A few weeks ago, the New York Times featured an interesting article about the impact of Internet video and other new technologies on the traditional media. The premise of the article is that big media players, like AOL, FOX and Disney are being forced into bold moves to keep up with the the Internet. Decisions such as AOL’s recent decision to from a subscription to a free service is one move cited by the article as being driven by the availability of free on-line content. A comment by Rupert Murdoch that he would consider merging Direct TV with Echostar because of the competition from Internet video was another instance that the article cites as support for its premise. This Sunday’s Times featured another article on the impact of Internet technology on the distribution of music, including traditional radio.
These changes impact not only big media, but local media and small Internet players as well. The choice provided by the Internet has already caused changes in everything from local television to Internet radio. I started writing this post from rural Wisconsin, where I was for a family event. Watching the local television station, WEAU-TV in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, I was somewhat surprised to see an a promotion for "build your own newscasts." The station was promoting its website, and the ability to watch local news stories produced by the station on the website, watching only those stories that you want to see, when you want to see them. This on-demand availability of new stories when done with local stories avoids most copyright issues. And it allows local media to serve their audience in the way that the audience wants to be served.
Internet video permits this viewer choice, and mandates that the traditional media adjust to these changes. The networks are already providing many of their shows on-demand, as have many other program providers. Yesterday, with Katie Couric’s debut on the CBS Evening News, we now can see a simulcast of the network’s premier news program. And people are able to view these programs when and where they are. Last month, sitting in our motel in rural Wisconsin, we were connected to the Internet by the motel’s high-speed wi-fi network. My sons were watching their favorite clips of the Colbert Report and sharing them with family members. Driving from Chicago to Wisconsin, we noted several rest areas on the toll road outside of Chicago advertising free wi-fi connections, as was virtually every motel and truck stop that we passed across the state of Wisconsin. These connections permit almost everyone video or audio when you want it, where you want it. And the spread of wireless networks powered by new generations of cell phone technology or by the soon-to-be-deployed WiMax systems will only speed the trend.
The last two state broadcast association meetings that I attended have both focused on the new media. Last month, at the Michigan Association of Broadcasters summer meeting, the seminar focused on new technologies, including keynoter Kurt Hanson, publisher of the Radio and Internet Newsletter and the CEO of Accuradio, a popular Internet Radio Service. Interesting comments were made by a representative of a company called LSN – Local Solutions Network, a company that works with putting TV station content on wireless and other devices. Again, putting that content where the listener is, when he or she wants it.
Radio stations are getting into the act. Clear Channel has an active program of putting on-demand audio and video content on its websites. It today announced that it will be making its radio content available over cell phones. Even local stations exploit their local content – the content that they have the rights to exploit – on their websites. Look, for instance, at the Radio Stations of Door County, Wisconsin, which have a website full of audio and video clips covering local stories. This provides effective competition with television and newspapers. At June’s Iowa Broadcasters meeting, a session featured comments by CyaNet, a company providing solutions for local individuals and organizations, including radio stations, to start local sports Internet video franchises.
These companies and many others are out there providing services to broadcasters, and broadcasters should be open to providing their audiences coverage what they want, wherever they are, on whatever device they are using, when they want it. If broadcasters don’t seize the opportunity, someone else will.