A Smart Look at the Future of Television // In Collaboration With Quinnipiac University's School of Communications
Wednesday’s SOPA/PIPA online protests gave me an unexpected gift: one of the best first days of New Media classes in the last several years. Thanks to Internet activists, the students were already aware of the Congressional acts that may alter their use of the web and I was able to add some academic background on what the effect on user generated content may be.
According to a Pew Internet Life study, almost three-fourths of online users access video sharing sites. Media titans like Google and Comcast are going to have a lot of say in how we access media content in the future as they both host content and provide the access point.
With the value of video content growing, I reminded students that the future holds the possibility of the corporatizing independent user generated content. Take for example the Internet provider Comcast. Comcast now owns a television network, over two dozen channels, many websites, and a major movie studio. The company provides the Internet and some of the content on it. It offers broadband speeds and access that allow the user to create new content—sometimes in the form of remixes or webseries using copyrighted material.
This same corporation may get upset at illegal downloads of their own media and can lobby congress to get bills like SOPA or PIPA moved forward because there is no spending limit on money spent by corporations since the 2010 lawsuit Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission (PDF). But the case has an upside: the same court case that allows no spending limit, also allows publicly traded corporations to have free speech. This allows Google to take a stand against SOPA and PIPA and collect [7 million!] signatures on a petition against the bill effectively taking it down.
So what does this have to do with online video?
My expertise and interest is in web based television. I try to always consider how long what Rob Barnett of MyDamnChannel calls, “the last rebel group of television producers” will remain independent. Barnett left the mega-corporation Viacom to start his own independent web television channel in 2007. While he left the corporate world for several reasons, he mainly left because of the amount of process involved in getting content from the creator to the audience because of the amount of control the corporation has. By cutting out the middlemen, a content creator could simply upload their content to the web and gain attention (with far fewer audience members, but at least the audience was authentic). At time Barnett opened shop, web based television was in its infancy with only several web series online including We Need Girlfriends, Chad Vader and The Guild, all of which used copyrighted content in their series. The web offered the freedom of the constraint of corporate rules and regulations.
Over the years, web savvy creators like Next New Networks took advantage of YouTube’s upgrades techniques and made independent, interesting, non-corporate video content. The content was so good that it garnered the attention of YouTube’s owner, Google, who later aquired Next New Networks and created YouTube Next. Google, who does it’s best to “Not be evil” (its unofficial corporate motto), understands the value of niche enterprises—and buys them. In the years since the birth of web television, a lot of online video has moved towards the monetization of content. This has been happening forever on network and cable (The Apprentice is a one-hour informercial) and of course it will happen on the web, it’s inevitable. In fact, even Barnett’s MyDamnChannel is teaming up with the corporations (including his old co-workers at Paramount). It happens.
Jaron Lanier, one of the authors of our modern internet and the guy who helped create Virtual Reality had this to say in his Op-Ed in the New York Times Thursday:
The adulation of “free content” inevitably meant that “advertising” would become the biggest business in the open part of the information economy…Once networks are established, it is hard to reduce their power.
One of my students expressed happiness about Google’s acquisition of Next New Networks and saw the move as “a sign of changing winds.” I mostly agree, the fact that a corporation sees user generated content as valuable is valuable to the user. But I also see it as corporatization of independent video. As Lanier pointed out, the web is often a fight between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” But as we’ve seen in an earlier post here, digital media is becoming consolidated. The titans of the internet will generally be respected as “the good guys” and government regulators as “the bad guys.” What we have to try to keep users aware of is what the titans may do with the money they gain from providing the web. If they own the distribution and the content, who the “bad guy” and who the “good guy” can become a blurry spectrum.
In my opinion, online video content’s evolution is going to be on the forefront of the fight against what we see as the good and the bad. Video is valuable. We have to keep our eyes open to the future lawsuits and bills and acts that may hinder (or aid!) its creation and distribution.
Cross-posted at Twebvision.
-Contributed by Jamie Cohen, -