Luc Sala: convergence of local media and internet: the future of net-media

from a lecture at the Zurich Interactive Publishing Conference

In this text Luc Sala will explain why he sees low-cost video-production including webcam technology and other videolinks as the place to be for the media-entrepreneur of the next millenium.

Video and the Net: the new convergence

by Luc Sala

Data and information are two different things, we have to really distinguish between them thinking about the Net and the emerging media-landscape.

As the Web develops, it started out with a fairly high information-content per page/visit/click, but now it all become a vague blur of forms, animations to cover up the lack of real information.

It looses its attractiveness for the average consumer, it turns out the be another slick conversion of information into data and not vice versa.

As we can foresee that after the WEB-hype we will get the multimedia email craze and then the video/web craze, why not look into the convergent video/net/web/pc/tv medium of the year 2000.

What scale, what reach, what possible income per minute of end-user mindshare, what structure, what problems?

A critical view on the convergence of media onto a single screen-info system.

Just to shake you up a bit: I see the belief in the Web as a mass-medium dying fast.

Who needs it, there is data, data and more data, but hardly information.

This I told the audience at the IPC '95 in Zurich and the Inet in Montreal a year ago, then based upon my observations as Internet cafe host, site-manager of a site with 5000 pages and publisher of net- and other magazines, but also based upon conversations with many, many digerati.

The net has a future, but not as an alternative recreational vehicle in a structure, where it costs considerably more per minute use than TV, radio, magazines.

This year my message circles around the future of the Net in later cycles cycle, after we have gone through webcam/intranet/multimedia email etc.

What will happen in a future where the low price of transmission will allow unlimited access to each and everything, but who's to pay for it?

In a future where we will talk about mindshare, not about hits, viewer ratings, not about minutes (or clicks) spend on this or that but on what we do with it, how it fulfills our superficial and deep needs.

I have no theoretical advice about the direction of the media-scene, I can only share my direction, where I as a media-entrepreneur put my money and energy.

Apart from ongoing activities in print, CDROM, internet and (trade)-shows, I focus on local media and specifically ultra-low cost special interest productions.

Local television, local internet, local advertising, local special interest, I believe that with more and more choice and transmission bandwith the public (as an economic factor) will split up more and more, requiring narrowcasting and even personal casting.

Whether that goes by cable, satellite, internet, isdn, whatever means or medium, will slowly become irrelevant, what matters is what is taken in by the user.

The problem there is not cost of delivery, but cost of creation, assembly and production.

Now who is going to produce/publish the content in that high-definition, high bandwidth world? Not the video- and TV-producers of today, their cost per minute exceeds the potential income per minute by an order of magnitude.
This is where I see my future, as a producer/organiser/packager/achiver of local content at very low prices, typically dollars per minute.
Is that possible? Yes, with a new view on targeting, narrowcasting, production, technology, training, in fact a whole new approach to small scale content production.

There is no space to give much details, but in general this means one-man production bands, no off-line non-linear editing (the lemming way for the broadcast world to make themselves redundant), much more psychological typecasted production formats, special interest redefined, interactivity set up as automatic response, etc. etc.

For the moment, let me go back to the state of the Net-art and pose some questions to you, just to wake you up a bit.

Where do we come from?

For the past few years, the media industry (and who not) bought the Internet-hype as a reality, but is now finding out that the blue yonder is not so rosy.

The net is great for email (but who makes money), seemingly great as a library (but who makes money) and how are copyright issues handled - and mirroring/caching/indexing is very tricky in that respect, putting all search engines/mirror sites or cable/net operations on thin ice - but what is in it for Joe Sixpack, the average consumer. He likes entertainment, but will he fork over up to 30 $ per month for the privilege of an electronic identity?

Where are we heading?

The net moves away from being an information medium to a data archive at a increasing pace and its role as an infotainment medium is doubtfull.
In less than 5 years Internet, cable distribution and classic newsprint will converge into a kind of general pay-per-view, video-on-demand medium.
The role of local media in cyberspace will increase, as most socalled global data have little relevance for the local needs, which are narrowcast, even personal cast and not broad-spectrum. Local could be read as community-oriented or even tribal. The special interest or target-market approach here is obvious.
The Internet is slowly emerging as the medium of choice for change-agents, but the mass-market acceptance for recreational `couch-potatoe' infotainment is lagging behind expectations.

The copyright question on digital data is not solved at all.

Rear-guard fighting by classic media-monopolies pales in comparison to the questions about caching/mirroring and search-engine infringements on perfectly acceptable intellectual property laws.

Having your databanks indexed and (illegally) searched by Altavista, agents, bots etc., which then makes money of it, has a limited horizon as a freebie.

Mirroring, proxies, caching are also not allowed without written prior consent and this will become a global problem for volume internet content re-broadcast/republishing via cable networks etc. Even simple links are sometimes not admissable under present copyright laws as some court-cases in Ireland recently indicated.

The digital data prisoners dilemma (giving it free just to irritate the competition) will probably be outlawed as unfair trade-practice any time soon, giving rise to new state-backed monopolies.

New media have to answer to the basic question: "what's in it for me?" and this is not so much a question of technology, but of improving practical things and anything less than a perceived 10-fold jump will not make it.

Marginal improvement on television quality (HDTV) for instance will only succeed if one offers an improvement over 300 lines to 1000 lines (in practice 1028x740 or so) image quality.

The improvement of ISDN over the 14k4 modem speed was only 4 times, so it is outdated too quickly.

Again, my personal conclusion in the flux of media-development was to start a small television-studio/academy/factory, where I produce, store and market a new breed of local content. Maybe not impressive, rather low-level and with simple equipment, but we did produce some 140 hours of broadcasted television for less than 50.000 dollars.

Luc Sala:

tel 31-20-6202970 / 6273198 fax 31-20-6253280

Luc Sala Biography

Ir.L. H.D.J. Sala (1949) is media-entrepreneur, writer, poet, tv-anchorman and new-edge change agent.
His activities comprise computer-magazines, content libraries on CD-ROM, trade-fairs, new-age shops, a cybercenter cum Internet-cafe in Amsterdam and a local TV-channel MySTeR.
He has been a pionier of many new trends, like VR, smart drinks, electronic drugs, electronic publishing (, royalty-free content libraries and the successful PC-DUMP end-user fairs.
Luc Sala not only put his 8000 plus page site on the net in october 1984, but started the first Internet cafe in Amsterdam, has paper and digital magazines about the Internet (Net-INFO), but firmly believes that information is something one invites and receives through non-material means and has little to do with the data now made available through the Net and other encyclopedic and archival digital media.