My media habits: Wunderman Thompson’s Farrokh Madon – ‘I’ve never watched a pirated movie’

In a conversation with Mumbrella's Dean Carroll, Wunderman Thompson Singapore's chief creative officer Farrokh Madon talks about his media habits and how he doesn't see a machine creating a Steven Spielberg film in a 'gazillion years'

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? 

BBC and my Google News feed. With a brief trawl through Twitter. 

“Here I get choice sound bites from Mashable, Fast Company, Wallpaper, Time, Wall Street Journal, Paulo Coelho and of course juicy OMG Facts that bring a smile on even the most stressful days. 

“For example, did you know that ketchup was sold as medicine in the 1830s?”

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

“Mostly websites, apps and social networks. Twitter’s short format ensures you’re up-to-date, but not up-too-late, reading.”

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

“Content should be only as long as it can remain interesting. When engagement is key, 10 minutes of great content is too short and 10 seconds of boring drivel is too long. 

“I have a six year-old-daughter who plainly expresses her opinion of boring content by saying ‘It’s yucks.’”

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

“It’s harder these days to think of prominent journalists. Rohit Brijnath from The Straits Times comes to mind, though. “I like sports and his writing elevates sports writing beyond results, reporting and records. His turn of phrase and flair for words makes his point of view well worth reading.”

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

“No particular piece of work comes to mind, though I enjoy reading thought-provoking articles on the BBC website.”

Are there any titles you have paid subscriptions to?

“No. Days zip by faster than a speeding Porsche. It is hard enough to keep up with all the great free content out there.”

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

“I personally like sports and nature documentaries on channels like Fox and National Geographic.”

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?

“In a time-starved world, I think it’s great to be served up the bits you are most likely to find interesting. 

“Having said that it is always great to chance upon an interesting shared article on Facebook or LinkedIn, that you otherwise wouldn’t have received on your news feed. Some time back, I saw this poignant and beautifully crafted short film ‘Happiness’ (by award-winning animator Steve Cutts) shared by someone on Facebook.

What was the best film you saw of late – and can you describe why it made an impression on you? “BlackkKlansman. It’s a movie based on a true story. And it proves that fact can be stranger than fiction. It’s scary to think that bigoted people like that live and thrive in the 21st century.”

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

“It has got to be Game of Thrones. It is the most mesmerising show I’ve seen in years. History, fable, intrigue, action, drama, love and lust, all in one place. Amazing.”

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

“Mostly mobile, as I have the most screen time when I am en route to or getting back from the office.”

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

“I am proud to say that I have never bought or watched a pirated movie. I work in a creative industry and I know how much blood, sweat and craft go into producing a moving film. 

“It’s the people who craft that moving piece that need to be rewarded and not some parasite who feeds off the toil of others.”

And moving on, what’s been your favourite book in recent times?“‘Breathless in Bombay.’ It’s a beautifully written collection of short stories by Murzban Shroff, one of the most promising writers to come out of India since Salman Rushdie and Rohinton Mistry.”

So Kindle or hard copy?

“Without blinking, hard copy. Nothing can beat the romance of opening up a new world every time you turn a page. I love the smell of books and the electronic reading experience can never emulate that.”

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

“Besides a little detour towards Spotify, I own my own music and play the songs I like off my phone. I still have some CDs of the music I love, which I occasionally listen to at home.”

Which musical artists appeal to your tastes right now?

Led Zeppelin

“I prefer classic rock bands like Queen and Led Zeppelin. And Bob Marley’s reggae is just as uplifting now as it was decades back.”

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

“Hero. Thanks to content curated by the hundreds of friends who share stuff they like. Some of them share some really cool stuff. 

“Suthisak Sucharittanonta of BBDO Bangkok has a great Instagram feed. Check it out. He has a great eye for photography and his images linger in mind long after you’ve seen them.”

View this post on Instagram

Time Tunnel.

A post shared by Suthisak ???? (@suthisak) on

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? 

“I enjoy the wealth of diverse opinions and colourful content they bring me. Personally, I think they give everyone a fair voice and allow a democratic dialogue.

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?

“There are pros and cons, I guess. Algorithms keep subjectivity from ruling and give objectivity a place under the spotlight.”

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?

“Of course not. Nothing beats a well articulated and executed personal point of view. Machines can tell you what people like but they can’t tell that story in a way that touches hearts and minds. 

“Only a human mind and heart can touch someone in that way. I can’t see a machine making a Steven Spielberg film in a gazillion years.”


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