On the future of the media: a draft

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Over the last fifteen years the media and the digital revolution have changed our lives. The digital revolution has helped people in the economically more developed countries whilst creating a digital divide between poorer countries. As the technology has spread it has enhanced the de-centralisation of industry. Those in Europe and America are part of the management whist those in Asia and around the world work as blue-collar labourers. As a result the there is divide between both groups. Alternately the world’s culture and communications have become global as in television program schedules and I-tunes with ethnic radio stations.

After the WSIS conference that took place in Geneva in 2003 there will be another meeting this year in Tunis to discuss information technology and progress for the economically less developed countries. When speaking of the future of the media it is important to remember that education plays an important role in modern society. For Modern technology literacy and an understanding of technology are two necessities without which modern society can’t work.

When Tim Berners Lee created the World Wide Web in 1989-1990 at the European Centre for Nuclear research (CERN) his aim was for software that was compatible with each operating system. Using a NeXT server he created both the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) and the hypertext markup language (HTML). Over time the technology grew in popularity and within 6 years the technology had 6 million users. The take up had been far faster than with other technologies for the same amount of time. By 2005 it is estimated that there will be over 5 billion text documents on the web. Search engines are an important part in making the World Wide Web usable. On searchenginewatch.com there is discussion on the need for a conference on how to improve search engines and the way they index information. Recently YahooGoogle and MSN have simultaneously worked on getting desktop search engines to help people index the content of their hard disks due to the increasing amount of images, e-mails, web pages, and videos that can be stored on ever expanding hard disks. We are at a time when the computer will not be left in the study solely for work and playing computer games. It will be brought out and used as a home entertainment unit capable of playing hundreds of hours of music, films and communication. Students are early adopters of this concept since they have limited funds and space.

New technologies arrive with no legislation on how to use them. By taking a look at the automobile industry we see how a lack of legislation led to crashes and a lack of security on the roads. In the same way the distribution of music files through software like Napster threatened the music industry. The RIAA had Napster shut down but within a few years it was back sharing files the legal way. At the same time Ares, Bit torrent and other file sharing software came into existence, improving on old technologies making file-sharing part of everyday life. The RIAA is and still will be suffering from this because we have come to an age of digital reproduction, no longer the mechanical reproduction that Walter Benjamin spoke of. Now a perfect copy of music files can be shared around the world taking and it takes a few seconds to transfer. More to the point there is no need to know the person with whom you are sharing files. New legislation has come into being but chances are that people will continue to share files. It is up to the RIAA to make their product appealing enough to purchase.

When television could not be recorded it felt like a novelty for people. In the 1970’s and 80’s with the coming of the VHS and Betamax people could time shift programs, picking when to watch them rather than being “a slave to the box”. When British Sky Broadcasting came into being it gave a greater variety of programs to its audience. In 1998 the digital revolution would come to satellite broadcasting. A shift from broadcasting to narrow casting occurred, a concept that had been looked down on many years earlier because it did not have mass appeal.

When television programming was limited to three or four channels programming was split into time slots based on age and occupation. When the media landscape and the spectrum grew the audience became fragmented. It is based on profession, age, education, interests and ethnic background. If you watch MTV in the UK you will have regional MTV channels for a British audience. In the same way the discovery channels give a choice of civilization, nature and wings. Whatever interests you may become a channel. The advantage of the digital environment is that there is unlimited space and possibilities – as long as you have a hundred thousand pounds to spend you may buy a slot on Sky. Although it is controversial the BBC bought on Sky giving the Sky audience access to public service broadcasting. As time evolves we will find more of these deals.

Having so many channels is chaotic and Sky has found the perfect solution. With the electronic program guide they have separated the channels into interests; news and factual, Music, Cinema and special interest. If you are an Arab speaker wishing to watch Al Jazeera you use the EPG and select the channel. Other companies lack such good EPG and finding your way across more than five hundred channels can be time consuming. As time continues we may find that a search feature is included so that if we’re looking for a certain film we type the name in and it lists the times at which it’s shown. For the moment it’s limited to 48hrs but in the near future it may having planning for up to a week or more.

Sky made television more interactive although rather than send SMS by mobile phone or chatting on forums it may be possible to interact with the show by selecting camera angles or by selecting features. E4 have already done this with big brother. Sky news also offers a similar service but with news streams for world news, sports, entertainment and weather. This is a progression from the original teletext where it was a few lines of text. Another advancement is that of High Definition television, a much larger higher quality picture will be seen by the viewer to enhance his experience and surround sound will become mainstream for television programming.

Over the last year articles have appeared speaking about something new, pod casting. This is where a radio station is recorded onto an I-pod for time differentiated listening. Radio is no longer based on radio transmitters but rather on streams of data via the web. Channels like One FM, a Geneva based radio station will be available to students as far as California or Sydney. No longer does the audience give up listening to their favourite programs because they are outside the country. The radio station you listen to may be based six thousand kilometres away. More to the point due to its nature radio is cheap. For example, Rumantsch, a Swiss dialect talked by only a hundred thousand people is available on the World Wide Web to a global audience. You may say this is absurd, this demonstrates how technology has allowed for radio to become a global medium. The cost and technology mean anyone can have their own radio station with the right software. This creates copyright issues although companies like Mercora claim to resolve this problem by buying the rights to the music. As to other web radios they avoid scheduling music because it is when music is scheduled that they become illegal.New legislation and agreements will be signed allowing for greater freedom of the use of music.

The cinema industry has a lot of money therefore investment goes into innovation. Companies like Pixar are moving away from operating systems like Windows or Apple and moving towards open source software like Linux because of the flexibility it offers them. They hire their own programmers to develop software for the tasks they require. Timecode explored the use of split screen between four cameras and four points of view. As one story became more important the sound was faded to that camera. In the near future these types of films will be even more interesting. At the moment Microsoft are working on a software which may be bundled with Longhorn which permits for a scene to be seen from several points of view with only one camera. This is a complex operation that requires powerful processors and a lot of ram. Another concept is George Lucas’ use of the video village for scenes with a lot of computer-generated graphics. He films in high definition rather than film. It allows for quicker turn around time because he watches scenes as soon as they are shot and to see what is required. If it is not good then he can re shoot the scene. If it is then he moves to the next scene. One of the great advantages is that it will speed up the process. Filmmaking will no longer take weeks to develop and edit, rather it could be finished within a few days reducing overall costs.

Photojournalism is changing from day to day with the progress made with more precise charge couple devices (CCD) and larger hard disks. Currently photographers are hindered because they must take a break from photography to send the previous four hours to their editors to be marketed via the agency’s website. Two examples are Corbis and Getty images. At the moment this is hinders photographers since they stop what they are doing to send the images. In the near future the camera will be able to send the images back automatically. The photographer will be free to enjoy taking more pictures, getting his assignments by phone and taking more pictures as images are automatically uploaded to the agency’s server. Trends demonstrate that as technology progresses the interaction between one feature and another become seamless. A big effort is put into making technology as transparent as possible to encourage its use.

Recently I read an article saying that with smaller cameras, lighter editing suites and video satellite phones for reporting television crews can move up to forty percent faster than they used to. This is great for covering conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq because the earth station is no longer a must for 24-hour news channels like BBC news and CNN for example. This is a result of the audience and the broadcasters constantly striving to break the story sooner. Over time the camera on mobile phones will have resolution high enough to be broadcast on television. At this point the job of the cameraman may be easier, especially for live events or getting agency material where an understanding of the story is not as important. In South East Asia after the Tsunami holidaymakers with their cameras took the footage of the actual wave. The journalists and their camera crews came to cover the complex topics like aid, how tsunamis occur and what the governments and world community are doing to help.

The future of the Internet is another interesting aspect of the future of the media because of the online convergence. Broadband in the UK has increased with more than half of homes in the UK having access to high-speed Internet access. In France Internet access has already gone up to 15 megabits per second with certain providers. In France during the late 90’s there was a movement called Internet Moins Cher, (IMC) or cheaper Internet in English. They staged days of protest, for example not connecting to the Internet for a day. As a result progress had been made in France. In 2003 it was declared that there was an overcapacity for the sending of information and this pushed down the prices for users of the technology, promoting new services and features online.
Websites like Weebl and Bob or atom films can provide content for those with high bandwidth connections enhancing the experience. Images have increased in resolution, content has become more dynamic and communicating online has been simplified. Whereas chatting by MSN messenger, chat rooms and IRC was part of the late 90’s the next fifteen years will see people using software like Skype rather than landlines and in France there will be no need to have a subscription to a phone service with ADSL. In North America there is the Abilene Internet 2 network that is at 100 megabits per second or more, this means that full quality video can be streamed from one part of the US to the other. If you’re studying music and you have good microphone and sound system you can co-operate from numerous locations without travelling. As a result certain costs are lower and students have access to people they would otherwise have no access to.

The Book industry has not seen much change in the past ten years and chances are that it will not change so much within the next ten to fifteen years. Even Amazon did not have as much influence as it was expected to. It was found that people prefer to look through a book and feel it in their hands before purchasing it. What Amazon has done is made it easier to buy specific books. Due to it’s success it has migrated from America to have a website for the UK and another one for France. As to electronic books they have not taken off in the way that was planned, mainly because the technology is expensive, the screens are uncomfortable to read and the batteries would not last long enough.

In the United Kingdom where there are a variety of ethnic backgrounds and where the minorities are quite large there is an audience large enough to justify having special interest channels like Al Jazeera, OBE that is an African broadcasting channel or CCTV, a Chinese channel. With these channels on sky we see that England is a mature multicultural environment where diversity is tolerated and a part of everyday life. As time progresses these factors will become more important when measuring audiences.

Over the next ten to fifteen years chances are that technology will become smaller and less obtrusive. Mobile telephones will have an ever-increasing number of features, like cinema payment, bus payment and more. The television we watch and the websites we visit will know who we are and provide content that it knows we will enjoy. The Electonic program guide will become more intelligent and have more features, learning our taste and suggesting programs rather than waiting for us to tell it.

In economically less developed countries certain phases of media development may be skipped, for example in Africa the mobile infrastructure being set up rather than cable, the use of Linux in computing as the cost is lower and the use of satellite broadcasting for IP and more since the technology is easier to install all over the world. Already countries like India are becoming an important world player in relation to information technologies.

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Satellite Realms : Transnational Television, Globalization and the Middle East , Naomi Sakr, I.B Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2001
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