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Friday, June 22, 2007

Broadcast Live 2007 - TV Island

"I have always known that Britian is an island, but I see today how much that it is an island in every sense. It is truly cut off from what is happening in the rest of the world."

So observed Haroon Leghari, of Karachi-based Geo TV, from the audience of a Broadcast Live panel called "Commercial Opportunities For Converged Content" (which sounds a bit like the name of a panel at NAB, circa 1999).

Mr. Leghari avoided the usual protocol of a questions & answers section - expounding his own views, avoiding asking a genuine question of the four panelists - but I am always willing to allow someone a diatribe provided their opinions agree with my own. And in the case of Mr. Leghari - after the panel was over I introduced myself, and thanked him.

The panel had been a lively and insightful discussion of the ways traditional tv broadcasters must change in order to turn a profit in the new multi-platform world of media content. The panelists were intelligent, experienced, wise, but still I couldn't shake - as I couldn't throughout the entire 3 days of the trade show - that this "tv industry" they were talking about - the one that was in danger if it didn't go with the flow of media change - actually was well dead and on its way to being buried.

The very name Broadcast Live suggests the origins of the conference - an event that serves the needs of companies that distribute regular moving picture content via electromagnetic transmissions which are picked up by receivers in homes and watched according to the broadcaster's schedule. And while the US-based NAB has a similar origin, Broadcast Live hasn't shaken off those 20th century beginnings.

There was a lot of talk about alternative distribution over the three days of Broadcast Live. A lot of talk. I don't think dvd's were ever mentioned, but there was constant chatter about something called "IPTV" - which is, as near as I can tell, a carefully developed marketing buzzword for streaming video.

At the "Commercial Opportunities" panel, Mr. Leghari's commentary was tempered with an observation by Tiscali's abrasive but brilliant managing director, Jonathan Sykes: Britain is an island with regard to broadcasting in several key ways that are important to understand if you operate within the British industry. Government funded institutions like the BBC guarantee the continuing existence of a twentieth century style of content creation and distribution. Subsidized channels are not forced to change, in the same way entirely self-supporting ones must. The creation of such stable institutions is a boon to the entire British culture, of course, and in some respects a model for other governments to follow - the flip=side being the wretchedly castrated PBS of the USA. But in the case of the UK, this paradigm appears to have been wholly swallowed as the norm rather than the exception.

Other mega-corporations with gigantic media arms ought to be regarded in the same way. Their size and wealth will give them some longevity. But they are unlikely to be leaders and innovators. And they will eventually make way like post-comet dinosaurs.

Mr. Leghari further noted that in the current media world, your audience doesn't necessarily live in the same city/country/continent as you. Your audience is a young boy in Venezuela who wants to watch video and audio content that is produced in Alaska, and he wants to watch it whenever and however he likes and in his own language - and, preferably, for free. If your service can't provide him this, he will immediately abandon you and find a service who can.

My wife and I have been watching a very popular German tv show in its second season. Broadcasters have their own plans for how the show should be distributed and marketed. The show is officially unavailable to viewers outside Germany. But in the meantime, my wife and I - and thousands of other fans - are watching the shows as soon as they air, thanks to a German enthusiast who uploads the episodes of the show onto one of the many streaming video community sites - after subtitling it in Engliahs, and occasionally adding her own amusing subtitled comments.

20 years ago MTV launched with its famous "I want my MTV" slogan. The slogan suggested a generation that wanted its entertainment immediately, in quantity, and on its own terms. MTV never quite fulfilled that. But any media producer or distributor that wants to survive in the long term today absolutely must.

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