Online TV News and fighting Cable Monopoly

I have long anticipated the convergence of TV with the Internet. Back in my pre-Internet nerd days, I was an audio and then a video enthusiast. I’ve long been a hobbyist in recording. When computer mediated communications came along, I was very much into the ways we can communicate and build community around a wide range of issues. In the early days, it was all about text and text commands. Then the Internet opened up to the larger public, and the demand rose for graphical browsers, Mosaic being the first to provide a combination of text and graphics to build a “page” oriented view of information on the Web. But bandwidth intensive things like audio and video were not yet acceptable on the low-bandwidth connections with our 2400 and 9600 and 14400 baud modems connected to phone lines.

Now, with our big Internet providers giving us the fatter pipes (Broadband) , live and recorded video at HD quality is possible and now commonplace. Netflix, which had begun by sending rental DVDs through the mail, was transitioning to providing content over the Internet, to the extent that now the vast majority of its business is from streaming video. iTunes went into the video business. Amazon started selling video content as streaming and downloadable video. Google opened its “Play Store”. And TV networks began seeing ways to open up their audience to do more with their content. I couldn’t be happier about all of this.

A new concept or model of News presented itself to us during the uprisings in the Middle East in 2010-2011. A Middle East based News organization, Al Jazeera, opened “Al Jazeera English”, and became an international sensation as they took the opportuinity to apply their technological resources to covering quite a bit of the widespread uprisings as an online source of streaming TV coverage of international interest. Americans were passing the news along via Social Media, and people were “tuning in” to Al Jazeera English (only in this case, it was “logging on” and participating in conversations. Al Jazeera also developed several “talk shows” that was made available as “channels” with their own Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, Google Plus Pages, and Tumblr and WordPress blogs. People began to envision a new model of what News could be. It was a vision of a “Newsroom” based in the real world, around ongoing events.

Al Jazeera bought the Cable Channel Current TV several months ago. That seemed to pave the way for a Cable slot for an American focused audience channel of the Al-Jazeera Network. But the specifics of the U.S. Cable systems and the enormous power of the major players have apparently demanded that Al_Jazeera not provide a significant online element to Al-Jazeera America. Unfortunately, the Cable monopolies here are not exactly friendly to the idea of video news available via the Internet. That is unfortunate for us and for Al-Jazeera. There were many allies amongst our citizens here who had asked their cable companies to carry Al-Jazeera English. They were asking ahead of time for them to carry Al-Jazeera America. What the supporters did not forsee is the decision of Al-Jazeera to take the deal the Cable Companies wanted, which was NO video online. Not only does AJ America not get live streaming of the network, but just a few clips of various shows, and Al Jazeera English also has to stop access to their online video to American users, including archives of past shows. It seems that the new form of nes has fallen prey to the limited visions of the “Old Media” elite who make their fortunes from Cable monopolies. Like the American style pricing for broadband that is much higher in America than in many other technological savvy countries like China, Japan, and South Korea that has been the rule here due to the pressure of the giants Comcast and Time Warner, faster cheaper broadband is successfully kept from happening.

So it is with the advancement of the News business into the age of Social Networks and global communications. The way is blocked by entrenched financial interests. The benefits afforded by the accessibility and broad reach of the Web, that hold so much potential for transforming how news is communicated and brought to citizens is dominated and held back by huge companies with political clout. It hurts everybody except them. It holds back progress promised by the Age of Information. All of this affects the older generation along with all the rest, but particularly affects us negatively by blocking ways to make news more efficiently gathered and brought to us, and the way in which we access it. With adoption of new media, we are freed from time constraints that keep us from seeing the news we need when the providers want us to watch and allows us to tell them when we want it. Our devices such as our phones and tablets allow us more control over how we receive it, and ultimately, how we interact with it and each other, which benefits us all. (For some background on more of this, particularly the way Cable Companies in America bilk the American public out of faster and better broadband, and seek to block competition and advances in broadband connectivity at the local level, see Susan Crawford’s “Captive Audience” She is presently being put forward as an FCC Chair candidate. She has been an outspoken consumer advocate in this field).

(the graphic for this post is the CNN mobile news offerings for Android phones and tablets, available at the Google Play store)