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Why the web mustn't become the new TV

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Will the open-ended internet ride become a buckled-down train journey...?

Rupert Murdoch and the linear future

A consortium of rivals are gathering to impede media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's bid to gain total control of cable outlet BSkyB. Murdoch's News Corp enterprise currently owns 39% of the pay TV platform, but has been publicly challenged by rivals the BBC and Channel 4, in association with Brit newspaper The Guardian, known to wear its tin-foil hat proudly.

The anti-Murdoch consortium wrote to the British government last week protesting the possibility that Murdoch could gain so much control over UK TV content, not least because he arguably has deeper pockets than any of the contrary parties as far as purchasing sports and first-run rights on popular foreign (i.e. US) shows. Producer David Putnam added his voice to the protest along with The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and British Telecom.

The fact that such a disparate and opposing group of interests have united so solidly in this cause indicates a deep level of feeling, but more importantly a terrible fear that a superpower PayTV channel driven by an impetuous billionaire could turn all practical British alternative TV outlets into a second-class ghetto in terms of ratings and the influencing of public opinion.

Murdoch's history of cutting the price of his newspapers is behind the press's contribution to the cause, and to a certain extent this is all reminiscent of the furore in the sea-change from practical to digital newspaper production in London's Wapping in the early 1980s, engendering protracted but ultimately futile strikes from the pre-digital technicians who were made jobless by new, computerised automation of magazine and newspaper production.

"Current worries among publishing houses that magazines and newspapers will succumb to the digital written word on the internet are perhaps analogous to Victorian fears about mechanical horses taking over from real horses in the drawing of carriages. The point is being missed, the wrong fear being indulged."

The most interesting aspect of this is where Murdoch sees future audiences re-gathering. With an increase of video content on the internet and the phenomenon of the BBC's iPlayer and rival equivalents, it could be that the locus of pending change in media delivery is not a direct shift from hard-print to web-print, but from hard-print to the increasing diminution of print in any form, digital or otherwise.

Current worries among publishing houses that magazines and newspapers will succumb to the digital written word on the internet are perhaps analogous to Victorian fears about mechanical horses taking over from real horses in the drawing of carriages. The point is being missed, the wrong fear being indulged. And someone of Murdoch's status need not have an instinct for the media trends of the future - he is quite capable of creating them.

Click to continue...One obvious example of the linearisation of previously 'browsable' internet content is the almost ubiquitous transformation of 'top ten'-style lists from complete, single page chunks of information into 'slideshows' that present no possibility of skipping straight to the No.1 entry without clicking all of the intermediate entries.

Many assume that this is solely to increase page impressions in the site's user statistics, and certainly that does no harm in terms of the site's demographics. But since the most valuable figure in web stats is 'unique users' (where an individual may read one article on the site or a hundred), it makes relatively little difference if one person clicks through ten pages or fifty - they still make only a single contribution to the 'unique users' list in that day's site statistics.

"The consumer-value of internet-based content to date has been the fact that it is browsable, skippable, 'zappable'. But it's in the interest of big business that this genial versatility be put firmly back in the bottle, and that information be returned to the linear model that made commercial TV viable."

Instead, the value of making web content 'linear' is to present interstitial ads to the 'unique user' between (in this case) list items, or between over-paginated features or web galleries. Even when interstitial ads are not used, the ad modules surrounding each piece of content (the ad-campaign of which changes on each new page) presents the 'unique user' browsing a 'slideshow' list (or highly-paginated feature) ten or twenty targeted ad campaigns surrounding the core content , instead of just one - if the feature had been presented on one single page.

Personally I find the increase of the use of video in web content (particularly features and news) to be another depressing trend. The consumer-value of internet-based content to date has been the fact that it is browsable, skippable, 'zappable'. But it's in the interest of big business that this genial versatility be put firmly back in the bottle, and that information be returned to the linear model that made commercial TV viable.

Further discouraging is the increasing use of video interviews instead of transcribed interviews. Every journalist knows that transcription is the worst task their job presents them. You can't easily listen to music whilst doing it, you can't 'space out', and  - unless you happen to have been interviewing one of your heroes (a fairly rare occurrence) - the content you're transcribing is often tedious, recycled junket fare. Transcription is almost always sheer hell, particularly for longer interviews.

"It is depressing to see an increasing number of popular websites sending their reporters to junkets with video crews instead of MP3 recorders."

But at least it can be indexed by Google once done, or be found in the obligatory copy to the British Library (or US national archives) and at least it adds something, however small, to the literary body of world knowledge, if the interview turned out to be a good one.

Junket timeWhich is why it is depressing to see an increasing number of popular websites sending their reporters to junkets with video crews instead of MP3 recorders. For one thing, any revelation of exceptional interest by the interviewee will already have been extracted and syndicated in advance as a 'hot' news piece, complete with a trailing ad for the forthcoming 'full interview'. Little incentive then to bother with the video interview itself when it arrives. It's essentially 'trim' by that point, except for rabid fans of the interviewee.

The same thing happens with transcribed interviews, admittedly, but at least you can scroll down the page to find headings or paragraphs that catch your eye and your interest, but may not have seemed important to the publication's editor. With a video interview, you just have to buckle up and enjoy the ride as best you can, hoping to hear something of interest at some point.

With current technology, there's nothing to stop a Flash-based video interview starting off with a list of subject sections, to increase the level of browsability at least a little. But why would a publisher do that when they want the viewer/consumer to consume the entire product, ads, animated logos and all?

Google and other companies have experimented with voice recognition on the audio track to make video interviews available with subtitles, but this process is currently about as effective as Google Language Tools in terms of accuracy (and in fact Google uses Language Tools in the auto-subtitling process). And if you're going to pay someone to transcribe the subtitles properly, why do a video interview in the first place? Also, for obvious reasons, this is not a piece of drudgery that can be farmed out to cut-rate Asian companies, whose employees often have a tenuous grasp of English.

Another negative aspect of video interviews is that there are a huge number of potential interview subjects that are too vain, too shy or too (by their own admission) inarticulate 'in real time' to be willing to undergo the process. Removing forty or fifty instances of 'umm' and 'ahh', or twenty instances where the interviewee restarted a sentence from the top because they began talking a few seconds before the answer was properly framed in their own mind...it's no betrayal to the fidelity of an interview to omit these instances in transcription. If the interviewee let something crucial slip in such an instance, that's different - but then, they can simply tell you not to print it, and you're obliged to comply anyway.

Additionally, interview subjects will potentially 'open up' to one reasonably friendly and competent interviewer in their own living room in a way that they never will when booms are hanging over them and a crowd have gathered to watch. Intimacy breeds revelation.

"How this potential media dystopia plays out depends on what happens to so-called 'consumer journalism', which is perhaps the one thing temporarily impeding the linear media-empire that I believe Rupert Murdoch sees as the future not only of TV but of print and the internet"

Since the Reagan/Thatcher era, 'consumer choice' has been the magic mantra, and the proliferation of TV channels and (later) highly-rated websites seems superficially to have delivered on that promise. The front page of many popular sites, much like TV listings, seems to present you with a smorgasbord of potential things to read, watch or listen to. The problem is, if the internet develops into a TV-based paradigm, the front page, just like TV listings, will be the only non-linear item available to consumers. Everything within it risks becoming a one-click, buckle-up linear journey through highly controlled content.

How this potential media dystopia plays out depends on what happens to so-called 'consumer journalism', which is perhaps the one thing temporarily impeding the linear media-empire that I believe Rupert Murdoch sees as the future not only of TV but of print and the internet. Right now there are smaller, non-corporate sites that are extremely popular alternatives to mainstream, linear-obsessed internet channels.

But if a small site is unpopular, it's no threat in any case. And if it becomes increasingly popular, it will inevitably adopt the 'linear model' in order to compete and monetise. Only a new 'Howard Hughes'-style media mogul could sidestep the syndrome, fully financed by completely separate business concerns and indulging his or her own ethical standards in the running of a major media channel on the internet.

Until they drive past some grassy knoll...

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Comments 

 
#1 Advertising revenue is not the problem Chris Coles 2010-10-17 11:11
First of all I have to open with a disclaimer. Anyone reading this comment and turning to my own web site would be forgiven for believing that I am far from independent from Rupert Murdoch; given that The Times, London, had given me so much space to air my views on timesonline.co.uk between Sept 2009 and the point where they changed to a payment system for all their online content. But in fact, I have never had ANY direct, work or personal related contact with either Murdoch, or any of his staff, (other than once meeting and being introduced to his by then retired personal secretary). However, I am a very long term fan of The Times, having been a customer since the late 1960’s.

During that period, covering as it does the changeover of both ownership and technology; I have never detected any sign of interference with editorial policy.

The problem is not the advertising model; it is one of a complete lack of understanding of how a simple economy works. By simple economy, I mean one where you get an education, (of all the lessons learned from past generations), take that education into then taking a job, which pays you income, which in turn gives you the financial means to live a full life, build a home, raise a family, start your own business, (if that is your want), educate your children and leave the locality where you have chosen to live; better off than when you arrived.

Many today, particularly those from an academic background, (where their income stems from government expenditure of taxation; not their direct efforts as employees in any form of privately owned business enterprise), and their children, (again, assumed to have been taught so by their parents), believe that somehow; everything about that simple model is wrong, misguided and open to being disrupted or defeated. Ergo, they do everything they can to defeat any form of private enterprise as though it were the devil incarnate.

The result is now several generations who have instead set out to disrupt that simple model by any means at their disposal. Hacking, viruses, and virus related exploits, taking the work of the creatives; (authors, artists, anyone presenting their product for onward sale to be able to pay for they own wages, or the wages of their employees), without paying is the norm….. And taking without paying is the imposed new model. Not imposed by corporate interests, but imposed by the new intellectuals. I will argue that if everyone had instead seen that all honest free enterprise must receive income; so that everyone can themselves prosper - then much of what is being foretold would never have been necessary in the first place.

The only way forward, if you want YOUR local community to prosper; is to recognise that everyone that works to provide YOU with any form of product, must also receive an income for their effort. That taking responsibility for those surrounding you by being a creator of income for anyone else in your local community is the only way to reach towards prosperity for the many. Until that simple message sinks in, nothing else will work out over the long term. Blaming new advertising revenue creation models is as smokescreen for a failed intellectual exercise in anarchic cynicism. Please; think about that?

Chris Coles.
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#2 RE: Why the web mustn't become the new TV AlanKelly 2010-10-17 14:48
Chris, and Readers,

I visited the page

http://www.shadowlocked.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=747:why-the-web-mustnt-become-the-new-tv&catid=80:offworld&Itemid=86

and scanned more than read, focusing on the mention of transcription quality, that which I see is lacking in the "bot" efforts of this process, be those efforts by G**gle or others.

If language is the "daily bread" of culture and communication, then it would appear that the language is getting stuffed with ersatz (read airy white bread void of nutrition) rather than something wholesome.

My rant on this subject is something that I will spare readers from, but briefly, transcription can benefit viewers or listeners because despite the multimedia content that is becoming the norm on the internet, text is still the prime mover in terms of information, and many people don't have the sound on, or the speakers are not present to say little of the many people who are learning, e.g., English, if that is the subject language.

I'm a fan of captioning and of transcribing and I make this my work. I help writers get their content, and help readers get the message.

Thanks, Chris for writing on this subject.

AK
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#3 RE: Why the web mustn't become the new TV J Baustian 2010-10-17 16:30
I would much rather scan through a few paragraphs of text, ith the option of clicking on a link for more information, than sitting through even 30 seconds of video -- unless the video is the story. If it's just an interview or Q&A, then I want the transcript -- I don't care if it's a boring job for the transcriber.
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#4 paper is priced by the pound John Stoner 2010-10-17 20:28
@Chris: I think the problem is a bit different than you do. I agree that creative hardworking people should be compensated for the fruits of their labor. But look at the way the market has customarily priced those fruits. No matter the merits of the content, a hardbacked leatherbound edition on acid free paper is about the same price. Paperback books also have rough price parity. Ad revenue models have the same problem: An impression for a page of in-depth journalism gets the same price as a story on Lady Gaga's latest haircut, if not less.

The problem is not that the market doesn't value creative effort. The problem is it never has. What broke your economic model is that the cost of shipping bits is priced so much lower than shipping paper, and the market isn't willing to pay a premium for better bits.

I don't know what model would fix that. But I think the core solution is to find a way to move beyond decorating paper with ink and selling it by the pound. And complaining that that broken model won't pay your bills anymore when it never did acknowledge the value of your contribution, and insulting academics whose subsidies are only a little less incidental to market dynamics than your own, betrays little insight into your predicament.

Don't get me wrong: I'm on your side. I think you aren't getting what you deserve, and you should. But if you think you ever have, I'm afraid you're badly mistaken.
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#5 It all comes down to taking responsibility Chris Coles 2010-10-17 20:56
John Stoner, go look at the same model in Germany. They do not buy from China, they make and sell their own products. It all comes down to a recognition of a responsibility to their nation. You have a choice; but decide not to recognise responsibility; but instead to argue about price. Then in which case, do not complain when you have neither an income nor a satisfactory product. Trying to make excuses is the ultimate cop out. I do not buy your argument. Not for one minute.
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#6 Advertising Revenue Is The Problem l spooner 2011-02-13 06:04
Quoting Chris Coles:
John Stoner, go look at the same model in Germany. They do not buy from China, they make and sell their own products. It all comes down to a recognition of a responsibility to their nation. You have a choice; but decide not to recognise responsibility; but instead to argue about price. Then in which case, do not complain when you have neither an income nor a satisfactory product. Trying to make excuses is the ultimate cop out. I do not buy your argument. Not for one minute.


It is not that those from an educated background do not accept the standards to providing for themselves, it is that they don't accept how certain products are valued. The fantasy you are describing is one that died in the 90s; along with Reaganomics and trickle down theory and the hack Alan Greenspan and his equally obtuse successor.

You mention the taking of the work of creatives, but nowhere and nohow can you claim that pirates are more damaging to the model than the industry that fleeces the artists of their creations. An industry that is more willing to sue their customers and grant their creatives minuscule royalties compared to the profits they make. If they are so concerned with their artists why don't they give them more of a percentage? Because it is not about being fair to the artist, its about preserving a business model that is no longer relevant. It is about the fear of innovation of coming up with the next new idea. What you seem to want is the stagnation that happens every time a whisper of change is in the air.

But, its not about fair. Its about getting what you claim to be yours. And for yourself, Chris Coles, that amounts to righteous indignation. New advertising revenue models? Relax, all advertising models are smoke and mirrors.

What about Germany? What about Holland or Romania or Taiwan? No one gives a hoot about any nation other than their own.

This nebulous concept you seem enamored with is a two way street. If you want accountability from the consumer start with the industries and companies who have been thieving for centuries now.

You say people do not understand how the economy works, well I say you are naive to believe the "economy" works at all. The economy has no relation to whether a person graduates from school, gets a job, gets married, and has kids. It has to do with debt and how that debt is leveraged. That is 90% of the economy. The other 10% is the valuation of raw materials. What is under contention is the valuation of products. If the content has value it is bought. I don't care who the pirate or the most cheapskate-of-all it is inherent in our nature to support those that make us feel good, either through material comfort or metaphysical bliss. Check the popular pirate sites. Most people pirate the shit that is evacuated from the bowels of superficial fancy. Most gamers who pirate download the early release and then buy the physical disk when it comes out. That is a fact. They support innovation like you would never.

leo, not a bad article.
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