After Thanksgiving – everyone’s thoughts turn to technology policy. Well, maybe not everyone, but reading Thursday’s New York Times, David Pogue wrote his column celebrating his 10th anniversary in the paper with observations about truths that he has discovered about the technology world. Many of those same truths apply to broadcast policy, and are particularly relevant with a week coming up in which the FCC may take its first steps toward dramatically reshaping the media landscape as it considers the future of the television spectrum, and potentially repurposing some of that spectrum for wireless broadband. Pogue’s first observation was that new technology does not replace old technology – instead it merely provides more choice to the consumer. He points out that TV did not replace radio, and that satellite radio didn’t replace radio either. Instead, these services became complements, perhaps eroding the audience of the established technology in some ways, and perhaps making the older technology redefine its mission, but the older technology survived, and remained relevant. We’ve written similar observations about the future of radio – it’s a technology that reaches masses with no incremental costs for adding new listeners – and is now and, for the foreseeable future will be, the most efficient way to reach large audiences with popular formats.
It is a similar story with other communications media. And we sometimes over-react to short term trends believing that some audience erosion for a particular technology will result in its doom, when in fact it may just result in some form of re-invention. In the last two years, we’ve seen print media go from being left for dead, to being part of one of the most talked about media deals of the last month – the merger between the Daily Beast and Newsweek to bring a print component to a new media darling. Television, too, is not dead yet – it still the most watched source of video programming, whether distributed over the air or through some multichannel video transmission source, with over-the-air programming about to get a new take as mobile DTV begins its roll-out in the coming months. Recently, there has even been the occasional article about consumers "cutting the cord" – relying on over-the-air TV, supplemented by web video content, to drop their cable or satellite connection. As Pogue suggests, all these media will continue to survive and offer choices to consumers. But Pogue does not take into account the potential impact of a fundamental change in regulatory policy that intervenes to disrupt the natural progression of the marketplace.