Features

My media habits: Matt Sutton of Whalar – ‘I caught FOMO about a decade back’

In an interview with Mumbrella's Dean Carroll, Whalar Asia-Pacific CEO Matt Sutton talks about battling the fear of missing out by owning multiple tablets and packing his news aggregator apps, and browsers, with links

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?

“There is so much information all around us these days. I am one of those people who is obsessed with nothing falling between the cracks, so I read a lot. Like most people I probably read too much at a superficial level and not enough at a deeper level. 

“On that list, you would see things like Seeking Alpha to see how much money I have lost on the stock market overnight. Guardian Football to see how much further from greatness Everton have slipped. 

“BBC News and AP News to see how close to Armageddon we are. All the industry press including Mumbrella of course to see if Whalar is in there.”

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

“I am manically obsessive about missing out on stuff; I guess I caught FOMO about a decade ago. I have Feedly set up across all my devices. 

“Within the platform, I have 15 categories of information and within each of those anything from 10 – 100 different sources. I also mirror that whole ‘filing system’ on my browser bookmarks.

“Yes, I’m weird. But it does mean I can quickly and easily get a handle on the world whilst on the move on any of my devices.” 

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

“I like both. I love movies. I also love an engrossing TV series. I always wait until I can watch the whole thing when I want though, as my schedule is as much all over the place – as is my mind. If you want a suggestion for a good series, go to Miranda Dimopolous at the IAB. She’s ‘The Oracle’. 

“I am definitely one of those people who has gravitated towards lots of short-form content on my phone, with the sound off. And the lights. A man needs some peace.” 

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

George Monbiot

“I’m a big fan of George Monbiot. What is the most important issue of our time? Our very existence, of course.

“Anthony Bourdain is a legend and I am currently watching ‘Parts Unknown’ all over again. Beautiful, real, inspiring, entertaining and now, a bit sad.” 

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

“It’s a video documentary but Hyper Normalisation by Adam Curtis is an amazing piece of work and reveals so much about how our world and the lens we view it through has been distorted beyond recognition.” 

Are there any titles you have paid subscriptions to?

“The Economist and GQ.”

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

“Streaming. Everything is streamed at Sutton Towers. I stream everything through my projector on to the wall. It’s beautiful.” 

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?

“Great question. Clearly they have a practical value but I distrust all algorithms deeply and am constantly trying to circumnavigate them. 

“On a broader level they are a key contributor to the polarisation and rise of populism we see in the world today. Life is about discovery, surprises and learning, not running around in an ever decreasing circle of sameness. Sorry, vent over.” 

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

“I feel like I wasted a lot of time watching superhero movies last year but they were decent enough and I do like a little nap in the cinema. 

“’Green Book’ was superb. Like all great stories it was an exploration of human nature and was both life affirming and inspirational whilst revealing the innate flaws of the societies we produce.”

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

“I’m not really an event TV kind of person as my schedule is pretty fluid. I’m more the guy texting people asking for something to watch as I have a flight to catch. Or no friends. Or both.” 

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

“Tablet. I have a few in strategic places so I can move seamlessly and start where I left off. And because if I move them I’ll lose them. 

“I left one in a supermarket trolley in Singapore once and went back for it three days later and there it was in the trolley. Half way through ‘Peaky Blinders’.” 

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

“I’m sure there is a precise dollar value number out there that answers this question? I’m also sure that there are a lot of talented, creative and amazing folk that get affected by it, so I would never want to underestimate that or belittle its impact. 

“The bigger picture though is that these technologies have unleashed an avalanche of creativity that enables anyone to be a creator and reach audiences and monetise content in way we have never seen before. 

“”It’s truly inspiring. Some ‘spillage’ can and needs to be written off as a ‘cost of sale’ and all industries operate with an element of corruption in them. There will always be an audience willing to pay for quality content in one way or another.” 

And moving on, what’s been your favourite book in recent times?I’d have to say ‘Sapiens’. Applying that lens to the things you see around you is fascinating. Surely it will go down as one of the great books of our time. 

“My favourite book of all time is ‘On The Road’ by Jack Kerouac.” 

So Kindle or hard copy?

“Kindle app on my phone. It’s what got me reading books again. Though I should read way more than I do.” 

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

“Spotify. First they invented sliced bread, then they invented Spotify. I love music and Spotify is such a game-changer. I ‘collect’ music on my starred list there – I’m up to 5,000 now.” 

Which musical artists appeal to your tastes right now?

“Lame answer alert but honestly it’s really, really varied. I listen to some really naff stuff and some really cool stuff and I love all styles of music. 

“My colleagues will vouch for the naff stuff. To make me sound cool, check out Rufus Du Sol and especially ‘Inner-bloom’. Magical. 

Rufus Du Sol

“I love Noel Gallagher’s new stuff and I will always be an Oasis kid.”

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

“Hero with villainous aspects.” 

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?

“If you deliver the news, you are a news company. They should have different regulations than a traditional news company though because the way they deliver it and the controls they have on it are fundamentally different.” 

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?

“Democratisation of information and content is an amazing thing. I don’t miss the old days and I’m positive about the future. I do think people need to be conscious of how they are being influenced. Hasn’t that always been the case though?”

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?

“Predicting the future is fraught with danger as you’re usually wrong. I predict more automation and that will have its downsides. But I also think over a period of time, the human race is fairly adept at reverting back to type and remaining true to itself, both the positive and negative aspects. 

“There has always been a bulk of the population that blindly consume anything and are more blindly influenced than others and that wont change. Technology is an enabler.”

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