Broadcasting and the Internet

Introduction

The current major incumbents in the media did tend to under-estimate the importance of new competing technologies – the Internet as it is now and as it will evolve is having a major impact on the viability Broadcasting operations.

Before we make a best guess of what the future will bring – we should at first think about what are the underlying causes of these changes – and then how will these changes affect the products and services of the future.  We would be foolish to believe that new technologies will replace all old technologies – Radio was not replaced by Television, Neither has Cinema been replaced by Television.  In fact both Radio and Cinema have gone from strength to strength – in spite of very intense competition from new technologies.

The current situation in which the Free to Air and Old Media finds itself in has come about basically from changes in consumer electronics in the area of Digital communications, in particular – The Digital Compression of Video and Audio Signals – however the high speed Internet speeds currently available in ADSL and in particular ADSL2+ will exacerbate the competition, but the competition from the Internet will come from many, many small sources on the Net  – not from any large organisational entity.

Convergence

This became very fashionable in the 1990’s – however it seems to me that all these industries, i.e. Broadcasting, the Internet and Telco’s may converge into one industry – but of course there will be numerous cross-industry alliances and ventures. I do not believe that at this point in time, because of the following – TV Sets are viewed from a distance, typically 5-11 times the picture height, whereas computer users interact with their screens typically at 2 times picture heights – This difference means that text and graphics for TV Viewing must be much larger than the ideal size for computer applications.

Secondly – TV is viewed passively, by several people at a time, whereas computer usage is generally a solitary as well as a very interactive activity. The reality is that at this point that Computer style interactivity and TV communal viewing do not mix – except and unless you control the remote control. I see that Computers will be used as a display for TV programs. So in effect any convergence will be a one way process. TV reception will be a standard feature on computers – but using the TV as a “Word processor” or to display long and length web pages – is not foreseeable operationally at the moment.

However as above convergence is not the only thing having an effect on Broadcasting – what I also see is the continuing fragmentation of content production and it’s aggregation through a variety of mechanisms. The media business has always been an aggregator, that is its history and it’s capability. For media companies to have a future this may be where they find it.

What does matter

The reality of today’s digital world is made up of content-foraging consumers. Consumers increasingly have the ability, and perhaps the desire, to blur the distinctions between “newspaper” and “TV” stations. What consumers want, and can get from the Internet, are streams of news, entertainment as well as niche interest content.  Some of its print, some of its video, and some of its national, international, and local news, but the actual control of the content mix is controlled by the consumer.

In light of the fact that many of the new digital sources from the Internet are not high capital companies backed by many millions of dollars – there isn’t a lot of money left in owning a single physical thing that has to be sold or maintained, it’s not just another peer media conglomerate to be worried about; it’s an entity like Starbucks that could just as likely buy a newspaper and/or a TV station.  Although the wisdom of such a decision, being so divergent from their core activities would need to be truly examined.

Increase the Audience

Newspapers and local TV stations have been lamenting the loss of their subscription and classified advertising revenue staples to new intermediaries on the Web who don’t operate under the same capital needs, ownership constraints or carry the burden of having to actually produce original content. With the change in cross-media ownership restrictions, they now have a chance to do things differently. There are obvious cost savings from consolidation of local news organisations and advertising sales forces, they now have the opportunity to offer a new value proposition to local advertisers to provide true cross-media reach, highly targeted local focus, signage and events, sponsorships, promotions, the self-service Internet ad vendors really can’t touch.

Future of Broadcasting

The real enemies of Free to Air Television and Cable Television are inertia, lack of innovation and the complexities of integration. To capitalise on this new local cross-media opportunity will require some radical shifts in organisation and mind-set. Local stations and newsrooms will need to not only reconfigure their operations and services, but also quickly learn how to apply the lessons of online community building, user-generated content, and Web presences or partnerships to add to or increase their traditional media offerings. So far, their track records in tapping new local advertising revenues on the web has had little success – Perhaps the current wave of consolidation will provide the catalyst they need to embrace fundamental change – personally unless the Old and New aspects of companies are innovative, co-operative and working for the common good, I doubt whether they will succeed in the short term.

It is inevitable that Digital will be the future of broadcasting. Free to Air or Over the Air will remain inherently a “passive”,” from one too many” communications system, Digital Technology will multiply the numbers of available broadcast services, including, (1) Free-to-Air Broadcasting (2) near Video on Demand services (3) Subscription Services (4) Pay-per-View Services.  The format of the delivery system will differ markedly from country to country – it is therefore clear that there is no universal solution – Broadcasters will need to make decisions concerning the appropriate delivery systems for their markets. Customers are certain to demand increased portability, mobility and access for the delivery of services – delivery of services from conventional terrestrial and even satellite services will thus remain and essential element of Broadcasting.

Just a simple thought of a income stream – which needs to be fully examined, for a hypothesis sake let’s set up a subscription service. Something that is generally affordable, say less than $10 a month, for any and all content from your subscription server, using for instance Bit-Torrent streaming media  You can pass on the file for free if you want – and when someone tries to open it they get a opening screen saying subscribe here- But they get to watch the program anyway – Tom O’Reilly (http://www.oreilly.com/oreilly/tim_bio.html) runs a successful publishing business on the basis that he gives away his content – but on the other hand makes it really easy for people to buy a copy, and tens of thousands of them do – it really requires a lateral shift – a paradigm shift – By giving it away in the first instance – this gets rid of a huge enforcement load and a huge big legal bill which has no purpose other than to really upset your customer base.

The subscription server could be full of streaming video of your content archives, all news content, series content – after first screening  – a lot of the “making of” programs interviews etc.  People will lap it up, the peripheral content is almost as popular as the actual film. I think the strategy has to be long term to integrate the broadcast content with the Internet (especially for international audience) rather than just using the net as a promotional channel for the TV.

In Australia one of the networks Internet sites is very bad at doing this – it enables no interaction, and treats visitors as trailer fodder. There is a trivial – “Email us with your story” or “”Have your say” – both of which create emails – in other words they break the connection. This is not innovative or a paradigm shift in approach – this server site needs to be run by someone who knows what they are doing on the Internet.

At the end of the day you are talking to one person, not an “audience”. There is no need to inform people of the changes, they will already know.

Also consider the freeing thought – stop trying to control the viewer, the listener or the reader – you will fail – involve them – turn your audience whether it be on the free to air transmission or on you well branded (same name) web site – into rabid promoters of your channels programmes and digital products – there are successful business sites on the Internet now doing just this.

The Internet

The Internet suffers from serious congestion especially when too many users attempt to retrieve information from a particular site or even at busy times of the day. The Internet will become very important for Broadcasters as a new delivery mechanism for; broadcast Services; on-demand services and, especially the delivery of services to international audiences.  Rest assured that the Internet will evolve and develop a wide range of services we cannot envisage at present. However, at present and unlike Broadcasting – the Internet is not well suited to the simultaneous delivery of programme content to very large audiences and it cannot offer services directly to mobiles and portables economically or easily – this form of “TV” will remain something for major events such as the cricket or the Olympics etc.

It is clear that today’s Internet cannot deliver high quality Broadcast quality content or video on demand – however this limitation is I believe will not be permanent, and to provide such a service almost every element would need to be replaced – but it is conceivable.

It is impossible to predict what new services will be successful in the market place – but at the end of the day whatever you are viewing whether on a TV or a computer screen – attractive and informative content will be a key factor.

The Internet as it is now, and as it may be conceived for perhaps the next 10 years does not mean the “death of Broadcasting” – Broadcasting in all of its forms will remain ubiquitous – the Internet will become very important – Broadcasters I believe will become a major source of content for services & content for the Internet now and in the future.

Proposals

Essentially the future of Broadcasting is about forming a relationship with the individual people in their audience – about forming a community – where the TV station listens to and places credence in their thoughts – there are lots of way in doing this for instance:-

These are the ideas I would implement, which provide a increase in involvement with their audience..

·         a forum on the Internet (on each stations site) for each station where people can have their say in different aspects of the stations operation – Accountability & feedback  – to the station and “why they did this or that” with a response by someone of substance. 

·         Also there should be a presence on the Internet by the stations – say promoting their stations operations – advertising the stations premium content on the Internet.

·         each viewer can fill in a preference – after joining a stations “club” – where the station keeps them informed of new happenings in their areas of interest – further to the idea of a subscription server as noted in the original document.

·         Next – the technology for this is available now – is to offer a free customised TV station per interested person on the subscription services – where they are viewing their preferred program content – the provider can then supply targeted advertising at a premium to their normal rate with the customised content.

I have other concrete ideas to maximise audience connection and thus ratings for the station or network.

Conclusions

I am passionate about the future of Broadcasting, New Media and the Technology that enables them – where both of these areas are going to evolve. In particular how we infuse the influence of the Internet and other emerging digital platforms into the mass media business models.

Very few Media companies in Australia are building new business models most are not. Some are throwing money at the threat by buying Internet operations thinking that this will plug the holes in their future Income profile, whilst others are actually doing what is needed to make the Internet an ally, by building communities.

I am positive that formerly monopolistic media enterprises can both survive and grow their income streams but they will need to do so by following a different business model to that of the past, new strategies for the movement into Multi-platform Broadcasting; and onto other emerging digital platforms; Overseeing production of innovative inherently cross media television programs; the acquisitions of new innovation content experiences for free to air and online; I want to contribute to, and help guide that process.

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