[opendtv] Analysis: Idiosyncratic and Personal, PC Edges TV
- From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxx>
- To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 10:19:48 -0400
The Media Equation
Idiosyncratic and Personal, PC Edges TV
By DAVID CARR
Published: October 16, 2006
Last Wednesday, I was working late but left the office in time to
watch the second episode of ABC's "Lost." But when I got home and
booted the computer to check messages before hitting the couch, I
happened to notice one of my twin daughters at a far-flung Big 10
campus was live on Yahoo! Messenger.
I clicked on "View my Webcam," as did Erin, a freshman at the
University of Wisconsin, and suddenly I had the chance to inspect the
disturbingly large ring she recently had implanted in her lip. Live
video may seem straight out of the Jetsons, but I have the computing
skills of Fred Flintstone. Still, between my PC and my daughter's
Mac, we managed to get a serviceable video chat going, assisted by
speakerphones on cells.
My 9-year-old wandered over and, once she saw a live image of her now
distant sister, acted as if I had invented electricity. We made Erin
drag her new friend Sam into the picture so we could give him the
once over. "He's kind of cute," my wife whispered sotto voce as she
craned over my shoulder. (I'm reserving judgment until I can menace
him in person.) Then we pinged Meagan, Erin's twin sister up the road
at University of Michigan. As soon as she accepted my invitation to
view the Webcam, she exclaimed, "You're here!"
One thing led to another and we ended up watching the strangely
compelling treadmill dance from the music group OK Go on YouTube,
which clicked through to a parody, which led to, well, you get the
idea. It was "television" with an audience that could be counted on a
single hand but compelling enough that "Lost," my one piece of
appointment viewing for the night, was quickly forgotten. Madonna
might be scheduled to mud-wrestle Britney Spears on premium cable and
I'd still probably pick video-chatting with my children.
Computers, which were designed to save time, have become machines
that make it disappear and threaten to take traditional models of
wasting hours (i.e., television) with them. About 20 percent of the
audience of "Lost" has gone missing since last year, even though the
show has suffered no discernible decline in quality. It is less
likely that its audience fled to NBC's "The Biggest Loser" in the
same time slot than that it found other diversions.
In the past week, Google and YouTube put a price tag of $1.65
billion on ubiquitous digital video and CBS, perhaps noticing that
100 million streams were being up- and downloaded a day, announced a
revenue-sharing partnership with YouTube as well.
The specter of YouTube dominated a panel discussion held at NextFest,
a futuristic conference put on by Wired magazine, late last month.
Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired, pointed out that much of the
content on YouTube might seem marginal - "Grandma getting hit with a
brick" was the phrase he used - but that there was lots of mainstream
content there as well, with everyone from Jon Stewart to Jessica
Simpson benefiting from gigantic viral promotion.
One of the panelists, Jeff Zucker, chief executive of NBC, was asked
what he would do if he found out that YouTube had run a piece of
copyrighted NBC material. "We will claim outrage, demand that it be
taken down and then check back in a week to make sure it has been
done," he said. His sly-devil acquiescence is informed by YouTube's
ability to take a Saturday Night Live skit called "Lazy Sunday" last
year and market it to more young people than have sampled S.N.L. in
Jennifer Feikin, the director of Google Video and the only panelist
not invested in the old model, did her level best to let sleeping
dogs lie, calling online video "definitely not a substitute in any
way" for television. She has some facts on her side: according to
Nielsen Media Research, last year, the average household watched
television 8 hours and 14 minutes a day, a 3-minute increase from the
2004-5 season and a record high.
But Howard Shimmel, a senior vice president at Nielsen, said research
had shown something else: "Internet homes, including broadband and
dial-up, watch 9 percent less television over all than the general
population. The impact by network differs, with some experiencing 25
percent lower ratings and others substantially unaffected." (He added
that wired homes were generally well-off, a population that watches
television less as a matter of course.)
Anecdotally, I can say that our family ends up finding the remote
less often. Tally up all the bereft fathers video-chatting with
college-age daughters, bored teenagers making videos for other bored
teenagers and geeks mashing up existing content to hilarious effect,
and there is ferocious, idiosyncratic competition for consumers'
The threat isn't new media displacing old media as much as
personalization. Media has become something people make, forward,
link and program. When we took the 2,000-mile road trip to drop the
girls off at their respective campuses, we switched between my iPod
and theirs rather than flip fruitlessly through radio channels that
had been aggregated and formatted into musical sameness.
Newspapers felt the pain of technological disruption first, when
people had dial-up modems capable of transmitting modest, largely
text-based data. As fatter pipes developed, music performed a
jailbreak, leaving behind a maimed industry. And now, with the number
of ever-faster connections spreading and the advent of the Flash
player, television seems positioned as roadkill, with great big movie
files soon to fall after that.
The question remaining is how these industries will choose to react.
Television, it seems, may have learned some of the hard lessons
endured by the music industry and taken an attitude of cautious
engagement with downloaders rather than randomly slapping them with
I still caught Wednesday's episode of "Lost," downloading it to my
iPod to view on my commute and sending $1.99 to ABC and Steve Jobs to
split. Through the magic of that time-and-platform shift (and my
willingness to pay for free content), I remained a part of the "Lost"
tribe, although not the kind that shows up on Nielsen.
Selling programming that way is a smaller business for the networks,
but not a bad one. Maybe this time, Grandma saw the brick coming.
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