I had the great fortune to be invited to the ASTRA conference in Sydney, Australia, this week. ASTRA is the organization that represents the subscription TV industry there and it was fascinating to not only discover Sydney (it’s absolutely gorgeous) but to get a fresh look at an industry I understand pretty well in another petrie dish over 7000 miles away. (You can find tweets about the conference using #astra2011.)
The subscription industry in Australia is quite young – it’s only been around for 16 years or so, and several people told me it is much more progressive and modern (and friendly to women) than the Free TV industry in Australia, which parallels our broadcast industry here in the states.
I got a good long look at the changing demographic in the Australian TV industry when I climbed on stage to give a talk about social media and women at the popular Women in Television Breakfast. When I heard the title, it never occurred to me that there’d be a room filled with almost 600 women.
Australians are an awfully friendly bunch but, despite their general unwillingness to be unpleasant, I had the impression that the talk – which addressed the consequences of women’s global dominance of the social media sphere – really resonated with these women (you can read an op-ed I wrote about the talk here). I got a better chance to talk to some of them the next day at a ridiculously delicious lunch at Cafe Sydney (when in Australia, be sure to order the sea trout at every opportunity). Petra Buchanan, the sleek CEO of ASTRA, gathered an amazing group of the most energetic and engaging women I’ve met since TEDWomen. Among them were the CEOs of Commercial Radio Australia, Screen Australia, and Ausfilm (those organizations are as important as they sound); journalists from Sky News, The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald (the top two newspapers in the country); impressive gals from Google and Sony and a woman who has produced just about every recent successful scripted series in Australia (and she was looking awfully sharp in an edgy, Jean Paul Gaultier blouse to boot).
Needless to say, I was in heaven. Seated next to me was Kim McKay, a seriously well-connected mover and shaker, who stared me straight in the eye and said that after she listened to my talk she went to speak to 600 teenage girls she’s recruiting for her 1 Million Women effort to reduce carbon emissions. She said that it hadn’t really occurred to her, before she heard my talk, that women are the dominant force on social media platforms all around the world. As a long time environmental activist, she knows how powerful social media can be for online activism, and it’s her primary tool in her latest initiatives. She said she got up on that stage and she gave those girls the same stony stare she was giving me and she told them that the social media stage is theirs for the taking. And they better take it. NOW.
Because there are so many commercial and political purposes for social networking technology, I think we tend to forget that, at it’s core, it’s a very human technology. It’s a place where humans indulge in an instinct they’ve inherited from their most ancient ancestors: an interest in connecting with other people, sharing stories and feeling like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. Stir that in with a post-mass media longing to be (at least a little bit) famous and you’ve got a seething pot of human potential roaming around online, looking for something to do and something to become.
What does it mean that women are fast becoming the masters of this sphere? It’s sort of like asking “What do women want?” Anyone who thinks they can answer that question is at least half crazy, but, in aggregate, I think that women who are helping shape the conversations in social media are, both consciously and unconsciously, generating a public presence for women that is historically unprecedented. In the vast majority of societies in history, women’s default location has been the private sphere. It should come as no surprise that women around the world are flocking to a new medium that allows you to take your private life public. As I argued in my ASTRA talk, what they choose to do there will have a game-changing impact on all media industries. Oh . . . and they’ll also be changing the world.