.

“Bring back ‘The Wire’ and I’ll be all in.”

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

“If it’s reading, I tend to use my phone or laptop. Watching video is mostly the same, but I am trying to put the devices down a bit more often – that means listening to more audiobooks and podcasts, and watching some programs on a real TV.”

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

“It is a double-edged sword. It is terrible in that it removes revenue from people who work hard to create content, but at the same time positive in that it drives reach and exposure for people who might not get it otherwise. 

“Overall, I think that business models which give people some free content are good, but I find that quality is typically paid for, and in one way or another, we need to protect the revenue of great content producers and publishers. 

“So I guess what I’m saying is that it isn’t a great thing.”

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

“I mostly read non-fiction, and my latest favourite is ‘When Breath Becomes Air’. It was published a few years ago, but I only got to it recently and it made a huge impression on me. One of the most heart- breaking and inspiring books. 

“If you haven’t read it, you should.”

So Kindle or hard copy?

“I bought a Kindle a long time ago, but I don’t use it. For me the question is hard copy or audiobook, and increasingly the answer is audiobook – even if I still prefer hard copy.”

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


Which musical artists appeal to your tastes right now?

“My tastes are a bit all over the place. But the albums on repeat for me right now are: Cinematic Orchestra – To Believe; Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3; Pixies – Wave of Mutilation and Nightmares on Wax – Shape the Future.”

Run The Jewels 3

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

“Both. Hero because they are amazing at pushing content out, targeting and grabbing eyeballs. 

“Villain because they are partially responsible for our culture of click-bait, and because they can keep us in our own little filter bubbles.”

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?

“It’s tough to call them media companies in the traditional sense as they are not media creators. Yet at the same time, they are increasingly people’s primary access point to media. 

“So in that sense, they play a pseudo role as a media outlet. At least that is how I see the role they play at the moment.”

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 I miss old world journalism. But then doesn’t every generation say how it was better in their day and yearn for the days when it seemed simpler? 

“The truth is that people have access to more points of view and more content than ever before. There are free university courses and education material available at my fingertips. 

“I can find different perspectives or research articles in seconds with a single search. What we have today, and the algorithms that power it, would be considered a miracle in the eyes of many historical journalists. So personally I don’t think we can say that one is better than the other. 

“That said, I think there are lessons from the qualitative role of yesterday that we should adopt today, or at least strive for. That way, as the technologies that curate and deliver our content mature, we can find ourselves getting a more balanced and less biased perspective. At least that would be my hope.”

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?

“Every time someone says ‘that will never catch on’ they are wrong. So yeah, I think personal assistants and more immersive technologies will definitely take over. Will we trust them? That is probably a generational question. 

“Generations that are born into it will definitely trust them because they know no other way. But older generations will likely maintain some doubts. My hope, as I said in the last question, is just that the technologies and content providers mature to the point where they deliver thoughtful insights that challenge and educate people with varied perspective, rather than the filter bubbles that are too easy to fall into today.

“Also, I think that we all have to educate ourselves about what content to trust, and what not to. Just because an algorithm promotes a piece of content from your friend doesn’t make it true.”


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