Internet Television: The Idea That Sort of Wasn’t.

Hey, did you watch the latest episode of Bytejacker? How about Diggnation? Okay, surely you’ve seen the latest episode of AppJudgement, right? Or maybe you have never even heard of these shows. Welcome to the majority.

They’re all shows on Revision3, an internet television station founded by Digg founder Kevin Rose. The idea was to be like a typical television station, with shows that aired at usual times with episodes at regular intervals, only entirely online and on demand. The result has not been any high calibre shows. The next Mad Men or House has not come out of Revision3, and the revolution of anyone and everyone setting up their own independent online television channels, upending the cable providers and typical media establishment, has not happened. Alas, for Mr. Rose.

Now, you have probably heard of Hulu. Have you watched any of their exclusive content? Did you even know they had original programming? Probably not. It lacks a lot of mindshare. So it is somewhat baffling to hear Netflix’s acquisition of a high budget, exclusive and original television show being heralded as the beginning of the end for cable television. While cable faces some challenges, this latest one, a shot across the bow to be sure, is not even a proven technique, even if this is the largest gamble taken on the idea yet.

While such services certainly could be the future of television, let us not declare cable networks dead before somebody actually succeeds at launching a successful online television program, shall we?

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Why aren’t podcasts more popular?

The idea seemed liberating. Anyone could put out what was basically a radio show, and consumers could listen to them pretty much anywhere on an MP3 player, or on their computers at home. It is not as if podcasts are hard to find. NPR has podcasts, the Tomopop mentioned in a prior blog entry has their own podcast, a look on iTunes reveals celebrities and random individuals have podcasts on a number of subjects. The content is certainly out there. Yet, podcasts lack much buzz.

If you ask somebody what blogs they read, most, particularly if they are younger people, will follow at least one, typically more. But ask them what podcasts they follow, and some might not even know what a podcast is, let alone follow one. But why is this? Is the combination of modern technology, typically the province of the youthful, with talk (not necessarily political) radio, typically the province of the more elderly, simply a doomed combination?

NPR has listeners. When my local NPR station needed to raise thousands of dollars from listeners, listeners came through with thousands of dollars. There is certainly a desire for independent radio news. So then why the cold shoulder towards podcasts, which seem like such a natural evolution in independent and public radio? It could be that the idea will simply never catch on in a big way, or perhaps they simply need more publicity. Podcasts often seem pushed to the side or tacked on, despite typically offering compelling programming. Potentially, if they were given a greater spotlight, they could gain popularity. Or the truth will be cemented that consumers do not really care about the evolutionary steps of radio journalism, which would be a pity.

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Blogs are king, vlogs are podcasts.

In any discussion of what is changing the journalism industry, YouTube seems to inevitably come up. “But it’s where I went to see footage after the earthquake in Japan!” “It’s an open video portal that allows anyone to upload news!” While YouTube is, as previously pointed out, a fellow competitor for timeshare, it is not a replacement for any national newspaper. When a major news story happens, the vast majority considers a multitude of other sources to check for information before they might go to YouTube later to watch something again.

It is not that YouTube serves no function to journalism. It is indeed a vital tool to put videos from citizen journalists demonstrating protestors getting shot in the streets, for example. But as a primary news source? What channel on YouTube, short of some smaller news organizations that use YouTube for hosting all of their video, is going to keep somebody fully informed? There is an utter lack of highly noted news vlogs. The Young Turks? The mainstream has never even heard of them. Even Democracy Now is rather niche compared to goliaths like Glenn Beck or Rachel Maddow, and it is certainly more well known than any random person’s news vlog on YouTube.

So, yes, YouTube is certainly an important platform that is chipping away at part of mainstream journalism, but as far as harming the traditional journalism corporations, it is not even as significant as Craigslist, let alone blogs. There a multitude of factors placing journalism in flux right now, and it is important to step back and gain some perspective.

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Why blogs, Netflix, YouTube, a Flash game and everything else are helping to kill newspapers.

Whether someone is 60 or 20, they cannot miss the radical change. There is simply so much more to do these days. For a small investment, it is easy to be entertained in a multitude of ways for large swaths of time. However, days continue to be only 24 hours long.

This is why the recent streaming deal between Netflix and Miramax should be troubling to anyone at a newspaper. The reality is that a rapidly expanding roster of contenders, more than ever before, are all vying for timeshare which has not expanded at all. Two hours a day and ten dollars a month spent on Netflix is time and money that cannot go to anything else. But who could say no? For less than the price of a movie ticket, subscribers get access to a panoply of entertainment. Or how about Kongregate or playing Angry Birds on that new Android phone? A consumer can spend hours playing these games without even having to pay for them, a rather attractive prospect. Then throw in television, music, commuting, eating, sleeping and everything else, and how much spare time and money is really left to read the New York Times every day? No wonder so many let that fall to the wayside and just read headlines off Google News or some other RSS feed, if they even bother going that far. Journalists are lucky that these consumers still bother to watch the news on broadcast stations.

Further, newspapers are limited in scope. They have to be. The notion of attempting to have one physical newspaper that chronicles every conceivable story in a day is ridiculous at a number of levels. But online, there is a blog or news site for almost anything. Take Modernmethod’s Tomopop, a blog website that collects news for hobbyist toy collectors. The writing is often amateurish, ripe with errors and poor style, and the subject is niche. It is not something likely to ever grace the pages of the New York Post, but it gets over 300,000 monthly unique visitors, with a majority in the young male demographic. Those are readers, eyeballs and potential ad dollars that will not be buying a newspaper for that information. Of course, there is a blog for news about the cartoon industry, Japanese animation industry, video games, frozen foods and a host of other subjects. And for each of the blogs linked here, there are numerous other ones, all equally free. Newspapers simply cannot compete with this.

Newspapers have to deal with the limits inherent to their system, and the reality that the success of anything else is a direct blow to print journalism. It certainly is not an enviable position. Just remember that when you read about the next Call of Duty being massively successful, newspapers and the entire entertainment industry feel the sting.

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The phones have eyes.

Picture this scenario: You’re on vacation in Luxembourg and you take out your Android powered phone. You go to Google News, and one of the top stories is about a political scandal in that very city. An eerily relevant coincidence? Hardly. Your phone tracked where you were and selected headlines from your current location.

That is the near future, or so Google hopes. Yet again, digital journalism offers an advantage that print media is locked out of. The day’s copy of the New York Times is the same anywhere you take it, but digital news will be able to dynamically update without any effort from the user to become more relevant. And all of that at the price of free.

Static content becomes more outmoded with every innovation. There are few who would argue that a physical encyclopedia is more convenient than Wikipedia. So too is rapidly becoming the fate of newspapers. While some may be uncomfortable with giving up their privacy for these advantages, if that were such a widespread concern as to be damning, Google would still be just a search engine.

When a picture of even the near future involves things newspapers simply cannot do, it is questionable to what degree they will even be part of it. Newspapers are very likely to become like music records, still around for those who want them but only preferred by a very small minority. Print, it seems, will merely become a special interest item as technology races by it. Print has already realized digital journalism is something it cannot compete against, but most work alongside with, integrate and ultimately adapt to. They do, after all, desire to still turn a profit.

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Crowdsourcing voluntary amateur journalism.

Anonymous has been getting a fair bit of press lately. They’ve been blamed by some parties, most notably Sony, for the recent data theft involving the Playstation Network. But hacking is not the full extent of Anonymous. They also serve as an activist group. To this end, they have set up Operation Leakspin, a movement dedicated to going through the leaks from WikiLeaks, determining which are important, analyzing them, and then producing journalism around them. The members are not professional journalists, at least not publicly, but rather dedicated citizens.

Is this a potential future model for journalism that could catch on? WikiLeaks has preferred to give its data to professional news organizations, but might the future of not merely leaks, but any bit of large data be to have teams of volunteer citizens go through it to find the stories within? It is certainly more economically viable to rely on hundreds of pairs of eyes working for free than it would be to hire enough professional journalists to go through the data in a satisfactory amount of time. Still, these volunteers likely lack the training to have the necessary critical eye to fully separate the wheat from the chaff and see the bigger picture.

However, given the economic reality of the journalism industry and its seemingly dwindling capability to support large staffs, the prospect of these crowdsourced efforts may not seem ideal, but may become the only realistic method. Yet again, the professionals are bringing in amateurs to help make their jobs possible.

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“We know all your secrets.”

Longtime Simpsons fans may remember the episode wherein some of the child characters set up an amateur radio station to reveal secrets about their parents in order to gain some greater liberties. The parallels to Wikileaks are rather uncanny. WikiLeaks has successfully obtained Sweedish bank details and released classified embassy cables and Guantanamo Bay prisoner details, among other high profile leaks. Wikileaks is a well known public face of a growing culture in which information is “liberated” with or without permission.

Corporations have faced this, with a prototype iPhone 4 being a feature story on Gizmodo, and Nintendo and Sony have had video game developers leak extensive details of their video game systems to the press. Corporations, religious organizations and governments have been the targets of data thefts from the group Anonymous among others.

It would seem that information is moving towards Julian Assange’s ideal of being out in the public, from the banal to the significant. One has to step back for a second, however, and ask that, even if the press has the legal grounds to publish all of this leaked information, is it ethically permissible? The answer is almost always “Yes.” While discretion must be shown to protect innocents, the public has a right to information. These leaks have exposed corruption, sparked revolutions, toppled dictators and brought light to a public that was kept in the dark. Or given a preview of a new phone, in some cases. But by and large, important and revealing details have come out of these leaks, and it is the very purpose of the press to serve as the fourth estate and a watchdog, bringing this information to the public.

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