Revolutions Are Rare, But U.S. Broadcast Industry Is Facing One

I study new media. I enjoy it. I am also quite a new media skeptic. This began with my graduate work at Ohio State under Joe Foley (advisor) and newcomer Steve Acker (just in case they're watching ;-). My dissertation was on the future of new media, and I studied home video as a specific case. I learned a lot and have kept what I have learned with me.

Three of the reasons, obvious when you see them, for overly optimistic forecasts for emerging media: 1) the first stage for voices extolling the virtues of emerging media comes from the engineering world, where enthusiastic engineers and, more importantly, their company's sales team who "grease the pump" by announcing technological breakthroughs (for many, you can relate this to the medical or pharmaceutical fields in which the news media quickly pick up on new treatments years before they pass muster with regulators through, we hope, rigorous testing). 2) I'm not a neuroscientist, but it has been my observation that when a new medium enters the market (and even before it does), it is easy to envision the end state scenario in which the new medium diffuses to a majority of the population of potential adopters. What is often difficult to see are the obstacles that may or will appear in the path of the new medium's introduction, let alone diffusion. 3) There is an industry of market research firms, investment analysts, and even journalists ("man bites dog," "TV will end movie theaters") are among those who beat the steady drum of "here comes potentially revolutionary change." My observation on this aspect of optimistic forecasting is that reports of the status quo are pretty boring, and if you are, for example, a market research firm that needs to sell its research reports for thousands of dollars per copy (in some instances), predicting "no changes in the broadcast industry are seen for the next 5 years" would not generate many sales.

Having said all that, there are times when new media technologies are introduced and actually do diffuse more quickly than expected. Examples are the CD (the rapidity of how quickly CDs replaced LP records in the U.S. is really quite remarkable and, I wonder, unprecedented), large back-yard satellite dishes (basically no one expected individuals to purchase this technology that was adapted by Stanford Professor H. Taylor Howard, for the cable industry), and CB radio originally used by truckers were rapidly adopted by automobile owners (although this ended up as a passing fad). I'd have to check to see how TiVo's growth compares to what was forecast for it.

Compression technology and the dramatic growth of broadband in the U.S. (the latter being another example of a technology that diffused faster than most experts predicted), the entry of telcos into the "cable television" business (think of how landline phones are being replaced by cell and Internet phones and you can see why the telcos want to be in the video business). Video is the literature of our age (Bruce Klopfenstein, 1991) and delivery systems are being introduced that will do for video what broadband has already done for music. Smart broadcasters will embrace the technology; again, the music industry has stopped the bleeding and is now enjoying new revenue streams from Internet music subscribers.

(Sadly, blogger sometimes crashes and that happened to me on this post. I rewrote most of it but will come back soon for a tune-up.)

You may use this content (better still, argue with me!), but please cite my ideas as © 2005, Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein. Best viewed in Firefox.


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