Speech at Inet'96 Montreal Aug 1996

Internet & social impact of local media

by Luc Sala

The social impact of more bandwidth into the home means will probably not lead to more, but to less impact of the mass-media/networks/mediaconglomerates. As the available advertising and subscription dollars have to be shared by more television channels, more Internet providers (and in 10 year the difference between them will be far less as the NET will evolve into the main video-on-demand medium) the turnover per channel/site/program will decrease dramatically. This is a threat to the large media enterprises, but possibly a enormous chance for local media. With nearly unlimited choice of content the consumer might pick more and more local material, as this is real and contains practical information as opposed to the mostly virtual data on the global web.

In the wave of new media there are many experiments, many new forms and marketing ploys, but basically the two main trends are:

In fact, given the rapid increase in bandwidth for the net and interactivity for the cable networks, both trends go in the same direction and might in fact converge in about 5 to 7 years, when full motion video via the net is more or less equal to the video-on-demand supplied by cable networks.
And, if the public (and the politicians) becomes aware of the waste of capital and other resources in two full-service networks with the same functionality, there might in the end only be one. This is not to say that there are not a multitude of services from various and independent organisations, but the basic infrastructure will be a full-bandwidth (10-50 mbps switched, 200-400 mbps broadcast Social impact) system, using copper, fiber, air, satellite or power cables.

Let's translate this into practical terms:
The middle class citizen in the year 2000 has access to 100 plus broadcast channels in various classes, some billion pages/files/movies/worlds of internet-web content, switched services including full video telephony and electronic meetings in VR. He will use agents to cruise this sea of data and fetch what he thinks/feels/is told to like but will still crave the human companionship and real communication of the heart.
However, he/she will not spend more than the 5-10% (typically 7%) of income on entertainment, including electronic communications, as that has been a fairly stable figure through the ages. It might jump because of a new and exciting medium, but will then level off again. This seems to be true for time too, people will probably spend the same amount of time in front of a screen(VR-helmet/multisensory armchair) as they do now. And do they respond better to the exploitation of their underinformed ego's by way of advertising? As marketing is really the art of disinformation it will find ways to reach the buyers, even under the disguise and pretense of `indepent' advice/information.
(The computer industry with its ever slimmer margins became the victim of its own success, believing in the magazines and media (the NET) that made the markets and products ever more transparent thereby reducing the possibility to sustain profit-margins and therefore innovation. A totally transparent market will become very dull en marginally profitable).

So what are the basics:
Enormously expanded offering of content, roughly the same spending power (or advertising share of the end-user price), so per channel/network/site/world/service/bit a much lower price. And if you don't want to offer your services for nearly free, your competitor will in this economy of the prisoner's dilemma.
Do I project doom for the mass-media. Yes, if they don't understand that their share of the total cake per medium is diminishing rapidly. Oh, they believe that there is some magical 80/20 rule, so that the top performers will be in the clear. Of course, but the rest has to survive too and they will have to do with a far smaller piece of the cake.

So what to?
Start working on content-generating techniques that produce adequate interactive video/3d/4d content at a cost-price that is an order of magnitude lower than the present betacam/digital avid/broadcast quality stuff.

Where will it go?
The expanded offering in local content, provided the necessary business and infrastructure to develop more local content emerges, will have (I hope) a positive effect on the coherence of the local community, will help integrate the social/racial/economic strata and lead to a more `rooted' and less `alienated' feeling for the citizen of the III-th millenium.

Example of marketing anno 2000:
After responding to any of the myriad feeder-ploys the president Apple Computer (a division of Walmart) will call yopu on the videophone and will personally adress you, in your language, responding to your personality and spending profile and will offer you the tailor-fit solution for your workstation/VR room/sextool. He (it) will (as it is a guided animation anyway) do anything in the book to make you happy, content, a satisfied customer.
This is positive, as it is more individual, less impersonal, and at the same time we have to be wary of the dangers of manipulation, hypnotizing and a society where the form and `the spectacle' is more important than the content.
In order to safeguard the positive influence of the digital evolution of Internet/cable/interactive TV towards small scale democracy, tribal and neighbourly awareness and city state economics and fend off the negative aspects of supermediapower cultural homogenization it is necessary to support local Internet and cable initiatives, support local media, support electronic offspring of existing local media and boost the involvement of minorities in the electronic cyberspace decolonization.

Point of advice: - Data becomes only information, when the bit bytes!
copyright LSala '96