Friday, September 16, 2011

Signpost on the New Era

I wrote about the drivers of the New Era in Dawn of a New Era, and will draw out the underlying principles from that to examine how they work asymmetrically in the way things work.

Let's go back to the Old Era in television, specifically cable television.  Back in the day, which was the late 1970's, cable tv was going to be the New Era of television!  It had good, clean reception, lots and lots of channels (with nothing on to watch), premium content channels like HBO and Skinemax... err... Cinemax, plus 'local access' which was what the Left desired: low cost, low budget, low content places where they could say whatever they want and be watched by their friends.  Halcyon days, no?  No longer were you beholden to the 3 Letter Alphabet Stations but could get those same stations from other places, too!  Joy, oh, rapture!

Ted Turner  (with nice little bio at Wikipedia, your black hole for information) got in on that bandwagon after starting out with his father's billboard business and a little UHF channel (remember those?) back in 1963.  Then in 1970 he formed up Turner Broadcasting and after that, with his super-station of different content on cable, he made CNN which started in 1980.  He formed up CNN with $20 million dollars (which is about $55 million in today's dollars) and employed 200 people.  And he had a media empire which would grow and grow in size.

Great stuff, huh?

Now fast forward to... well... this week.

On 12 SEP 2011 Glenn Beck's television network started officially, although they had been beta testing it for a few weeks prior to the debut.  GBTV started with: $20 million.  Glenn Beck has been a media mogul... ahhh... is he a media mogul?  Not really, not in the Ted Turner buying stations sense, no.  He does have a popular radio program and when he went to Fox News Corp. he had a staggering demo at 5pm that was outdrawing primetime offerings on other News networks and was neck and neck with Bill O'Reilly at the 8pm slot at FNC.  His GBTV has some free content and pay-for content on either a monthly or annual basis.

He has more subscribers than Oprah Winfrey has viewers on OWN [Source: WSJ]:

When Mr. Beck announced GBTV in June, the network had 80,000 subscribers. In the months since, GBTV subscribers have swelled to more than 230,000, according to people close to the network, even though Mr. Beck‘s show hasn’t yet begun.

The audience is far less than the more than 2.2 million daily viewers his program on Fox drew, on average, over its 27-month run, which ended in June after clashes with the network’s management.

But it is more than the average 156,000 people who were watching the Oprah Winfrey Network in June.

Now Ted Turner built his media empire up from 1963 to the late 1970's to get together the money to put CNN on the air, which is a 24 hour news channel.

Glenn Beck worked as a top tv show host for a few years at FNC, started The Blaze (which is becoming the news portion of his new 2 hour show) in 2010, and has had a hit radio program for years.  As he recounts it 9/11 caught him wholly unprepared to know what was going on, which caused him to take a deeper look at the problems that were revealed by that attack.

Now it is time to do the signpost checklist to see how the emergence of the New Era compares to the old.

1) Moore's Law – Computing power and access to the Internet were unavailable to Ted Turner at the start of CNN, although computers were used as the network stood up, most of the early stuff was done the old fashioned way, by hand.  Glenn Beck's GBTV is all digital, via streaming media and the ROKU box, a handy little device that has dedicated media streams developed by various content providers.  Such a device with limited computer capability, memory, display (regular and high definition) and no monthly fee wasn't something you could imagine in 1980.  The computer in one way, shape or form is required for GBTV.

2) Metcalfe's Law – The network of the 1980's was satellite broadcast television for CNN.  That is descriptive of a one-to-many media, in which one provider (or gatekeeper) contacts many users.  It is inherently one-way and only gained any Internet capability in the last 15 years.  CNN has to support that system as a legacy network as it is efficient for what it is.  GBTV has no legacy network to work with: it is not on the air, not cable and not stuck with a one-to-many content system of set display times for shows.  Shows are streaming and on-demand, which means that after they are made you get to decide when to see them.  Additionally because it is a networked system on the Internet, feedback can happen in real time when GBTV is active with a live feed, thus allowing faster interaction between the host of the show and the full audience outside of the one in the studio.  Neither network is currently using the many-to-many paradigm, save for GBTV's announcement yesterday of developing a media distribution system for college students to post and distribute their content for other users.  That is a many-to-many content and distribution system and CNN doesn't have it, while GBTV will have it in a week.

3) Feiler Faster Thesis (FFT) – The FFT is descriptive of a shortened loop for ingesting, understanding and processing news information not via machines but for the user.  CNN was on the first cycle of that in 1980, allowing for a continuous content feed that helped viewers get better informed via their gateway about the world.  The FFT does not stop after one cycle, but is continuous, thus the requirement for more news from varied outlets allowed the market for news to grow, which meant that CNN had to keep up with that growth or lose market share.  It lost market share.  From the start of having a television in one's home in the late 1940's to 1980 was a bit over 30 years for the FFT to kick in.  By 1995 other 24-hour news channels had started up and the FFT was in force.  In 7 years, circa 2002, CNN was no longer top dog in the 24-hour news market.  By 2010 it was losing ability to get a top ranked show.  Now it is fighting for relevance in niche markets.  People are processing the news and analyzing it faster than it can be provided and the ability of symmetrical networks that allow many-to-many capability has begun to marginalized any news source that is run by a gatekeeper.  GBTV is not a news show, it is an asymmetrically distributed show on a many-to-many system with minor subscription fee.  Since the Internet was opened for common use in the early 1990's, say 1992, to 2011 is nearly 20 years (for rounding sake), and the FFT will be the basis for it until the analysis time because of known content amount by a user dwindles to near instantly.  If you can read an article, see its underlying assumptions, question the reasoning and doubt the conclusions and cite why and sources for each of those steps, then you are in the New Era.  GBTV is in the New Era, while CNN is struggling to figure out what the New Era actually means.

4) Stephen J. Gould's Observation on Theory-Scale Applicability – Here the idea is that to reach a wider audience requires presence and that presence is King.  This applied to the old broadcast networks and cable networks, and now presence is ubiquitous via the Internet.  Being there is half the battle now, but content, the old King, is returning with force and it does not require a high priced studio to make.  If the ability to give a compelling narrative utilizing authentic presentation media is a winner (and has been for any reality program be it Wild Kingdom or Deadliest Catch) then absolute reality captured by individuals on cellphone cameras or other digital video/audio means will then make for compelling content in the New Era.  Content and Presence together make for compelling viewing and the final piece of interaction makes for learning how to live your life and communicate with those that relate to you as you relate to them.  This schema can be applied to such things as bacteria as they are ubiquitous, have presence, do communicate with each other (although not via digital means) and are the dominant life form on the planet.  Plus they were able to make it toxic to competitors and began an arms race that hasn't ended yet on the small or large scale.  This schema for success is scale independent, then, and those following it will succeed (although not a guarantee for each individual, those following the underlying paradigm will generally be favored).  CNN is stuck with legacy capability, and lacks many functions to allow it to operate in the New Era.  It will fail if it does not adapt.  GBTV has a much better chance for success although that is not guaranteed.

5) Disintermediation – Simply put: CNN sees itself as a gatekeeper, GBTV sees itself as an enabler.  CNN wants to tell you what the news is, GBTV wants you to figure out what the world means on your own.  CNN is an intermediary and not such a good one these days.  GBTV is a provider of information and will give you one viewpoint and then ask for help to see if it is one with a high degree of correspondence to actual reality.

6) Emergence – CNN has an editorial staff, a number of writers, and a bias in reporting: that is top-down behavior.  GBTV comes from the culmination of experience which has been built up over time via research and synthesizing what works and what does not: it is contingent upon information and factual data and experience, and cannot be said to be directed to any other goal than that and is able to change based on information and knowledge.  CNN is authoritarian and agenda driven, while GBTV recognizes that, as they say, the truth has no agenda.

7) Knowledge Web – The creation of CNN was that of a standard, old line presentation system that depends little on utilization of past history to look for present relevance, only the ephemeral present matters.  GBTV is about the creation of the links to the past and present so that a living history is utilized to help us understand ourselves and our future. 

8) Accelerating Change – This is the realm that examines what it takes to stand up an information system in the New Era.  To get to a limited, national audience took 17 years, building a media system, and then investing $20 million into a news broadcast system dependent upon satellite technology.  The modern era has that same $20 million but its effective purchasing power is less than half of what it was in 1980, and yet because it utilizes the efficiencies of computer power and networks, putting together of a 'media empire' in the form of a radio show, a news oriented website and then an expanding on-demand and live broadcast system with global reach.  The acceleration of change from the early days of television to the 1980's was already fast and apparent as James Burke demonstrated at the time.  Since then the predicted acceleration of changes has continued and that has now changed how we view what we do, what media is and expanded the scope of it beyond anything that was dreamt of in 1980.  Between the late '40s and 1980 is a full cycle of ingesting the then current satellite broadcast capability to a large audience.  From 1980 to the present the reach of all telecom systems have expanded to the point where enough cellphones have been produced so that each and every person on the globe could have one... it they were all working, that is.  Media capture capability has shrunk from million dollar studios to tens of dollar cellphones and digital cameras, with some of the software for processing the raw video and audio having the price of free attached to it.  Getting skill to use it still takes time, but the barrier to entry has been reduced because of the acceleration of change so that we can not only have it but use it in new and novel ways and in ways that old era systems could never do.

Taken together CNN represents an old era media system, with legacy systems that keep it tethered to a past that is now disappearing before our eyes.  Even its next generation competitor, Fox News, is suffering from this malady although it is trying to morph into something that can survive in the New Era.  GBTV and other media systems run by individuals and dedicated small groups are the future of New Era media and the first generation of it.  They, too, will be challenged by these drivers listed above as the Next Generation of the New Era is already starting to appear.  In a decade we will not even know how we could live as we did in 1980.

Or we will be plunged into a global dark age without technology and even literacy threatened, because they will be offered on the burning pyre of those who wish to control others and cannot stand the idea of freedom of thought, expression and letting others live with liberty.

What the future holds depends, as it did when James Burke presented Connections, on you.

And I wouldn't bet that you won't live to have to make the choice between freedom with liberty or tyranny with repression.

Because for all the change, the hearts of man have not changed one single, solitary bit... we just cycle through the decision making process faster now.

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