TV,Radio Execs Need to Wake Up

Communication |

I was a keynote speaker at the annual Canadian Association of Broadcasters conference in October.

In talking about (obviously) the Internet, my intent was twofold — first and foremost, to help the industry understand how the Internet can be used effectively as a marketing, service and education tool, and the role it should play with their strategic objectives. Yet, more importantly, I wanted to get across to the industry my belief that the Internet is quickly becoming a 500-million channel universe, and that it is a system that will soon present a significant challenge to traditional broadcasting organizations.

At the end of my speech, I looked around the room. There seemed to be two types of people — mostly young people, eagerly taking notes, clearly aware of the impact of the Internet and doing what they can to cope with it. Yet, there seemed to be a fair number of older individuals — senior broadcast executives, I presumed — with long or disbelieving faces. They seemed to be looking at me as if I was just another techo-geek, out to deliver yet another story about a future that will not be.

I had the feeling that they just wish the whole damn thing called the Internet would go away.

It won’t. The simple reality is that broadcasters must pay significant attention to the Internet — it has become a technology breeding ground worthy of respect. Simply put, the geeks are loose on the Internet, and these technical geniuses are dreaming up ways which will make the Internet a brand new type of radio and TV broadcast method that will compete with traditional broadcasting. Consider a few of the developments which have occurred, merely in the last few weeks:

· Oracle Corp., which seemed intent on being a major player in the interactive TV future, announced WebTV, a computer system that will provide video-on-demand access through the Internet. It plans on making it available early in 1996.

· NBC Desktop Video released software that allows Internet users to access video, audio and multimedia programs through the Internet. Combined with this, NBC and Intel announced a consortium which will develop “Intercasting”, or broadcasting through the Internet. Partners, which include the likes of CNN, QVC and others, will develop technology that will link television content (i.e. a sports or news show) with Internet content (i.e. the ability for someone to research statistics on the Web about a particular player or to read a Web page containing background news information, while watching the TV show.) The Web pages will be transmitted on an unused portion of the broadcast signal. Testing is set to begin in 1996.

· developments are not limited to large media organizations, but are occurring at the grassroots level — a small startup, Xing Technology, has released software on the Internet which provides real time audio and video to Internet users (www.xingtech.com). It purports to provide 5 frames per second video (compared to 30 frames broadcast quality). CFRA Radio in Ottawa is already broadcasting audio 24 hours a day worldwide using the software, as are several other stations around the world.

Combine these developments with the fact that Canadian Internet users will, through the next two years, be able to take advantage of extremely high speed access to the Internet via the cable wire, telephone lines and digital satellite, and one can see that we have the makings of some real fun. One impact? As I have said many times before, the technology is quickly emerging which will permit anyone in the world to soon establish their own TV or radio station on the Internet. One doesn’t have to be a broadcaster to be a broadcaster. We are in for interesting times indeed.

Yes, it’s all quite early — one might compare audio and video through the Internet today to a 1950’s style TV. You can see the image, but it is certainly fuzzy and out of focus. Yet, take a look at TV today — and when one considers the furious pace at which Internet technology is evolving, one cannot be complacent.

Let’s face it — the Internet is competing for consumer mindshare. Broadcast organizations — dependent on advertising revenue for a significant chunk of their income — must be aware that a recent Angus Reid survey shows that Canadians on the ‘Net spend seven fewer hours per week watching TV. Oh oh — what happens when the Web becomes TV?

Obviously, television and radio is not going to disappear at any time in the future — I’ll still be watching TV fifty years from now. Yet, there is no doubt that the Internet is competing for consumer mindshare, and yes, is attracting advertising dollars.

The Canadian broadcast industry must wake up and smell the roses.

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