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Beyond Broadcasting: TV as a (Deficient) Form of Streaming Media

Beyond BroadcastingContinuing the streaming media theme from Wednesday: the latest issue of the journal Media International Australia has now been released - "Beyond Broadcasting", edited by Graham Meikle and Sherman Young. I've contributed an article and have received permission from the editors to re-publish it here. In the article, I try to take a fresh look at television in an increasingly Internet-driven media environment.

Traditionally, the Net's equivalents to television (mainly, streaming media) have been viewed through the lens of the older technology; to some extent, streaming media has tried to mimic television's feel and format - this is visible in the user interfaces of media players like Windows and Real, and even (though perhaps with some irony intended) in brand names such as YouTube,, or Democracy TV, the original name for the podcast feedreader Miro. I would argue that this is a case of what we could call a paleomorphising process: the tendency to shape new media technologies in keeping with older technologies. (In much the same way, it's taken decades for the mobile phone to look and feel like a mobile media and communications device, rather than simply like a wireless handset.)

The problem is that this continues to hold new media formats up against the old paradigms, thereby possibly stifling innovation and experimentation. If we turn the tables on old media, however, things begin to look very different: for example, if we position streaming media as the norm against which television should be measured, TV begins to look decidedly deficient. It offers a very limited level of control over content: no on-demand access, no random access to specific points of the program, no in-built functionality for saving, sharing, remixing, and redistribution by users (unless of course content is ripped from TV and transferred to another format) - altogether a very poor form of streaming media, by current standards.

Which is why, I think, conventional broadcasting models are under considerable pressure today, and are increasingly focussing in on the apparent strengths of television (or at least those areas where streaming media doesn't have an obvious advantage): chiefly, live TV in genres from news to sports and through to some forms of (especially interactive) reality TV. Even in the realm of drama and other pre-produced programming, the promos from TV stations in Australia are now frequently screaming "streamed live from the USA" (an interesting choice of words). And if shows are indeed streamed 'live' from the U.S., why shouldn't I be able to receive that stream more directly and more conveniently on my desktop when I want to, rather than having to wait for the network to finish wasting my time, their money, and our electricity by broadcasting It Takes Two, So You Think You Can Dance, and other shows I have no interest in before they get around to the good stuff?

Some broadcasters are beginning to explore these options, of course - the ABC's vodcasts and its Now player, as well as various other projects reported to be in the pipeline, are a good example, and the availability of TV shows for paid download on iTunes and elsewhere is another. If the industry doesn't come on board to offer such alternatives by itself, then audiences-turned-produsers (in this instance, of collaborative distribution systems) will do so on their own account, as Mark Pesce has shown for the new Battlestar Galactica, for example - re-streaming and Bittorrenting shows with little regard for industry concerns or copyright. That's true even for live broadcasts, incidentally - see, for example, sites like, a clearinghouse for sports broadcasts from around the world, captured and streamed live in various formats by enterprising individuals. (Interestingly, despite the .eu URL, many of the streaming technologies used here, as well as the source channels that are 'liberated' from television this way, originate in China - you can see streaming Sopcasts of CCTV5's coverage of the German Bundesliga if you're so inclined, for example.)

These are some of the themes I work through in the article. How all of this affects the viability of conventional television and the ultimate future of broadcasting itself remains anyone's guess for now, of course - TV itself isn't going to go away in a hurry, but I think it's likely that we'll see an increase in direct-to-online productions and new revenue models. If there are any TV insiders or keen industry observers who'd like to share their own stories, point to interesting cases, or disagree with me, please leave a comment!

(Cross-posted at

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