Television Revolution Coming: The Precursor
I am a proud graduate of The Ohio State University's communication program where I focused on telecommunication. Like the future preachers around me, I also took courses in rhetoric, so I understand why my readers fear getting into a debate with me (NOT! Come on, people, let's rumble!). One topic we spent a great deal of time on is the term "revolution" in the context of "Is a new medium revolutionary or evolutionary?"
The history of mass communication is evolutionary. Radio borrowed talent from vaudeville, television stole talent away from radio, cable television (think TBS, formerly WTVG for Turner Communications Group) stole from broadcast television (thank goodness we can STILL watch The Andy Griffith Show), and cable television stole the format idea from radio [(c) 2006 by Dr. Bruce C. Klopfenstein]. In many ways, the entire history of broadcast media was predictable. Clearly, there were no revolutions involved. Radio adapted to television by adopting formats: you knew what genre of programming you would hear because the station played the same programming 24 hours a day whether it be "adult contemporary," oldies, pop, rock and even talk. Cable television borrowed from radio by establishing "format television" with news, weather and sports being among the first format cable channels. I predicted this as an undergraduate student. Was I a prodigy, the Oracle at Delphi, a time travelor? No, none of these things. I knew my media history, and the future of cable and its 500 channels would follow what had already happened in radio. Note, I'm being provincial in this discussion and limiting what I write to the United States.
So the history of electronic media has been evolutionary. When the Web became a reality, I told my students in 1994 that the web would go commercial. Why? That's been the history of electronic media in the United States. Americans are used to and accept the model of trading the annoyance of commercial messages because they subsidize the content we see on "free" TV.
The world began to change as compression techniques were created to allow entire sound files to be small enough to be downloaded in minutes. The file could then be played back by decompression software on a computer. I remember the early days of Realplayer when voices sounded like they were coming over a tin can attached to a wire.
If there is one certainty about the future of electronic media, it is this: we are heading toward infinite bandwidth if not infinite compression. You need not be an engineer to understand that engineering firms large and small continue to work feverishly to compress files to the point that we will be able to download video programs in seconds. Did anyone predict this 10 years ago? Perhaps, but only at engineering conferences that were covered by the specialized engineering trade press.
Did the music industry see the piracy/downloading issue coming? Evidently not, because it flourished without a financial model that rewarded the copyright holders or the music labels. Downloading music files literally put the music industry on its ear, but as has been the case in the history of electronic media, the music industry adapted. Has the music industry been revolutionized? It depends on whom you talk to. New musicians welcome the chance to have immediate, global accessibility to their work. Was this possible in the past? Simply put: NO. At best, a new, presumably talented group of musicians needed a music label to push their product onto radio stations. Even progressive college radio stations theoretically could be passed by with ubiquitous audio via the Internet that is now available. My guess (as a student radio station jock and then advisor for 13 years) is that progressive college radio stations will still be influential as they put their underground stamp of approval on new music and new bands.
What about classical music you ask? Good question: those who enjoy classical music are a different demographic group than those who enjoy bleeding edge new rock music.
So there may be some debate as to whether or not the music industry has been revolutionized, but I am here to tell you that a revolution is precisely what the video industries are facing.
You may use this content (better still, argue with me!), but please cite my ideas as © 2006, Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein. Best viewed in Firefox thanks to Microsoft going its own way.