Digital media discussion after the horse has bolted

by Andy Polaine on March 16, 2006

in General

Anyone would think owning a TV station was a good idea.

The Australian’s Mark Day wrote a couple of insightful articles today about Senator Helen Coonan’s media reform discussion paper. (Coonan is the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts here in Australia for those of you overseas). In particular Day’s piece, “Coonan plan prepares to usher in the digital age” highlighted how out of date the hysteria and discussion paper already seem. As Day says:

Also immediately clear is the hysterical nature of some commentators’ predictions that the reforms will result in more power to the Murdochs and Packers and in the demise of democracy. These are the rantings of deluded and embittered outcasts from mainstream reality.

In a digital world, power devolves from the proprietors of old, as Rupert Murdoch pointed out in London this week to the consumers of tomorrow. They are demanding new ways of accessing information and new forms of packaging, so much so they have spawned the concept of snack news: small bites of info on the go.

The age of downloadable, personalised media is already here and the idea that one media owner is going to dominate opinion is absurd. The real problem is likely to be the opposite, that it’s impossible to create much of a local community and shared ideals because of overwhelming diversity. After all, if you can download any TV from anywhere in the world whenever you like, what’s left to gossip about at school or work?

I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with something the present Government is up to, except that this was the discussion paper that should have been published at least five years ago, but that was when the brain-dead Senator Richard Alston was asleep behind the wheel.

The digital media horse has well and truly bolted – by the time any deregulation comes into play (probably not until 2012), TV’s dominance will have significantly declined and the advertising dollars are going to plummet rather than be set for price gouging by the networks, which some media buyers are moaning about (like they don’t gouge their own clients anyway). Networks will be desperate for ad dollars because their audience will be watching downloaded content, with no ads.

As we’ve seen with ABC2, having to deliver content for another channel is a chore and it spreads meagre production budgets even more thinly. Why anyone would want to own yet another channel is beyond me. Surely they’ll be better directing their funding to content that is delivered online where they don’t have all the regulatory mess? Yes, of course they will, which is why the smart media companies are already buying up web services. Fox (owned by Murdoch’s News Corp, publisher of The Australian – you know, that online news source that I just linked to up there. They publish a paper too, on dead trees, remember?) recently bought the social network, MySpace and as Day points out, Fairfax (who own the Sydney Morning Herald – another online news source with a diminishing paper on the side) just shelled out $625 million for New Zealand auction site Trade Me.

Day describes the demise of his own medium (okay, he’s online too):

The platform for this kind of news delivery will be mobile: TV capable phones, hand-held personal assistant devices and soon-to-come gizmos such as Foxtel’s IQ2Go mobile TV. These add up to new services and choices, and under the Coonan plan they will find a home on the so-called datacasting spectrum.

But the thing is this, it doesn’t matter if they don’t de-regulate the datacasting spectrum because no Australian Government is going to attempt to regulate the Internet and even if they tried they would fail.

As a final anecdote, some of my digital media students’ final works have had enormous downloads and they weren’t even trying. 270,000 and counting for a pretty well-made music video initially just posted on the student’s blog and a massive four million of a game another three of them made (their news is out of date). That’s a decent whack of Google Ads.

I haven’t even had the time to thoroughly read the discussion paper because, well, I’ve had too much other media to look at.

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