The Coming Disaster


…where to now?…

On May 31, 1911, the Titanic left the Belfast shipyards with state- of -the-art technology.

It was the iPhone of its day.

One of the pieces of technology it carried was a radio.

Although radio had been invented by Marconi in 1898, by 1911 it was still thought of primarily as a kind of wireless telephone – a way to communicate from point to point where there were not wires.

New technologies come along, but their true application often takes many years and some complete rethinking to follow.

This was the case in radio.

It would, in fact, take the sinking of the Titanic and David Sarnoff’s reception of its SOS signal for him to make the intellectual break that would lead to broadcasting: One signal, not sent to one person, but to millions, all at the same time.

Since 1912, we have thought of radio, and then television in this way, and built a massive industry and infrastructure based on that very workable model.

Now, along comes the Internet.

Like the radio in 1898, it is a fundamentally new kind of technology.

But, like even the smartest people at the turn of the last century, we can only see new technologies through a lens that already exists.

Take User Generated Content.

This is a very popular term bandied about lots now… UGC. This is when Users (us), create the content for news and entertainment.

Here is some very interesting data on User Generated Content, sent to me by Steve Sabato:

A recent article by eMarketer found that, even taking into account the power and ease of use of user-generated content tools like digital cameras and affordable audio/video production software, there are more content consumers than creators.

The report shows that In the US, the number of users of user-generated content will hit 101 million by 2011, up from the 2006 estimate of 69 million, while the “generators” lag at 91 million.

Not surprisingly, says the report, the number of people who create content is expected to increase significantly as the user-generated content movement gathers steam, rising to 95 million in the US by 2011, up from 70 million in 2007.

Millions of people… tens of millions of people creating content in video.

That is a massive change in our industry – driven by new technologies.

How do we respond to this?

Conventional broadcasters have, for seventy years, only known one model: ‘lets put on a show’.

So places like ABC create iCaught. A “User Generated Show”, in that it wraps ‘accidental video’ into a TV show. A sort of high-end America’s Funniest Home Video.

But I think that this massive explosion of UGC material necessitates a complete rethinking of the model – just as the radio on the Titanic necessitated a complete rethinking of the broadcast model.

Today, there are millions of people with video cameras and edit systems who are already making vast amounts of content. And this is just the beginning of the literal transformation of broadcasting. In the next few years millions more will inject themselves into the process.

These people are not, for the most part, making content in the hopes of ‘getting on TV’. Sure, there are some. But rather, they are making content so that they can share it with other people. That is the primry driver.

The successful broadcaster for the “Internet age”, has to change a very deep and embedded way of thinking: Broadcasters are used to culling only the very best (in their opinion) and putting it on the air. The web works in the opposite way – you have to ‘air’ everything. Everything.

Because people do not post for you (the broadcaster), they post for their friends and family – and anyone else who happens along.

This is fine, because the cost of making and posting is minimal.

So now we have to create a kind of minimalist broadcast (netcast..webcast…) which instead of showing one thing to everyone at the same time, instead shows everything to everyone at the same time.

You can categorize it, you can arrange it, y0u can even offer suggestions as to what you think is good. Such a mass of content will surely need some serious organizational work.

But what you can’t do is edit it.

You can’t cull only the best and reject the rest…. although that is the instinctive thing to do.

In the now extremely limited world of ‘broadcasting’ you need an ‘Executive Producer’ to decide what content should air when. In webworld, you don’t want that person to go anywhere near the content, because any editorial limitation is inherently antithetical to the architecture that the technology mandates.

Multicasting instead of broadcasting.

Sometimes it takes a disaster to focus our attention on what is happening.

Even after Titanic, it took Sarnoff another decade to build and implement his ‘radio music boxes’ – dumb receivers of radio signals for the masses.

Iraq could be such a disaster.

Night after night the networks broadcast the ‘news’ from Iraq, with lots of heavily controlled images from their camera crews. But if you wanna do something interesting, go to Youtube and search for Iraq.

Thousands and thousands of soldiers are taking video cameras into battle with them daily and many are posting what they shoot (so to speak). Its a fascinating alternative look at what is happening there…

All it takes is a bit of focusing and fine-tuning.. but there’s something very very powerful brewing in this…


One response to “The Coming Disaster

  1. Interesting analysis, Michael. Reminds me of the case Erik Larson wrote of recently in the book ‘Thunderstruck”.

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