My media habits: Mikhail Zhigarev of Cheil Singapore – ‘I believe social platforms do their job quite well’

In a conversation with Mumbrella's Dean Carroll on his media habits, Cheil Singapore's director of the digital marketing centre for South East Asia and Oceania Mikhail Zhigarev believes social media - in moderation - is not all bad

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 outsource my news filtering to algorithms and news aggregators – Google and Feedly do quite a good job when it comes to my media diet. 

“At the moment, most of the content comes from SCMP, Bloomberg, The Straits Times, BBC, CNN – a balance of different geographies, industries and viewpoints. From time to time, I also check alternative sources to make sure I haven’t missed anything important. 

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

“What is the preferred way of getting information? My browser and smartphone know better, so without checking my surfing history it would be hard to tell – ridiculous and slightly daunting. 

“Apps, mostly social media, dominate my media consumption, followed by websites. Recently some telegram channels and podcasts have hooked me and taken over a significant part of my daily routine. 

“Print and TV got the last chance to win back my attention when I was practicing digital detox a year ago. They did not succeed. If the source is not connected to the internet, it has the tiniest chance of catching my attention.” 

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

“The first choice for everything business- or work-related is concise content. Summaries, infographics, meta-comments – aggregated or upvoted comments on content pieces. 

“When it comes to entertainment, long-form is my preference. It’s hard to imagine someone who would be excited with a 15 minute version of ‘Game of Thrones’.” 

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

“Jon Stewart. He makes me laugh.

“In my opinion, public figures and bloggers are community journalists of a sort: here are just some names – Bill Gates, Seth Godin, Avinash Kaushik, Dharmesh Shah, Bob Hoffman, and 20-30 others, not only in business, but say in urban planning, art, entertainment, travel, cooking, etc.” 

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

“Everything related to privacy and data protection that eventually led to GDPR, Congress hearings, lawsuits, cyber wars – all that shows the real power of data.” 

Are there any titles you have paid subscriptions to?

“Harvard Business Review and MIT technology review. It is also worth mentioning O’Reilly and Scribd, even though these are content libraries, not media.”   

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

“I cut the cord 15 years ago. I am more than happy with YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and a couple of other services.”

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?

“It feels like there are some elements of discovery pre-built in the recommendation engines, and of course there is no such thing as a perfect matching algorithm. Moreover, we have friends and media who point us towards a new show or book. 

“Therefore, features or errors of algorithms as well as outside influence will keep us safe. One should not be worried about losing the joy of serendipity. I personally don’t. 

“In case I can’t stand the recommendation – I tag it as ‘not interested’. While it won’t save you from the endless annoying ads, 60% of the time, it works every time.

What was the best film you saw of late – and can you describe why it made an impression on you?“‘Love Death Robots’ – visually stunning, intriguing, and too short. ‘Chernobyl’ – best drama, outstanding from start to finish.”

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

“‘Game of Thrones’ was the only exception. Watching it as soon as it was available was the only way to avoid spoilers.” 

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

“Now it’s mobile and laptop (70% / 30%). The numbers started changing four years ago, when I started watching more videos on the small screen.” 

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

“No doubt that piracy is disturbing for content producers, but it seems that both industries have reinvented their business models and found new revenue streams.” 

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

“Yuval Noah Harari’s books. ‘Sapiens’, was published a while ago, but I discovered it only a month back. I also have to mention ‘Homo Deus’ which focuses on the future of humankind, including data and algorithms that are exciting for all of us here.

“Both made a huge impression on me, and gave a new set of lenses to look at the world around us.”

So Kindle or hard copy?

“Audiobooks at twice the speed, hard copy and Kindle. In this exact order.” 

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

“Spotify in the gym or during my commute. I had Apple Music before I had switched to Samsung Galaxy.” 

Which musical artists appeal to your tastes right now?

“My playlist confuses all recommendation engines, because there is no pattern. If someone asked me this question a year ago, I would have said Imagine Dragons.” 

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

“They are like sugar: instant pleasure, hard to avoid, many want to cut down on it, but can’t. Is sugar bad? Perhaps it is okay if you reduce your intake.” 

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?

“Not really. Social media is a different beast with some traits of media companies and technology platforms. Purely tech companies are less opinionated, compared to media ones with their own vision and moral standards (or agenda if you wish). 

“Having just two people expressing opinions on a polarised topic may start a fire. What about millions and even billions? 

“I am still not sure what would be the best way to go – impose more regulation or allow the space to be self-regulated. Despite all accusations, I believe social platforms do their job quite well.” 

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?

“I cannot completely agree with the statement. I’d like to think that we always have a choice and can exercise free will. Nothing stops me from checking different perspectives, so the good old days have just been upgraded by machines.”

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?

“Yes, that sounds anti-utopian, but what if it won’t be as bad as critics imagine? We are just at the beginning of AI revolution – the unknown future thrills and frightens. Being optimistic is my way to deal with the anxiety about it.”


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