When industries get into trouble, they tend to blather about things that don't really matter. Thus, we hear all the hype about 3D and mobile television at CES and the upcoming NAB Show. Believe it if you like, but that's stuff for way into the future—if it's ever to happen at all.
Right now the big story is the movement of television to the Internet. Not only is all commercial television heading to the Internet, but so is video from nearly everyone with a successful business and a Web page. It's a titanic shift that affects our culture in a major way.
Let's take commercial television first. Regardless of what the current leaders of the television industry say, their business is being radically disrupted by the Internet. Most are aggregators of content who resell that programming at a profit. They bundle shows and their prices are skyrocketing. Their customers are starting to say "no" to spending in excess of $100 a month on shows they don't even watch.
GETTING RID OF THE MIDDLE MAN
Because it has deep pockets, broadcast lobbyists will ask Congress for protection. Congress will try to help, but in the end the battle will be fruitless. It will be like trying to help the horse-and-buggy industry when automobiles were first arriving in the showrooms. The time is very near when television producers will sell their programs directly to individual viewers on the Internet. With the middlemen gone, the price will be much lower than it is today. People will pay only for what they want to watch. Major networks and cable and satellite companies will lose their immense power.
Of course, this will not happen before the television industry fights for self-survival. Because it has deep pockets, broadcast lobbyists will ask Con-gress for protection. Congress will try to help, but in the end the battle will be fruitless. It will be like trying to help the horse-and-buggy industry when automobiles were first arriving in the showrooms.
However, anytime Congress gets involved with anything, it can be dangerous—especially for the viewing public. During the next year, the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) warns us to keep an eye on two initiatives being pushed by these last-gasp companies. Both are attempts at self-survival. Each is dangerous for the personal freedom of viewers and should be fought.
One is TV Everywhere, the DRM-laden attempt by cable television to keep their subscribers from moving off the wire to watch free television on the Internet. The second is Selectable Output Control, an attempt by the Hollywood studios to drive analog TV set interfaces into oblivion in favor of DRM-restricted digital interfaces.
With these actions, cable wants to force its subscribers to use a password to watch television on an encrypted Internet. Hollywood wants to tell viewers what programs they can and cannot record. We've heard it all before.
Another huge issue coming to a head is Net Neutrality. It was one of President Obama's biggest campaign issues and should be a top priority at the FCC. But, believe me, it will be a gigantic fight with the major wireless and broadband companies as they try to cement their control of the Internet.
We'll see if Obama and company have the right stuff for the big fight ahead. Nothing in this changing world is more important than Net Neutrality—or as uncertain in the hands of compromising politicians.
A FREE DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM
In an equally dramatic shift, ordinary people and businesses are starting to use video on the Internet. Within three years, I predict most businesses will have a television presence online—from their marketing and product messages to training materials. Many will hire personalities to host their sites and tie the videos together.
Already, YouTube and other streaming media sites offer a free distribution system for video. This video interconnects with blogs and Web sites. All that's holding most enterprises back today is the lack of skill and expertise in producing and distributing video. This, however, is changing fast.
It's an ideal new arena for former multimedia journalists to work. In fact, I'm now doing it myself. Few other new enterprises bring the skill sets of writing, photography, video and audio together with the powerful editorial tools now available on personal computers.
Since there are no precise formulas for business success on the Internet, each company must design a specific narrative and marketing plan tailored to its individual attributes. This is where the multimedia consultant comes in, using good judgment and creative media to produce compelling stories that speak to the audience of potential clients for each business.
We are now living in a true golden age of opportunity as television moves away from monolithic industrial control by a few powerful companies into the hands of many individuals and small groups. It has been about 35 years since the portable video revolution began, allowing individuals to be able to afford their own video equipment for the first time.
Since then, the production gear has gotten much cheaper, far more reliable and significantly more portable. But what really changed in recent years is the free distribution available over the Internet. Now, with the roadblocks mostly gone, the future rests with the skill and talent of individuals and small groups.
As always, most of this video from the masses will be pure dreck. Unfortunately, that's a price we pay for democratizing any medium. But those with real talent will shine and have huge opportunities that were rare in the era of tight corporate control.
Whether making premium programs for viewing by a mass online audience or selling multimedia storytelling skills to businesses, the across-the-board opportunities are now almost endless. It's best to keep this in mind and not to get too distracted by the near term noise from the major television companies. Their real agenda is their own survival and how they may fit into the new world of television.
Frank Beacham is an independent writer-producer based in New York City. Visit his Web site atwww.frankbeacham.com.