The future not by TV but by broadband

December 16th, 2008

Television cannot deliver a digital society, only broadband can do that. The move to digital broadcasting and to broadband means that media literacy depends on a willingness to embrace new technology. That may be a challenge for many people. Changes often bring great benefits, but they can also bring added complexity. Ultimately, the real value of technology is what it can add to our daily lives.

That was written on July 11 2004, in the Sunday Times. And indeed, new technologies do not come out of nowhere.  As both William Powers, and Carlota Perez argue. They are indeed human creations in the first place and they succeed, or not, to the extent that they meet human needs. In other words, as much as communications media influence the way people of a particular time and place live, the reverse is also true: People have tremendous influence over how technologies evolve.

Perez points out that at a certain point in a technology life cycle, we the people take that technology and direct it towards very specific goals and purposes, like the tools of web 2.0 and its moniker social media. Marshall McLuhan argues in the Gutenberg Galaxy that technologies are not simply inventions which people employ but are the means by which people are re-invented. The invention of movable type was the decisive moment in the process of re-invention from feudal man to reformation man.

Transformation represents change and change is the means, by which the future enters our lives. It doesn’t knock or ring the doorbell, and pateiently wait to be invited inside. It simply, irrevocably arrives. Or as Alvin Toffler said the future is already here its just that its not very well distributed at the moment.

Transformation overturns old ways of doing things, it overturns old institutions and it creates new ones, and this is met with a great deal of resistance in the broadest sense of the word. As the old saying goes I embrace progress but I hate change, and one might add and nor can I comprehend it.

In Communities Dominate Brands, we observed that

the way to business advantage is discovering clear customer benefits such as ease of use, time saving, lower cost etc., In short, an enhanced customer experience.

While over longer periods of time change is constant, change itself does not appear at a constant rate. In fact Stephen J. Gould has explained this as the theory of punctuated equilibrium. In evolution, there are periods of stability punctuated by a change in the environment that forces relatively rapid adaption. In the current climate of epochal change, we see all industries and marketplaces cannabalised, disrupted and destroyed.

TV and broadcast is a case in point. A colleague mentioned to me that the UK’s ITV and Channel 5 are going down the tubes. Whilst Project Kangaroo gets caught up in some viscous infighting. Funny that it is BskyB and Virgin Media, doing all the foot stamping.

Ambitious plans for an online video on-demand service bringing together more than 10,000 hours of TV shows from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 hang in the balance after the Competition Commission yesterday determined that the venture would reduce competition in the UK.

The online TV service, dubbed Project Kangaroo, aims to allow UK consumers access to a “one-stop shop” of TV programmes for catch-up viewing and an unparalleled archive of classic shows. Its partners have likened Kangaroo to an attempt to avoid the loss of control online that music companies have experienced over the legal sales of their songs via Apple’s dominant iTunes store.But since its inception last year the project has encountered stiff criticism from rival broadcasters, including BSkyB and Virgin Media, that such a powerful cartel would skew the market.

whereas we witness on the web the rise of an entire new chapter in the history of audio visual content

Already the most successful web series can attract audiences of more than a million. Plus, it’s never been easier for a show to reach its audience – posted on video sharing sites such as YouTube and social-networking sites such as MySpace and Bebo (a particular boon for independent producers who don’t have access to traditional means of distribution).

For actors, directors and writers, web series also mean artistic and creative freedom. (Indeed, actress Illeana Douglas calls web series the ‘new independent film’.) The web channel StrikeTV, for instance, born out of last year’s Hollywood writers’ strike, showcases a host of new web projects developed outside the studio system. Even actors and writers working within the studio’s digital outlets talk of the relative freedoms compared with TV.

In many ways, I really want to see this succeed, as I think that we need to move on from the monopolistic interests and behaviours of media companies. The creativity and talent is out there, audiences are local, they are global, they are seeking content that means something to them. In the Television will be Revolutionized, Amanda Lotz writes changing the the way the industry measures audiences (this is inevitable) will change the business and the culture (of TV). However, changes in audience behaviour will precede many of the other adjustments. So here are some examples of the change in behaviour with WebTV- supplied by the Guardian.

[1] Seth’s cavalcade of cartoon comedy Created in partnership with Burger King, the first video in this cartoon sketch series devised by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane scored three million hits in two days. It’s a series of animated comic asides: in one two Seinfeld-like ducks watch Meet the Parents, in another, Barry Gibb falsetto screams his way over a rollercoaster. Offbeat and very funny.

[2] Smart girl’s at the party Launched and co-presented by Amy Poehler, an alumna of Saturday Night Live, this chat show aims to inspire pre-teen girls by celebrating ‘extraordinary individuals who are changing the world by being themselves’. It’s more lighthearted than it sounds, with guests including a young writer, gardener and all-girl rock group. Incongruously it’s sponsored by Barbie.

[3] Easy to assemble Actress Illeana Douglas (To Die For, Stir of Echoes) was approached to produce this 10-episode series by Ikea execs after they saw her previous cult web series Illeanarama: Supermarket of the Stars (about an LA grocery store staffed by former acting stars). This is like an episode of Extras set in Ikea, with cameos by Jeff Goldblum, Ed Begley Jr and others. In its first week it picked up 300,000 views.

[4] Kirill The UK’s first big online drama, a co-venture between MSN UK and Big Brother production company Endemol, has more than a million streams to date. A sci-fi series set 50 years into a post-apocalyptic future about a lone video blogger, played by Gladiator actor David Schofield, it’s puzzling but nicely sinister and atmospheric.

[5] The Guild Now in its second series (having landed sponsorship from Microsoft and US telecom company Sprint), this comic web series about a band of dorky online gamers had such a local following that the last seven episodes of the first series were paid for entirely by viewer donations.

[6] House Poor One of the best offerings on (with Unknown Sender and Faux Baby), this credit-crunch mockumentary sees The Office US star Mindy Kaling unable to afford furniture after overextending herself buying a new house. Her answer? Stage a fake pregnancy and throw a baby-shower for gifts.

[7] Blah Girls This cartoon pop-culture site from Ashton Kutcher’s company Katalyst Media is hosted by three ‘drama queen’ Valley girls called Britney, Tiffany and Krystle. It bills itself as Beavis and Butt-head for girls, with gossip, fashion reports and music as well as interactive facilities for social networking.

[8] Sanctuary

[9] 50todeath Pitched squarely at members of the baby-boomer generation, this wistful web series about three fifty-something friends (Norm Golden, Joan Barber and Jon Freda) who become embroiled in various schticks is a comic hybrid of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Woody Allen. Cranky and wry in equal measure.

Finding out whether C.S.I. beats Desperate Housewives, is just the beginning. Change the way you count, for instance, and you can change where advertising dollars go, which in turn determines what shows are made and what shows are renewed. Change the way you count and potentially you change the comparative value of entire genres (news vs. sports, drama vs. comedies) as well as entire demographic segments (young vs. old, men vs. women, Hispanic vs. black)… Change the way you measure America’s culture consumption, in other words, and you change America’s cultural business. And maybe culture itself.

Wrote John Gertner, in the New York Times Magazine

But I don’t think he realised the true ramifications of his statement. Its the changing of culture itself I am interested in.

  1. 4 Responses to “The future not by TV but by broadband”

  2. By Rebecca Caroe on Dec 16, 2008

    Alan – sigh, yes only broadband can deliver a networked society. I am working with #Amp08 Amplified aiming to make the UK the most networked economy in the world by 2010, it’s an uphill struggle.

    Here are the main issues
    1 – how to broadband the “un-broadbanded”
    2 – teaching collaboration skills in school
    3 – enabling more public services through the internet
    4 – how to get the internet on your TV / mobile [I think mobile more likely in the short term]


  3. By Colin Donald on Dec 17, 2008

    Alan – It’s true that online shows have enormous potential, both creatively and commercially. Yet contrary to the US slant of the original Observer article, much of the innovation is taking place here in the UK.

    In only the last 12 months, Bebo has become an alternative source of commissioning to the broadcasters, with shows funded by product placement. Embedding a comedy or drama within a social network enables all kinds of new relationships between the fiction and the people that we currently call the audience.

    For instance, many Bebo shows have live events where Beboers can join in the action. KateModern had people take part in a real-life treasure hunt, while the music-based drama The Secret World Of Sam King put on a concert.

    Other new formats are being commissioned by the BBC, particularly the teen multiplatform service BBC Switch. To Be Continued is a drama where Switch started the story and provides tools for young actors, writers and directors to collaborate online on further episodes.

    Some indie production companies are taking the plunge, funding their own series and taking them to market, as Channel X did with the comedy Chelsey: OMG! And some adventurous advertisers are similarly backing original productions, either via product placement deals or fully funding shows, as with Nokia’s Somebody Else’s Phone.

    Online shows do have a fascinating future in store for all of us and anyone who’s interested in following the Web show market is cordially invited to visit our blog on it at

  4. By Alan Moore on Dec 17, 2008

    Dear Rebecca,

    Thank you for your thoughts, interesting challenges, perhaps we should discuss over a beer?

    You are always welcome

    Thanks for posting


  5. By Alan Moore on Dec 17, 2008

    Dear Colin,

    We have blogged and talked about Kate Modern. Switch sounds very interesting.

    If you can point me towards more info about Switch, I would be grateful.

    Thanks for posting


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