Shadowed by 3-D's high-tech reincarnation, converging anything, anywhere, anytime, on any screen evolves rapidly
The top result from a Web search on "NAB" during the show delivered this from the New York Times' Media Decoder, Brooks Barnes: "Jeffrey Katzenberg Goes to NAB to Talk 3-D."
Yes, indeed, it was a 3-D party at NAB. But, for the record, 3-D movie making made its debut in 1922 with "The Power of Love." (To the eternal regret of movie buffs, this film disappeared after its Los Angeles premiere. Even when the moving pictures were still a novelty, it seems that 3-D failed to ignite audience interest). We're not exactly discovering fire here.
Of course, Katzenberg is excited about the phoenix-like rise of 3-D from the 20th century's ashes. Because making 3-D DVDs is more difficult and expensive, content providers can stay ahead of the online pirates for a while. But why should I get excited?
In fact, I'm less than unexcited because 3-D video makes me, well, uneasy. This, I've learned, is not simply a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder. You see, less-than-perfect 3-D video confuses our brains. And because new technology puts 3-D within reach of lesser-skilled filmmakers, as one videographer explained to me, it won’t be long before a deluge of poor 3-D video will be out there, making us all uneasy and nauseous.
As usual, the whiz-bang hype obscures the truly innovative. At NAB this year, the story flying under the radar was the advent of what I’ll call “meta-media.”
The term has been floating around academia since the 1960s. One of its foremost contemporary theoreticians, University of California San Diego visual art professor Lev Manovich describes meta-media as "accessing and using in new ways previously accumulated media.” Think of it as the infrastructure of convergence, the nuts and bolts of anything, anywhere, anytime, on any screen.
Making sense of today's content tsunami
Meta-media addresses my problem (information/media-overload), described by TV industry sociologist and current president of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Shelly Palmer. "As human beings, we're fantastically good at one-to-one communication. We've been naturally selected, 144,000 years ago, for one-to-one communication. About 3500 years ago, the Greek stage was invented: one-to-many communication. Television is the world's best one-to-many communication. Twenty-seven months ago, we had a new thing: many-to-one communication [via the Web]. We aren't equipped for many-to-one communication … and," Palmer said bluntly, "we suck at it."
Meta-media organizes that many-to-one communication — discovering, unifying, anticipating interest in and delivering content — and presents it in an ordered way that our 144,000-year-old neurology can accommodate. Meta-media is more than simple aggregation. It adds intelligence to the sea of content in four dimensions:
• User interfaces that present a single, unified user view of content;
• Operator platforms that unify content for distribution over any channel;
• Devices that unify entertainment, communications and the Web; and
• Conditional access systems with a unified view of the customer.
An ecosystem that makes sense for consumers also can also make “cents” for operators, says pundit Shelly Palmer
Meta-media may also hold one key to the challenges facing the TV industry today: making money in this anywhere, anytime, any content, and any screen world.
"We've built an industry to broadcast to households, and then TV moved," Palmer said. "People are doing something different: [watching on] the best available screen." The task becomes delivering the right content to the right person, on the right screen. "If [operators] don't control the way content goes from publisher to consumer, we can't be in business."
Palmer doesn't claim to have the answer, but he has some ideas. "Steve Jobs and Google have shown the way. What if video is just data? [Operators] create a database of content, [software development kits] and APIs," he said. This infrastructure, in turn, empowers developers to build businesses around applications that mediate this sea of content for consumers. It's a business model that could also help solve Katzenberg's problems without giving me a headache.
Palmer isn't alone in his take on this. In talking about how broadcasters can "wring every drop of revenue possible from the mobile TV opportunity," Harris VP of marketing and technology Brian Cabaceiras spoke of the "IT-ization of media, the ability to move anything as files," opening up new opportunities for managed services.
"Take a lesson from the computer industry," Palmer advised as he concluded his keynote. "Instead of fighting this army [developers and hackers], conscript it. Suing your customer," he added, "is not the best business model." You can read more of Palmer's NAB observations at www.shellypalmermedia.com/2010/04/16/nab-an-unlearned-lesson.