The World Turned Upside-Down


…for all to see, in black and white…

“Yes, there are more producers of video content. That content will continue to grow/explode. But I will not have time or energy to watch more than a few each day. Sorting through the videos will be impossible. That is more true for the general public. They will never sort through the millions of video posts produced each day.”

So writes Eric Blumer, who wrote below and I think works at CBS. And he is right. There will soon be millions of people making videos and posting them, and millions and millions of videos available to see. Who will have the time to look at them?

To address this question, I think it is instructive to take a look at the impact of the arrival of the printing press, immediately after that technology was invented; and look at how that technology percolated out into society. ….Which is now so much in parallel with where we are in the world of online video.

In 1456, the year Gutenberg first put paper to movable type, books were a rarity in the world. Scholars could travel for days to libraries that contained a mere handful of hand-written volumes. They were painfully expensive and in a lifetime most people might never see a book in their lives, save the one the priest held up and read in church on Sundays.

Forty years later, in just one generation, there were more than fifteen million books in circulation in Europe.

15 million.

Think of the impact this must have had on people at the time.

Reared in a world of 4 or 5 titles at most, they must have been overwhelmed by the sudden explosion in books around them. For the vast majority of them, (and particularly those in the priesthood), they must have wondered “who will have time to read all of these?”

Of course, no one did, or had to, or wanted to. No more than you might be overwhelmed when you walk into a Barnes and Nobles and see 3 or 4 thousand titles before you. You don’t think that this makes the world of a free press unworkable. We have come of age in a print-rich world, but we have also come of age in an era of video poverty. That is about to come to an end. What will be the impact of this sudden explosion of ‘video literacy’?

Here is a quote from Sebastian Brandt, written just after 1500:

In our time, thanks to the talent and industry of those from the Rhine, books have emerged in lavish numbers. A book that once would’ve belonged only to the rich — nay, to a king — can now be seen under a modest roof. … There is nothing nowadays that our children … fail to know.*

Does this sound familiar?

What Brandt did not know, (and what we already know but perhaps cannot yet acknowledge) was that the Gutenberg Revolution was going to quickly unwind and destroy Medieval society and all its institutions. I think we can expect the same thing to happen to our own world, except here you may substitute NBC or Viacom for The Catholic Church. What the printing press did to Medieval Society, the Video Revolution is going to do to our own world.

And, just as the Gutenberg Revolution impacted on every aspect of society, so too can we expect the same sort of impact across every aspect of our own world. And politics is no exception. As the printed word brought down The Divine Right of Kings (the Consitution is a printed document), so too will Youtube and the video revolution change our way of government. This is inevitable, even if it seems unthinkable.

As the ‘power of television’ is placed in average people’s hand’s, the shattering impact of the “Nixon-Kennedy Debate” in 1960 will be but a taste of what is to come.

We are indeed only at the very beginning of The Revolution.

Ironically, for almost 20 years after Gutenberg, people used the printing press solely to reproduce books that had already been written, albeit by hand. You can see the same thing happening in the ‘video revoultion’. So far, places like CBS ‘Inner Tube’ can only see the web as a place to reproduce what they already do on air. When they and other broadcasters crack open the door a bit to ‘User Generated Video” it is only for material that apes what the broadcasters do already, (ie, if you happen to have a video camera nearby when a tornado hits your trailer, send it to us).

We are nowhere near the end of this.

Indeed, as Churchill said, “It is not the end. It is not even at the beginning of the end. It is, however, the end of the beginning”.

*and here is am indebted to Prof. John Lienhard.


3 responses to “The World Turned Upside-Down

  1. Of course, the advent of all those books led to a new problem: almost nobody could read. Furthermore, there was no way to distribute what was printed. It truly is the mirror of the web video age.

    We won’t just need printing presses, writers, and wood-block carvers; there’s a whole infrastructure missing. The web will need a society that can “read” the books (they want to, we just don’t have the tools to give it to them yet), a way to sort the good from the insipid, and outlets to sell the books (whose owners will do the sorting if they wish to compete in the marketplace).

    The video revolution first must solve one problem before it can march along: people don’t yet have a useable way to experience the new, er, experience. We don’t need to teach people how to watch video, but we do need to give them a way to do it that works. We are far from the Barnes and Noble stage, but at least we’re on our way.

    The broadcast/cable TJ paradigm is bridging the gap for now, and those same TJ’s will be fueling the new web-video machine in whatever form it takes as the lumbering dinosaurs become extinct (as lumbering dinosaurs are wont to do). Unfortunately, broadcast/cable is missing the element of interactivity – something that the new crop of users (those who never knew a time without microwave ovens, vcr’s, or cell phones) will certainly switch to as soon as it becomes available. One example of a fulfilled revolution is the cell phone. Nearly every kid in America takes a cell phone to school, just as each of us carries one as we go about our business: we will all latch on to the technology that works. I no longer have a telephone line hooked up to my house.

    I found a new technology last night that has now been released by Microsoft. It’s a cross-platform, cross-browser interface made to give a Mac OS, a Windows, or a Linux user the same rich-media experience (I betcha Bill already had the hooks for it built in to the Xbox 360 and Vista). If the implementation used at is any indication, we are perhaps moving into the Platten press stage. It’s just my guess, but soon everyone will have Silverlight (Like Flash’s kid who went of to college) plugged-in, and content providers will either follow along or get knocked out of the way because the market will demand it. Maybe it won’t be Silverlight, but the “readers” are already dreaming about going to Barnes and Noble, and somebody will build one. I’ll be there with an espresso.

    There’s never been a more exciting time to be alive.

    Viva la revolución!

  2. I’m going to go off on a gek tangent here about the technology:

    The concept of Silverlight represents a further progression for rich media online, but the biggest issue I see is that Microsoft still has its hands in this technology. Although I use several Windows based machines here at my home office, M$ has been known to utilize a closed architecture to preclude those who choose to utilize other computer platforms.

    That to me is a red flag – we as content creators look for democratization of content distribution and to have it freely available to whomever wants to view it.

    Microsoft has a reputation of being friendly at first, then closing out those whom they feel threaten them.

    Flash is more mature and now that Adobe owns it, I’m sure they will continue to evolve the product to create more user friendly ways of creating content in the Flash environment. Look at the way Brightcove allows you to upload and distribute content. Jeremy Allaire (Creator of ColdFusion) is the founder of Brightcove. After Macromedia acquired Coldfusion, they integrated the ability to interact with Flash.

    Brightcloud allows you to upload standard AVI or Quicktime files via their Brightcove Publishpod application and converts your content into Flash video. I’m currently utilizing it for my work and far prefer this as a medium for online content distribution.

    Microsoft is known for coming to the party late – I perceive this as an attempt on their part to try and wrestle away Flash’s dominance in the rich media creation and distribution arena.

  3. Very interesting…as Arte Johnson used to say.

    I have a 17 year old ready to go into the world. He has hinted as journalism as a career.
    Knowing the seismic changes taking place, I warn him that the videojournalism profession I made a career in (TV News) is changing dramatically. I made (and make) a living working within the structure of local and network TV news. What will the future career path be? For now, I think I will have a job for a few more years. How will CBS and the networks fare in the new digital world?

    I do know that the content I shoot now (CBS owned affiliate) is mostly “cookie cutter” news.
    That is different than the more relaxed, VJ storytelling. There will continue to be a need for both styles. Sometimes, a brief cookie cutter approach works best. Othertimes, a more relaxed, in depth, personal approach works best. There is room for both.

    I can see the analogy between walking into a book store. I am utterly amazed at the number of books published. (My wife is working on publishing one. I am writing one now.) Those who are interested in certain subjects, will buy their particular books.

    But we must review that analogy. I am focused on news outlets. A book store more closely resembles “all” content – news, entertainment, sports, travel, beauty, crossword puzzles, niche content, etc…

    Currently, in the TV news business, there are about 5 major network news outlets. Where will people turn to get their video news? Will they turn to a variety of outlets? Will they turn to whom they trust? Will there be niche news outlets? Will the networks retain millions of viewers.

    The networks will need to broaden their approach. They will need to provide the best quality and best content in order to compete. I think there is opportunities to provide stronger video journalism…if not on their broadcasts, on their websites.

    Interesting….very interesting.

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