Young woman at the video editing station - symbolic image digital media

What are digital media? 4 categories to know

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What are digital media? This question sounds like it would be easy to answer. On closer look, however, the answer is anything but trivial. It is true that digital media includes those media that have been digitally encoded. However, if one wants to escape a circular definition, this finding needs further explanation. So before we get to the different categories and list the most important examples, let’s briefly clarify what a medium is and what digital encoding means. Ready? Here we go.

The conceptual history of “medium” is so complex that we will limit ourselves here to the fact that the word originally comes from Latin and meant something like “middle”. “Mediate” is not far away and so the function of a medium can also be remembered well:

A medium stores and conveys information.

This can be done analog or digital. If you want to know exactly what the fundamental difference is, then read on here, for example. We content ourselves with the statement that with digital information we are dealing with discrete values that can be represented (coded) with zeros and ones, while analog information is always continuous and cannot be coded in this form.

The material of the carrier media

Before the invention of the computer, of course, there were only analog media. Remember back. Was it not the case that almost every medium consisted of its own characteristic material? Books were made of paper, records of shellac or vinyl, photo negatives of celluloid, cassettes of magnetic tape, etc.
With digital media, on the other hand, the material of the storage medium is irrelevant. If you digitize books, pieces of music or photos, they can all be on the same data carrier, e.g. all on one hard disk or all on one DVD or all on one USB stick. So there are digital carrier media of different material, but each carrier medium is universal. With analog storage media, on the other hand, this universality does not exist. For example, a sound recording cannot be stored on paper, a video cannot be stored on a record, etc.

From byte to zettabyte

The first digital computer existed with the Zuse Z3 since 1941. The computer weighed about a ton and had a memory capacity of 176 bytes. But the road to the digital age was arduous. Although the first digital photo was taken in 1957 (see figure), even in 1986 it is estimated that less than 1% of global storage capacity was digital.

First digital photo. Scan of an analog photo by Russel Kirsch.

Now, of course, the ratio has reversed and more than 99% of the world’s storage capacity is digital, with data volumes growing rapidly at a doubling rate of about two years. In 2025, according to current projections, the total amount of digital data will be around 175 zettabytes (one zettabyte corresponds to one trillion bytes). Incidentally, the phase since the zettabyte mark was exceeded (around 2012) is called the zettabyte era.

What digital media are available? 4 categories and 16 examples

1. Media content

We have already named a few media contents, and we will also expand the list, but of course we can only list the most important ones, because in principle any content that has been digitally encoded falls under this, including multimedia files of course.

We have thus:

  • a) digital images: photos (JPEGs), illustrations, graphics
  • b) digital videos without sound (animations, silent movies) and with sound (movies, music videos, etc.)
  • c) digital audios: music (MP3s), podcasts, radio plays
  • d) digital texts: e-books, online newspapers, blogs, documents (PDFs), etc.
  • e) software and esp. computer games

2. Carrier media

As described above, digital storage media can be used universally and can store any content or discrete information.

The main non-volatile* carrier media are:

  • a) Optical data storage: CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs etc.
  • b) Magnetic data storage: hard disk drives (HDDs), removable hard disk drives: e.g. Iomega REV, tape drives: e.g. Linear Tape Open (LTO)
  • c) Solid-state storage: solid-state drives (SSDs), USB sticks, flash memory cards (SD, CF, etc.)

By the way: removable hard disks are hardly used today; better known (but just as historical) is the floppy disk, which also works magnetically, but consists of a “wobbly” disk instead of a solid one.

* Volatile is, for example, the main memory of a computer. It is deleted as soon as no more current flows.

All of the media content mentioned in a) can, of course, be used via various devices and distributed via numerous transmission channels. Devices or channels are also often referred to as media.

3. Media devices

Media devices include:

  • a) PCs: laptops, desktops, etc.
  • b) Mobile devices: smartphones, tablets
  • c) Smart TVs, digital cinema projectors
  • d) Digital radio receivers

4. Dissemination channels

Typical distribution channels of digital media are:

  • a) Internet pages
  • b) Streaming services / media libraries
  • c) Digital radio: Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB)
  • d) Digital television: Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB)
  • e) Messenger services

If digital media are published on the Internet (put online), they are also referred to as online media.

What do the terms paid, owned, and earned media mean?

Another distinguishing criterion for digital media relates to authorship and ownership. The terms mentioned originate from online marketing.

  1. Media that have been produced and are owned by the company itself are referred to as owned media.
  2. Media that has been bought and paid for from content providers is referred to as paid media.
  3. Media created by third parties for no consideration and which report positively on one’s own brand, company or product is referred to as earned media. This could be blog articles, YouTube videos, Instagram posts or podcasts.

Of course, every marketing manager dreams of having as much earned media with high reach as possible in their portfolio. But in fact this is very difficult. After all, free third-party advertising is something of the holy grail of content marketing.
You get the desirable reports and statements, of course, if you reward influencers or affiliate marketers accordingly. But that would be a case of paid media.

Manage digital media with the Media Hub from teamnext

Whether paid or owned media, digital media files need to be professionally managed if you want to get the maximum benefit from them. In this context, one also speaks of digital asset management (DAM). Good content files are rightly understood as assets here. Our solution is also committed to this philosophy. teamnext’s cloud-based media management is aimed at customers who need to develop, maintain and use larger media pools. The teamnext | Media Hub supports all common image, video and audio formats (including camera RAW formats and vector graphics) as well as all common formats and documents in the office field. You can find an overview of the supported file formats here.

If we have made you curious and you would like to try out the various functions of our media management, then you can get started right away with a free 14-day trial period for teamnext | Media Hub. In addition, you can book an appointment for a free online product demo with one of our experts at any time. Simply use our contact form for this purpose.

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