Broadcasting Is Dead, Long Live Broadcasting

by: John McMurria / DePaul University

The Pondering Primate

The Pondering Primate

Internet pundits say we are witnessing the Web’s second coming. While overly exuberant venture capitalists burst the bubble in 2000 before the Internet was ready for profitable business, now it seems that conditions for the sustainable growth of a more prosperous “Web 2.0” have been established. A critical mass of Internet users now have broadband access, open-source software and cheap bandwidth that have reduced startup costs; additionally search tools have made advertising a big business. This second coming has also reconfigured the conceptual articulations of “old” and “new” media. “Web 1.0” established its revolutionary promise by constructing a binary between an old media defined by the passive, feminized viewers of a dumbed-down, TV executive-produced mass culture and a new media defined by personal choice and masculine interactivity (Caldwell; Parks; Boddy). However, in recent months “Web 2.0” has increasingly embraced the old medium of television to transition from principally a text, image and audio-based medium to a video-based one.

Let’s consider four of these recent initiatives in Internet/TV convergence. Rather than predict future developments, let’s look back to the core principles of broadcasting to see how these nascent Internet TV initiatives hold up to what we might call a broadcast ethic of TV citizenship. Despite the significant differences between public and advertising-sponsored television, each tradition shares the following goals: 1) universal affordable access, 2) universal appeal that promotes encounters across diverse groups, and 3) fair use rights to watch when and where one likes (Alvarado; Murdock; Lessig).

Ipod Lounge

Ipod Lounge

Case #1. Disney/ABC has teamed with Apple’s iTunes to offer episodes of 6 current television series for playback on a newly released video iPod. Episodes of series including “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “That’s So Raven” are available for $1.99 per episode the day after they air. The iPod provides nifty portability but is far from universally accessible and affordable, as users must have high-speed Internet service, buy Apple’s proprietary portable audio/visual devise for $300-$400, and pay for each episode. Universal appeal is limited, as only a few hit Disney/ABC shows are available. TiVo, the personal video recording service, will soon make recorded programs available for download to the iPod (and other Microsoft mobile video formats) for those who can afford the additional costs of the conversion software, the TiVo player ($50-200), and TiVo’s $12.95 monthly service charge in addition to cable/satellite subscription fees. Fair use is restricted to the iPod and 5 computers – no DVD transfers allowed. In linking proprietary content to proprietary hardware at significant costs, the video iPod is a minimal service for a privileged few.

Case #2. Warner Brothers and AOL have heavily promoted their IN2TV which early next year will offer free online episodes of old TV shows that are not currently in syndication. In its first year Warner says it will draw from over 100 of the 800 series in its vault including “Maverick,” “Chico and the Man,” “Welcome Back Kotter,” “Alice,” “La Femme Nikita,” and “Babylon 5.” Episodes are organized into 6 themed “channels,” each episode includes 1 to 2 minutes of commercials. This offer is part of AOL’s broader strategy to transition from primarily an Internet Service Provider to a web portal with a particular emphasis on television, including AOL’s free live streaming of the Live 8 music concerts against world poverty held on July 2nd, 2005 in cities around the world; AOL’s coverage drew praise from those who grew irritated with MTV’s edited coverage and ABC’s limited two-hour broadcast, and scorn from those who found the unedited performances offensive. AOL and Time Warner are exploiting further synergies with an online video service that offers celebrity news and gossip produced by Warner’s Telepictures division. Regarding issues of access, just as AOL’s Live 8 coverage offered far more than broadcast and cable television for those with access to broadband, the In2TV will provide free access to TV shows that are otherwise unavailable. However, the service limits viewing to certain episodes, stratifies audiences through offering high quality resolution only to AOL broadband subscribers and provides only content owned by the corporate conglomerate. Concerning universal appeal, the vintage TV programs bring with them the contested representational politics of their time, but this look back reminds us of a time before the broadcast networks spun off their multiethnic casts and working class characters to minor broadcast networks and niche cable channels (Gray). Users can watch when they want to, but fair use is curtailed in that users cannot skip commercials or copy episodes to other devises – only excerpts can be emailed to friends and potentially transferred to cell phones. While less expensive and more extensive than the video iPod, In2TV’s linking corporate content to its Web portal creates promotional synergies rather than accessible platforms for TV distribution.

Case #3. The BBC is using file-sharing technology to test a service for 5,000 users which offers BBC programs online for up to 7 days after they air. While the BBC says it will offer 500 shows each week, only BBC-owned programs and those with secured transmission rights will be available. While this far surpasses the commercial initiatives in the US, there are limitations. In using Microsoft’s digital rights management system, users are prevented from e-mailing or copying programs to other devises. It is not clear why time-shifting is limited to 7 days. System capacity might be a reason for the limited test, but the BBC’s public broadcasting goal of providing a national service to create a sense of shared culture might also motivate a design that encourages a shared weekly viewing experience. The service is also limited to those with UK e-mail addresses, which protects the BBC’s commercial business of selling international rights to programs. (However, those outside the UK can access live streaming of some BBC channels and other international broadcast channels over free services such as Beeline TV and TV4All or subscription services such as NeepTV and Netspan TV – none of these offer time or space shifting.) While the BBC test case demonstrates the importance of public ownership for making programs available free online, critics have argued that citizens would be better served if all public and commercial broadcasts were available online through a single Web site.



Case #4. PBS has been slow to make their programming available online but it has recently initiated a series of Web-exclusive one-on-one video interviews with technology gurus including Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy, spreadsheet inventor Dan Bricklin and Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak. Because the appropriately named NerdTV is distributed under a Creative Commons license, viewers can legally copy episodes to other devises, email them to friends and edit their own versions. Public ownership under open source licensing clearly surpasses the other cases in realizing our broadcast principles. However, the racial and gender politics of geek TV were manifest when in the 9th episode the program’s host admitted that viewers had criticized the series for interviewing only white males on its first 8 episodes – the show interviewed the tech savvy fashion model Anina in the 9th episode.

Considering these 4 cases of Internet/TV convergence, if Web 2.0 no longer frames the Internet’s video potential in opposition to the old medium of television, these nascent examples reveal that the promises of television over the Internet could learn much from the ethics of television’s broadcasting past. Rather than as an old medium that breeds passivity and low uniformity, let’s embrace television for its ethics of universal access and broad appeal, and for its ideals of commonly held resources and spirit of cross-cultural encounter. Web 1.0 hailed from a neo-liberal ethics of venture capital speculation, government deregulation and a spirit of individual choice and personalization widely encapsulated in the classical economic speak of “video on demand.” Web 2.0 frames Internet TV very differently, as is exemplified in the words of this journalist: “[c]onsumers are rushing to hook up high-speed broadband connections like it is a vital new utility. And in many ways it is – a sight, sound and motion utility becoming as important to consumers as electricity or as TV” (Oser and Klasseen). Broadband, electricity and TV are the public utilities of the Web 2.0 age. Let’s treat them as such and continue to advocate for universal access to broadband, fair use in audio/video, and the public initiatives to ensure this –from continued support for public broadcasting to municipal-run broadband systems. One of the reasons for Web 1.0’s demise is that the internet provided so much free content that users were loath to pay for it. In that spirit let’s all just say no to the video iPod, even if your favorite TV show is “Lost” or “Desperate Housewives.”


Alvarado, Manuel. “Public Service Television: Challenge, Adaptation and Survival.” Contemporary World Television. John Sinclair ed. London: BFI Publishing, 2004. 7-9.

Boddy, William. New Media and Popular Imagination: Launching Radio, Television, and Digital Media in the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Caldwell, John. “Convergence Television: Aggregating Form and Repurposing Content in the Culture of Conglomeration.” Television After TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition. Lynn Spigel and Jan Olsson eds. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. 41-74.

Gray, Herman S. Culture Moves: African Americans and the Politics of Representation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. 77-130.

Lessig, Lawrence. The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World. New York: Random House, 2001.

Murdock, Graham. “Rights and Representations: Pubic Discourse and Cultural Citizenship.” Television and Common Knowledge. Jostein Gripsrud ed. London: Routledge, 1999. 7-17.

Osser, Kris and Abbey Klaassen. “Cable Ledaing Long-awaited convergence of Internet and TV; Web ‘Arrives’ as Medium for Content Delivery as Viacom, Scripps, Others Put Shows Online.” Advertising Age (25 July 2005), 48.

Parks, Lisa. “Flexible Microcasting: Gender, Generation, and Television-Internet Convergence.” Television After TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition. Lynn Spigel and Jan Olsson eds. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. 133-61.

Image Credits

1. The Pondering Primate

2. Ipod Lounge

3. NerdTV

Please feel free to comment.


  • Global Communication

    I really enjoyed your article. For someone, who still thinks of flower seeds when I hear the term iPod, and homemade pie when I hear the term blueberry, your article was stimulating and educational. I’ve prided myself on living TV free since my early 20’s (I am 40 something now), and I have looked away when shown a technical device or other form of media propaganda machine. Now, after reading your article, I am re-thinking my own existence in this possibly friendly world of global communications technology. TV may have reduced family communication, but it has induced global communication, which is a valuable tool and gives hope to a more collaborative world. With the technology boom, doors have opened to all kinds of communication. With all these open doors I am concerned about privacy and the lack thereof. I remember the days of unlocked doors and a safe neighborhood. I think this is the time of unlocked technology, but is it a safe neighborhood – but this is another topic. Getting back to your article, as you can see it has peeked my interest and enthusiasm for the tools we have available at hand. Your most important point from my point of view is the question about which hands have the gadgets been destined for? All hands you say. Well I agree, and with more hands and ideas, we can do so much more. So, listen up companies who are just thinking profit. This is more important than your bottom line. This is about the future possibilities for humankind.

  • Free flow of Information

    While reading this essay I focused on some particular aspects: the universal affordable access, the universal appeal that promotes encounters across diverse groups, and the fair use rights to watch when and where one likes. I think that one should consider what Al Gore once called “free flow of information”. This is related with the supposed Information and Communication rights. With the coming of the new Millenium the main aim of the industrialized countries was to allow everybody in every country to communicate and to get informations. This was the original concept of universal access to informations and communication sources, such as Internet or Television. But how is the situation today in terms of universal access to the sources and of equal use of them? Nowadays we are witnessing the rise of the global media system. The nature of the global media system seems less abstract when one examines the recent growth, activities, and strategies of its three most important TNCs: Time Warner, Disney and News Corporation. Time Warner and Disney are the two largest media firms in the world, with 1998 sales in the area of $23-26 billion. News Corporation is in contention with Viacom for the status as fourth largest global media firm, with sales slightly more than one-half those of Time Warner and Disney, but under its CEO Rupert Murdoch it has led the way in media globalization. These are global empires constructed largely in the 1990s, and they are a long way from completion. With the most part of the world media system controlled by only three companies a question arises: what will be the future of the “free flow of information” if the situation almost five years after the Millenium is even worst then before? The discussion has emphasized the strength and power, the almost irreversibility, of the emerging global commercial media system. If one is concerned with the promotion and expansion of participatory democracy, or some sort of civic life and values aside from those of the market, this is a fairly depressing scenario. But in tumultuous times like these, no one can speak with certainty with regard to the future. In mainstream debate, in fact, the tumult is largely associated with the dramatic technological revolution in computering and communication, most significantly represented by the rise of the Internet in the middle and late 1990s. With the Internet `wild card,’ the traditional concentrated control over communication on technological grounds effectively ends. Although the rise of the Internet and digital communication introduces instability to the media industry, in the current neoliberal political environment, the Internet is being developed on nearly purely commercial grounds, meaning whoever can make the most money wins. The real action with the Internet at present comes less on the media side than on the telecommunication and computering side, and with the corporate economic order in general. The easiest and most lucrative manner for the Internet (and digital communication networks) to be exploited is to serve the wealthiest corporate clients who have the most to gain by rapid, global communication.Despite the much ballyhooed `openness’ of the Internet, to the extent it becomes a viable mass medium, it will likely be dominated by the usual corporate suspects. The media giants have enormous advantages over any other Internet `content providers.’ These include their abilities: to use their existing programming; to promote their web sites on their traditional media; and to draw in major advertisers. Moreover, as the possessors of the hottest `brands,’ the media firms have the leverage to get premier location from browser software makers and Internet service providers. But there is an important card in the global media deck: the world’s people, constituted as organized citizens rather than as consumers.

  • Info exchange

    Although I do favor watching the news on television over the internet, there are some advantages to the internet that I didn’t previously consider. With the technology of broadcastings we are able to access via internet we are given many choices:One being, we are able to access this information at any given time, but with news broadcasting on the television we may not always be available to sit and engage (although there is always TiVo, but not everyone has it). Two, with television time being so limited on time for airing, we may not get as much or elaborate information as we’d like. If we visit the websites there is not that pressure to condense the information. Three, we are able to access any news information globally through internet then television. Television provides us with what THEY think we should watch, not what we WANT to watch. Lastly, many of these websites provide comments by other readers, and perhaps we can gain a better persepective of the information through other people’s insights. (Although I wouldn’t want to talk politics with many people – things could get ugly!)

  • I found this article to be very interesting, and have been following the most recent convergence of television and internet with great fascination. I think it is clear now that we are witnessing the next major shift in popular entertainment since the advent of the VCR, and even since the creation of television itself.

    I believe that we are going to see a combination of television and film as we move more securely into on-demand television.Just like films, a television program will be released on a specific day and time, and viewers can choose when to watch it. I believe that theater exhibition will drastically drop and the quality of television programs will improve, to much more cinematic quality, even if it means episodes are spaced more than a week apart. The term “made-for-TV” movie will have different conotations, as films will then be made for concurrent home release through on-demand television. Television then, will return to liveness, something that is unique to the medium.

    However, I think film and television studies has neglected to look at another key part of this shift in entertainment- gaming. This article discussed the concept of Web 2.0, but it is important to note the gaming aspect of it. Microsoft just realeased its XBOX 360, which is essentially a computer in itself and more noteably, can connect to the internet so gamers can play with others around the world. Games have stronger and stronger narratives, and once television is more securely placed within the internet, I believe that there will be a more participatory form of television as the gaming medium will grow and likely converge with the other mediums.

  • “…universal appeal that promotes encounters across diverse groups…”

    This line stuck out to me. As convenient as TV is on the Internet for one group of people, this growing phenomenon locks out another group. The Digital Divide still exists and is increasingly separating the “haves” from the “have nots”. On one hand, I love being able to watch “The Daily Show” clips whenever I please. On the other hand, Inner City America is totally locked out of this conversation. As this Internet TV grows in popularity certain programs are only available through the Internet Television, PBS’ “Nerd TV” for example. Yes, most libraries have access to the internet, but in urban areas funding and locales are greatly reduced. So their Internet access might not be fast enough to watch programs, in real-time at least.

    I am not saying the Internet Television is bad in any way. What I am saying is that we need to consider all sides of it, before we are so quick to imply that this is “the best thing since sliced bread”.

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