Mass media for everyone - for almost free
May 10, 2011
Mass media revolution: Cisco predicts millions of user-generated TV stations, challenging traditional media giants and shifting power to the consumer.
"Everyone will be able to have their own TV station," announced a Cisco executive at an event in the USA, according to the NYT (one of the coolest journalism brands that risks disappearing within a generation if it doesn't understand the message). John Chambers, CEO of the IT giant, stated that the company is heavily betting on video as a universal communication tool. In the US alone, he predicts a million different stations (yes, a million). Marshall McLuhan's message is about to cross dimensions.
Despite not being as well-known to the general public as commercial brands like Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft, Cisco is an industry giant poised to be the Citizen Kane of the digital neo-revolution. The network hardware manufacturer is in a very comfortable position as the largest producer of a sector that is expected to be one of the major hubs of communication, video.
The great titans of modern media formed atop empires based on concessions, in most cases. There are certainly large groups associated with newspapers, but the largest ones are those that live off government licenses to broadcast on TV. ABC, NBC, Televisa, Globo are some of them. In Europe, where the concession policy has always been stricter, there was less proliferation, but after Thatcherian and Berlusconian liberalization, new empires such as Sky, Mediaset, and Canal+ emerged.
What Cisco announces is that these groups will no longer have any competitive advantage other than having a lot of money (which, clearly, is still a significant advantage). The fragmentation of content production will mean that the price of the commodity will be set by the user. With an infinite supply, scarcity shifts to demand. If you have infinite options, you will only be willing to spend something on something if it is REALLY good.
In reality, the mere choice of the user, although not treated as such, is already a form of payment. A common discourse among media groups is that it is not possible to monetize certain products, such as news. The truth is, yes, it is possible, provided the structure is lean, the business model does not include dispensable stakeholders (like, say, big shots in a newsroom, expensive marketing departments that make their sales in mass media). The logic of the Industrial Age, in which the product gained value due to its scarcity, is heading towards extinction when it comes to media. In the new logic, consumer attention becomes the new currency. Companies now need to deconstruct and develop ways of converting this into resources to compete with this infinite supply.
This infinite (or almost) supply will occupy space in a very peculiar and indecipherable way. For example, if you have children who play in the neighborhood championship, you will follow what the microchannel of this championship will broadcast; Your band might have a station where it performs streaming concerts and also sells products; service providers can maintain conversation channels with their customers. None of them will have giant audiences, but the massive audiences of broadcasters with dozens of points will suffer.
When it is said that everyone will have a TV station, it is easier to imagine if you do not think about the current TV stereotype. There won't be huge studios, live links with HD quality, and ultra-technological openings. These features were only possible because TV stations make so much profit that they have been upgraded. But none of that was necessary. The micro-stations that Cisco mentions are part of an unprecedented revolution that will certainly try to be avoided like people asking for control of the Internet and corporations trying to create laws to end network neutrality through traffic shaping. With or without coup attempts, this revolution cannot be avoided.
PS: 12 years after writing this text, it became clear that no revolution would come from this technological shift - it was just the exchange of a corrupt elite for a psycho-kleptocratic one.