Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Futurevision

Broadcasting, the media, movies and the Internet

This week saw the publication of the UK government White Paper on the future of the BBC [A Public Service for All: the BBC in the Digital Age]. Amongst other things it will guarantee the BBC a revenue stream from the licence fee for another decade. The BBC's Charter will be renewed with a continuing requirement for the BBC to "inform, educate and entertain". The corporation's governance will be completely overhauled. Out goes the BBC Board of Governors, to be replaced by two new bodies: the BBC Trust and the Executive Board.

The BBC has of course always been seen as providing the cornerstone of broadcasting in the UK. But in recent years with the proliferation of satellite and cable channels and with more homes having access to digital television and radio (Tessa Jowell's announcement gave this as "over 70%") the BBC's share of the television audience has shrunk (as indeed has ITV's). And a recent survey for Google has found that British people are spending more time on the Internet than watching TV. Brits prefer the Internet to TV, America's Network - 10 Mar 2006.

Some bloggers and commentators are already forecasting the end of TV broadcasts. Writing in the New York Times last week Dan Mitchell quoted a former media executive, Prince Campbell, writing on the Chartreuse (Beta) blog as saying "Broadcast television is dead. Just like the Internet killed the music industry, it's about to do the same to broadcast TV".

And just a couple of days later, in a speech in London, media giant Rupert Murdoch added a warning for newspaper publishers. He described the Internet as "..a creative, destructive technology that is still in its infancy, yet breaking and remaking everything in its path."

Certainly big changes are afoot and TV broadcasters and newpapers have already responded by making their programmes and stories available via the web. You can catch up with programmes that you missed, download podcasts and even watch live webcasts. The BBC (together with ITV) is also conducting trials of a "multicasting" system which will allow continuous online broadcasting (as opposed to downloading clips or viedo-streaming).

Another story in this week's New York Times by Saul Hansell identifies a further trend - the growth of "slivercasts" aimed at niche audiences. Hansell tells the story of a London based sailing enthusiast called Andy Steward who wanted to create a sailing channel to be broadcast via the Sky satellite TV system. He soon discovered that it would cost him £85,000 to start the channel and around £40,000 a month in production costs. This was too much to take a chance on. But then Steward heard about Narrowstep, an internet TV service on the web using the TelVOS platform. Now sail.tv is one of the many programmes hosted by the service, attracting 70,000 viewers in its first month.

Hansell links this development with Chris Anderson's concept of The Long Tail. Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine observed that the technology and economics of the Internet means that consumers would no longer be limited only to the popular titles at the top end of a "hit list" (this applies to books, music, movies, TV programmes etc.). Niche products lower down the list cost very little to store and distribute in electronic form so the old economics that required substantial revenues to overcome the costs of production and distribution would be undermined.

And soon we might also be able to download movies via the web. This week has also seen stories about plans for both Apple and Amazon to set up systems for digital downloads of movies. Amazon is reportedly in talks with Paramount Pictures, Univeral Studios and Warner Bothers, while Apple already has links with Walt Disney and MTV, amongst others, through its iTunes service. And if viewers want old TV programmes as well as movies, the BBC is well endowed with content in its archives.



References and links
[1] A Public Service for All: the BBC in the Digital Age Official Press Release on the White Paper.
[2] Brits prefer the Internet to TV, America's Network - March 10th, 2006
[3] A Blog writes the obituary of TV Dan Mitchell, New York Times, March 11th, 2006.
[4] Internet means end for media barons, says Murdoch. Owen Gibson, The Guardian March 14th, 2006.
[5] Multicast Technical Trial
[6] As Internet TV aims at niche audiences, the slivercast is born, Saul Hansell, New York Times, March 12th, 2006.
[7] Amazon considering downloads, Richard Siklos, New York Times March 10th, 2006.
[8] Apple may be testing the waters for film downloading service, Gene Koprowski, MacNewsWorld, March 9th, 2006.

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