There’s a wonderful new era in entertainment emerging that will do away with all of the inconveniences, expenses, and contrivances of “old media.”
That’s right, traditional television, film, and video are — if not on their way out the door — definitely headed for a transformation that will soon leave them almost unrecognizable from what they are today.
And this is not a moment too soon.
After all, let’s face it: cable TV sucks.
And it’s been that way for a long time. 15 years ago Bruce Springsteen shot up his television with a .44 magnum because there was “57 channels and nothing on.”
Today there’s just ten times as much of nothing on. What’s more, you pay through the nose for all that nothing.
Perhaps worse than television is film. You wait for an hour to get into the theatre, pay an arm and a leg for stale, greasy popcorn, then ruin your back in chairs that seem to have been built for the munchkin cast of Wizard of Oz.
DVD rentals are better than both of these experiences, but only marginally. After all, who wants to venture out in a snowstorm only to discover the disc you’re after has already been rented? No matter; it was probably damaged beyond all playability by previous viewers, anyway.
Television, film, and video: these are all forms of “old media.” And they’re really, really tired.
That is, they are methods of content delivery that suit the purposes of an industry rather than an audience.
Well, there’s a new generation of audience emerging with roots in the media piracy movement I wrote about last week.
They’re being raised by Napster, BitTorrent, and iTunes.
They won’t be satisfied by anything less than completely relevant content that they can access when and where they want it.
Wait in a line for a movie? Forget it.
Tune in to a show at a specific time, on a specific day? Whatever.
Rent a disc? Who needs the grief of physical media?
While the transformation from old to new media is far from complete, there are several internet properties online now that foretell the future.
Probably the most well known is Apple’s iTunes. Americans can now rent high definition movies through iTunes, and they’ve been able to purchase television shows and movies for a couple of years.
(We Canucks can finally buy TV shows, too, but the variety is limited to the most pithy Canadiana. Sigh.)
iTunes is an excellent entry point into the future of entertainment, but it’s tied down by the mentality of traditional media.
The store still delivers “TV shows” and “movies,” which fit well into the old model of entertainment. But they don’t necessarily translate well into the digital realm.
Some more exciting evolutionary online sources for entertainment content are Joost, Current.tv, Bebo, and (of course) YouTube.
Each of these new environments takes into account the native properties of the internet by integrating aspects of social media.
Joost hails from the Nordic minds of Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, the creators of Skype.
It’s an ambitious off-web desktop application that combines user file sharing with content from “broadcasters.”
Joost is what television would be with audience participation and without time constraints. It offers all form of entertainment media from animated shorts to feature length films for a great price: free.
Current.tv is the brainchild of Al Gore, and it’s now in the process of going public as a company.
It features video content that is largely user-generated and voted into distribution by the community. Much of the material on Current.tv is documentary and very edgy. And it’s an excellent representation of public interest.
Hailing from the UK, Bebo is a social networking web site first and a content provider second.
However, the site produces video content that is among the most cutting edge online.
Kate Modern, for example, is a soap-opera-like series of “webisodes” delivered directly into the social network.
Google’s YouTube, meanwhile, is the great grand-daddy of user-generated content, some of which migrates to more mainstream places. It was the birthplace of Kate Modern’s predecessor, LonelyGirl15.
While none of these sites, in their current states, define the future of entertainment media, they do share the themes that will define it.
Availability is clearly the most important factor. You can watch YouTube, for example, on standard mobile phones, personal computers, and many television devices.
The audience is also very important. All of these properties respond to feedback. In fact, last year Bebo killed the main character in Kate Modern because the community despised her so. (Imagine if we could convince Fox to kill 24’s über-annoying Jack. Yeah, whatever.)
And finally, cost is also clearly a factor. All of these properties are available at no cost to the viewer. Compare that to your current entertainment bill.
Of course, these properties — particularly YouTube — are so overrun with content that Bruce Springsteen would need Bruce Cockburn’s rocket launcher to sort it all out.
But at least, as an audience member, you have the right to take some pot-shots without hurting your computer.
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, February 1, 2008.