Sunday, June 25, 2006

Excellent Article on the Future of (Print) Media - Winners & Losers

Requires subscription I think.

The article suggests that there is indeed a bright future for print and other media - but only for those that adapt - largely via the ability to create a differentiated product and adopting technology trends. For print media this may mean either serving niche needs such as trade presses, or becomming better aggregators, or better filters for customization.

It suggests that the phenomenon of "free content" on the Net applies only to commodity content and that people still pay for differentiated content - as in the case of digital radio, mobile texts and pay television.

It also paints a picture of a consolidated industry structure with local information collectors, larger aggregators, niche providers and other such roles which all feed into a common market.

The one area where I disagree with the piece is that it predicts the dominance of "National Brands" - whereas I believe that the internet blurs national boundaries both sociologically and commercially. So the brands that dominate will be global, not national brands and those that dominate global segments and interest groups.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


In Search Of Meanings…

Complexity is often the price of progress and in the world of Digital Media, if the price is anything to go by, there must be a whole lot of progress! Primarily because an obvious by-product of the Digital Convergence bringing together the industries Telecom, Media and Technology, is the ensuing convergence of industry lexicon.

Here’s a look at some words you thought you knew…

Television: The problem is that in many cases, including this, the device, the service and the content have all clubbed under the same name. Which is fine as long as all TV related systems and components are insulated from other Industries. If the same live “tv” content gets streamed to your PC or iPod, are you still watching television? Somehow “I’m going to lie around on Sunday morning and watch PC” still doesn’t have the ring of credibility (and perhaps even sanity) yet. So the Television Set (we don’t usually mention the “set”) is a device. The content is perhaps better described as Televisual, simply to retain taxonomical accuracy and to distinguish from the device. Words and phrases take time to enter the main stream from the confines of labs and industry speak. But they do get there – witness blogs, iPods, Macs and even Bluetooth and Wi-fi. (Radar and X-rays before that). What about the stuff behind then? The network and the broadcasting stations?

The “Network” is a beast of a concept but in reality is perhaps the simplest, because once you boil it down to conceptual meaning of connectivity all networks start to look the same and can atleast be clubbed into a few standard formats. So a Network is essentially the means of connecting devices to each other or to intelligent/ communicating sources. Be it a mainframe computer or a broadcasting station. Networks can be wired or wireless. But they all have protocols defining how they behave, how they, and devices on them can be identified, and found and how / how much data can be transmitted over them. But wait, here’s a twist! In the US, the word “Network” often refers to large scale Televisual Industry players who own a series of local TV stations. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the murky waters of definitions…

Which brings us to the word Broadcast. Rooted in the evolution of Radio, the word Broadcast has come to mean mass communication of a number of kinds. But it essentially implies a one-way, one-to-many information flow, with typically no limits on the number of devices which can receive the signals. Which has led to the alternative kind – restricted transmission to a defined group of people as “narrowcast”. Which is logically consistent for the time being. But then on computer networks (especially IP Networks) which allow both types, you can multicast or unicast. The difference here goes beyond the numerical – in an IP multicast environment you tune in to a broadcast – i.e. you come into the stream at a point of time, like catching a radio show half way through. In a uni-cast, you typically start a stream from the beginning. You are the only user, and you get to hear it from scratch. Hence a typical broadcast or IP Multicast environment, the sending of information is independent of the listeners. Even if not a single TV / Radio set is turned on, the broadcast is still taking place. Conversely when you stream a “unicast” you initiate the stream and so there is no stream without the receiving device. And the reason all this is relevant is, if you are streaming your favourite episodes of “Only Fools and Horses” to your IP based Television, for your personal viewing, from the BBC archives, are you still “watching TV”? Is the BBC “Broadcasting” Clearly, the plot thickens once the same IP networks start serving all these different purposes.

Of course to do any of this, you’d still need broadband. But what’s broadband? Pooh! You say, everybody knows that. But as the Wikipedia correctly points out, Broadband is always a relative term, understood according to its context.” What we understand of Broadband is anything that does not require a dial up, and is typically an always on internet connection offering 128, 256 or higher amount of data speeds. Of course the reality is that 512KBPS or 1MBPS is quite the entry point nowadays and 4-8 MBPS is what you need for broadband that can get you “televisual content”. Its worth remembering that in analog broadcasting broadband, technically also refers to the range of frequencies as opposed to the data carrying capacity. And Broadband is just a loose industry name for a whole range of technologies such as DSL, Wi-Fi and others. It doesn’t have a sharp, technical definition (i.e. a specific amount of bandwidth after which it becomes “broad”). So 512KBPS soon may not qualify for Broadband, definitely so in a world of commonly available Fibre Optic connectivity.

Still to come: Media, Mobile, Browser, Channels, Programs… and more!