Magna Carta and the Video Revolution


read it and weep….

Sotheby’s, the auction house, recently announced that a rare copy of the Magna Carta, signed by King John I in 1215 is to be auctioned off. Once owned by Ross Perot, the document is expected to fetch between $20-$30 million.

Magna Carta carries such enormous value both because of its rarity and its place in the history of English law.

Magna Carta enshrined in writing the limitations on the power of the King of England – rather a novel event in the 13th Century, and is viewed by many as a cornerstone of our own system of written laws. The US Constitution is in many ways a direct lineal descendant of Magna Carta.

What made Magna Carta even more unusual was that it was drafted at a time when most of the population of Europe, and indeed most of the nobility, was functionally illiterate. Reading and writing were interesting traits, but of about as much value to the average person as the ability to do quadratic equations is to us today.

There was very little to read.

Books were a rarity, as were documents in written law for all to see.

The arrival of the printing press in the 15th Century changed all of that. Books became both cheap and abundant, and what was put into writing could be read and discussed by everyone.

One can only wonder what impact Magna Carta could have had, had it been accompanied by a printing press. Instead of having only one copy (and a few hand written copies), there would have been literally hundreds of thousands of Magna Cartas circulating in Europe. What impact would that document, in common distribution, have had across much of Europe and indeed the rest of the world – a limit on the power of Kings?

The US Constitution, in sharp, difference, was printed many times over in the newly freed colonies, and distributed far and wide amongst a very literate population. (There are those who believe that the general levels of literacy in the American colonies in the 18th Century exceeded today’s literacy rates). The concept of a new government was widely debated, and in fact led to the drafting of the Bill of Rights to amend the original document.

What does all this have to do with the video revolution?


We are no longer a print based culture.

The average American household buys one book a year.

But we are very much a video culture.

The Average American watches an astonishing 4.5 hours of TV a DAY!

Up until now, the process of making television content has been so complex and so expensive that it has resided in the hands of only a tiny fraction of the population.

Like some kind of Medieval Peasantry, the vast majority of the population has effectively been Video Illiterate.

Instead of living in an ‘ocean of information’, we have in instead been living in a virtual video desert.

Video driven content was so rare, and we came upon it so infrequently (compared to what is coming), that the level of quality was actually quite low.

There is enormous concern that the explosion of video in the hands of everyone will lead to a dimunition of quality. I say it is the opposite.

I say that the rarity and expense of making video until now has placed the standard for quality quite low. We will tolerate just about anything – just take a look at most local news stories.

Once millions of people start to make video (and why not? Millions of people certainly make text every day – and it does not upset the world), the level of quality overall will rise. That is because it will become an incredibly competitive environment and it will require true greatness to break out of the clutter.

One day, perhaps 800 years from now, Sotheby’s will offer for sale an original version of The Today Show. (ca. 2007)

It will go for millions – or with inflation, no doubt, trillions.

It will be as rare a document, and as quaint, as the Magna Carta – loving handmade by the tiny percent of the population that was video literage.

Hard for us to believe, but video was only made by a very very few ‘video smiths’, and even President of the United States were then Video Illiterate and probably could not even operate Final Cut Pro.


Yes! Hard to believe.. but true.

Now, how much for this original copy of Green Acres, signed by Eddie Albert?


One response to “Magna Carta and the Video Revolution

  1. Mchael,

    Always love the way you connect historical events with what is happening now in media.

    Jut got back from the NAB Radio convention in Charlotte. It was full of Radio execs that still believe that they are the only ones that can make and deliver great audio ( because they have a transmitter & fcc license ) Podcasting, Internet streaming, etc…. blows that ‘barrier to entry’ right out of the water.

    I go deeper into Radio’s challenge on my blog:

    Thanks for encouraging me to blog !

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