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Media Convergence and Future of Television June 20, 2014

Although the Internet appears to be edging out traditional broadcasting and by extension, the ubiquitous television as the center piece of home entertainment, the need for viable content will keep multimedia platforms interdependent in the evolutionary arena of technology.

Delivery systems, content and advertising are the three factors that television industry stakeholders are grappling with in an increasingly convergent media world where hitherto monopolistic structures of broadcasting are crumbling owing to the rise of multi-platform media and aggressively interactive media consumers who are dictating what they want to watch, when they want to watch and most importantly, how they want to watch.

Convergence of media itself is not a new concept and media observers have talked of it since the 1980s. Nevertheless, the availability of sophisticated communication and viewing devices and better Internet connectivity in recent years has made the convergence a more layered and complex concept that involves the understanding of the technology and economics of content delivery.

New media theorists (Holmes, 2012), however, feel competition from non-broadcast systems of content delivery will not necessarily spell the end of television; rather, with hunger for diverse content driving creativity, there is room for everyone to co-exist in a mutually profitable world.

Theoretical Framework

This review takes off from the pedestal of Marshal McLuhan’s theories of media and his understanding of technology, wherein he famously equated the medium with the message.

Also, against the evolving foreground of media convergence, this review seeks to understand the new media theories propounded in the second electronic new media age (Holmes, 2012) by such theorists as George Gilder, Mark Poster and Sherry Turkle, each of whom declared the end of broadcast and the rise of interactive networks.

Review

In his revolutionary yet controversial book Understanding Media (McLuhan, 1964) Marshal McLuhan wrote: “Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.”

McLuhan foresaw that with electricity and automation, the technology of fragmented processes makes “men nomadic gatherers of knowledge, nomadic as never before, informed as never before, free from fragmentary specialism as never before –but also involved in the total social process as never before.”

That observation could not have been truer today than ever before when media consumers are greedily accessing information and entertainment through interconnectivity and aggressive interactivity.

That paradigmatic shift in consumer behavior bolstered as it is by new media directly challenges the cultural imperialism of the television. In Life After Television (Gilder, 1994), George Gilder, who practically pronounced that the death of the television, talks of an age where the “master-slave architecture of television” would be overthrown by networked media where everyone can be a broadcaster.

In The Second Media Age (Poster, 1995), Mark Poster declared that the Internet would be the medium to provide an alternative to the severe technical constraints of the broadcast model, enabling a system of multiple producers, distributors, and consumers.

Poster talks of a post-broadcast age where the traditional audience emerges into an audience that seeks personalization of content, whether through interactive television or bookmarking of Web pages. Thus replacing the mass culture of broadcast and shaking off the built-in passivity of television watching.

In his book The Internet Challenge to Television (Owen, 1999), Bruce Owens made a prophecy of convergence – that through digitization, television, telephone and computers will all converge on the Internet.

What is Convergence?

Although convergence has become a buzz word for the media industry in the last couple of years, the concept was established as early as the early 1980s.

In his book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (Jenkins, 2006) Henry Jenkins, describes the late MIT political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool as the prophet of media convergence. Pool’s Technologies of Freedom (1983) was probably the first book to lay out the concept of convergence as a force of change within the media industries (Jenkins, 2006).

Jenkins himself defines convergence as the “flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want.”

Convergence refers to a process, not an endpoint, Jenkins writes; convergence involves both a change in the way media is produced and a change in the way media is consumed.

The Technology of Convergence

Equally concerned with rapid convergence are those in the field of technology itself. In a discursive paper (Adams, 2011), Michael Adams, head of software strategy for Ericsson Solution Area Media talks about the inevitability of HTTP and adaptive streaming becoming the dominant mode of video delivery in cable networks.

Adaptive streaming was developed to provide the best user experience for streaming of content over an unmanaged network, like the Internet. However, such streaming cannot provide a service delivery quality that matches that of MPEG-2 transport systems, that which we see in broadcasting.

Still, Adams says, adaptive streaming is here to stay because of the appearance of popular client devices – tablets, smart phones and PCs – that support only adaptive streaming. Given this reality, cable operators are already moving rapidly to add adaptive streaming capabilities to their content delivery infrastructure, which means, newer set-top boxes in the network will be designed to accept adaptive streaming formats as they become standardized. Eventually, an optimized future version of adaptive streaming will become the dominant mode of video delivery in cable networks.

The path towards convergence was led mainly by the increasing digitization of content, the shift towards Internet Protocol (IP)-based networks, the diffusion of high-speed broadband access, and the availability of multi-media communication and computing devices (Claudia Sarrocco, 2008), according to a report prepared for a Ministerial meeting of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

The OECD paper elaborates that convergence is taking place at different levels: Network convergence – that includes fixed-mobile convergence and ‘three-screen convergence’ (mobile, TV and computer); Service convergence – stemming from network convergence and innovative handsets; Industry/market convergence – that brings  together  in  the  same  field  industries  such  as  information  technology, telecommunication, and media, formerly operating in separate markets; Legislative, institutional and  regulatory convergence; Device convergence – most devices include today a microprocessor, a screen, storage, input device and some kind of network connection; and converged user experience: unique interface between end-users and telecommunications, new media, and computer technologies.

Content Convergence

In the UK television industry, migration to multi-platform has been characterized by the introduction of ‘360-degree commissioning’ and by the development of websites and other digital offerings capitalizing on popular content brands (Doyle, 2010).

A 360-degree strategy implies that, from the earliest stages of conceptualization, content decisions are shaped by the potential to generate consumer value and returns through multiple forms of expression of that content and via a number of distributive outlets (e.g. online, mobile, interactive games and so on) of which conventional television is just one, albeit still a very important one.

A comScore study points out that the need to stay relevant across multiple platforms, gives content creators huge opportunities.

“Content is king. But it doesn’t come in singular form anymore,” the study findings say. Therefore, it is important to stay story-centric and to build content not just for one platform, but develop it with multi-platform distribution in mind; and the best way to optimize content and assets is “to break down the publishing walls.”

Quite dramatically, the study says: “No one wants to have to run down the hall to hear the breaking news, so get rid of the halls.”

The comScore study concludes that at the end of the day, it’s about improving business, about considering production, distribution and business processes in a holistic way.

In a combined research ‘Researching Diversity of Content in a Multi-platform Context’ Katherine Champion, Gillian Doyle and Philip Schlesinger of University of Glasgow (Katherine Champion, and others) say that expansion in distribution capacity, improved search functions and the introduction of a digital return path have created unprecedented opportunities for exploitation of the value within any given universe of media content. Citing different studies, they say that the sheer space available online and via new platforms has led to an exponential increase in the accessibility of content.

New technology is allowing suppliers unprecedented opportunities to get to know their audiences and to match up content more closely to their needs and desires, they say. Because of improved signalling of audience preferences, the ability of content suppliers to trace and cater more effectively to shifting and specific tastes and interests amongst audiences has vastly increased.

Web 2.0 and interactive consumption of media

The development of Web 2.0 as a platform has transformed the nature of interactivity on the Web and opened up a universe of user-generated media (comScore, 2012). Moving away from the passivity induced by television and the one-way downloading of information of Web 1.0, Web 2.0 applications now allow users to become autonomous producers. Blogs, YouTube, Wikipedia, eBay, Flickr, Second Life, and other such online social networking sites enable media users to have a broadcast experience of their own.

The significance of Web 2.0 is that, whereas broadcast generates an instant national or international context of social connection, there are few ways in which individuals can achieve meaningful interaction to make these global connections tangible. The fact that users can now work with the materials of broadcast media as a way of communicating expands the idea that media make possible a public sphere.

Conclusions

Jenkins writes that old media never die and that they don’t even necessarily fade away. “What dies are simply the tools we use to access media content, what media scholars call delivery technologies,” he says.

While industry insiders are frantically redesigning their core content development structures, to cope with changing consumer demands, academics and technology experts understand the challenges in mapping the convergences between the three main domains involved – computerization, media and telecommunications (Holmes, 2012) .

Newer technological entrants to the market every day make it difficult to wrap strategies around holistic approaches, leaving the market in perpetual infancy (Holmes, 2012).

The McPillips and Merlo Media coverage and evolving media business model (McPhillips, Merlo 2008) argues that there would be no revolution or “industry stampede” as many have predicted. Rather, the study says, the industry will experience an evolution as the old and new models first learn to co-exist, until they ultimately converge.

As such, the concept of convergence itself is evolving, with multiple media platforms democratically co-existing in an arena where content still is king.

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Citations:

Adams, M. (2011, April). Will HTTP Adaptive Streaming Become the Dominant Mode of Video Delivery in Cable Networks? Ericsson Review.

Claudia Sarrocco, D. Y. (2008). The Future of the Internet Economy. Seoul, Korea: OECD Secretariat.

comScore. (2012, August 28). Presentations and Whitepapers. Retrieved January 2013, from comScore.com: http://www.comscore.com/Insights/Presentations_and_Whitepapers/2012/How_Multi-Screen_Consumers_Are_Changing_Media_Dynamics

Doyle, G. (2010). From Television to Multi-Platform Less from More or More for Less? Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies , 1-19.

Gilder, G. (1994). Life After Television. Forbes ASAP.

Holmes, D. (2012, June 29). “New Media Theory”. Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. Retrieved Janaury 2013, from http://www.sagepub.com/edwards/study/materials/reference/77593_10.2ref.pdf

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture Where Old and New Media Collide. New York, London: New York University Press.

Katherine Champion, G. D. (n.d.). Researching Diversity of Content in a Multi-platform Context. Quality, Diversity and Innovation: Their Role in the Economic Functioning of the Media Industries . United Kingdom.

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man.

Owen, B. (1999). The Internet Challenge to Television. Harvard University Press.

Poster, M. (1995). The Second Media Age. Sage Publications.

McPhillips, Merlo (2008). Media Convergence and the evolving media business model: An overview and strategic opportunities. The Marketing Review, 2008, Vol.8, No.3 Westburn Publishers.

 

Srirekha Chakravarty

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Media Economics and Government Policy

In a globalized media world, increased deregulation is leading to increased concentration of media ownership and a decrease in public interest as a factor in policy making.

Regulating the media industries is a tricky issue for any State owing to the distinctive nature of the industry where it has to protect the consumer interests on the one hand and the market economy on the other, while ensuring the health of the general economy to which the media industry is no trivial contributor.

Where earlier media economics was shaped by government policy, today globalization and convergence of media and telecommunications technologies are changing the way conventional economics plays out, forcing governments to follow the media transformation to formulate globally relevant policies.

Theoretical Framework:

In media economics, regulation and policy framework – whether founded in a particular political economy or simply in a government’s obligation to protect public resources – are discussed in macroeconomic theories to gain a broader focus on how governments deal with, and keep up with, the factors affecting media evolution (Albarran, 2004)

Thus, Policy studies become a natural area of inquiry in the context of media because regulation impacts markets in terms of their economic structure and potential.

In recent times, however, as media is undergoing a sea change owing to waves of technological sophistication, media economists and policymakers are trying to re-interpret microeconomic theories with regard to concentration, consolidation and convergence in the media markets.

In fact, so dramatic is the transformation of the media landscape that the conventional microeconomic theories of the Firm and Niche are being challenged, rendering them almost redundant (Albarran, 2010). The market structure has become increasingly oligopolistic as media conglomerates have been increasingly consolidating their interests with those of the telecommunications industries.

This review attempts to understand how both macro and micro economic theories are being studied to explain the increasingly complex media industries in a globalized economy.

Introduction:

In the light of economic theories, the unique nature of the media industries becomes apparent in the way government policy and media economics seem to chase each other.

One view is that government policy and regulation are external forces that drive change across the media industries leading to evolution of media economics (Albarran, 2004). A more recent view turns the concept around to state that it is the distinctive characteristics of media industries and media products, and consequently media economics that plays a central role in media policymaking (Napoli, 2004).

Government intervention in the media industry happens in three main ways: through legislation, regulation and provision of subsidies (Moyo, 2004).

Over the years, media industries have evolved in many developed nations from being strictly regulated to various forms of deregulation and liberalization, especially in the US and the UK.

Other nations have followed suit to some degree, but in most Middle East and Asian regions heavy regulation still exists (Albarran, 2010).

Since the 1980s, irreversible fallout of deregulation has been increased consolidation of media organizations across the globe and concentration of ownership. Large companies like Viacom, Disney, Time Warner, News Corporation, Bertelsmann and Sony compete at a global level, offering their media products and services throughout the world (Albarran, 2010)

In more recent years, however, convergence-induced media alliances have brought about a situation where regulators and policymakers are in a bind to follow evolving media market realities to frame appropriate laws to protect the end-consumer interests and those of the general economy (Cuilenburg, McQuail, 2003).

Rise of media policymaking

For want of a standard model to exemplify government regulation of media, this review takes the rise of American federal regulation, which has indeed influenced media policy making in many countries.

Broadcasting remained unregulated for over two decades before the first commercial broadcast in 1920. The resultant proliferation of commercial broadcasting led to The Radio Act of 1927 – the first attempt at establishing a comprehensive regulatory framework for radio, including broadcasting (Corn-Revere, Carveth 2004)

The 1940s and 1960s saw the rise and modification of regulation with regard to television and the 1970s saw the rise of rules that involved cross ownership of radio and television stations.

Fast forward to the 1980s and the 1990s when with the Internet adding to the glut of radio and television broadcasting, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a series of deregulatory actions and liberalized former policies (Albarran, Media Economics, 2004).

Consequently, ownership limits were increased, and rules regarding program requirements and public interest standards were either removed or relaxed.

Thereafter, the 1996 Telecommunications Act eliminated competitive barriers in the broadcast, cable and telecommunication industries, further relaxing ownership rules and allowing companies operating in one industry to compete in others. Subsequent rulings passed in 1998 and 1999 to stimulate competition paved the way for increasing consolidation across US media industries.

State interest in media economics

For a glimpse into the scale and scope of the US media industry a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report shows revenues of $443 billion in 2010, which is expected to go up to $555 billion in 2015 (Fixmer, 2011).

And to put the media-State equation into perspective, we may cite the instance of the UK story: The creative industries in the UK are currently worth more than £36 billion a year, generating £70,000 every minute for the UK economy; employing 1.5 million people in the country; and accounting for £1 in every £10 of the UK’s exports. The UK government, in a policy paper, states that it is “proud” of its media industry and considers it an important part of its economy. The UK government makes it clear that it “supports these industries through financial incentives, promotion at home and abroad, and reducing unnecessary regulations.” (Department for Culture, Media & Sport, 2013)

Thus it may be seen the significance of the media economy to the overall economy of a nation, and why governments are prone to create policy conducive to the health of both, even if it were to take precedence over public interest.

Pro-industry policies notwithstanding, control over communications industries is directly related to the economic well-being of any country, primarily because of the assured foreign investment, export and taxable revenues, generation of employment and so on (Sarikakis, 2009). Policy comes in the form of enforcing intellectual property rights, ensuring access to telecom infrastructure, promoting ICT (Information and communications technology)-based exports and subsidizing foreign investment in communications industries.

Deregulation and Re-regulation

Ironically, the most manifest of governmental policy on media economy in most parts of the world today is in deregulation.

The fundamental goal of deregulation and liberalization (which began with the United States) was to loosen the controls and regulations on the financial markets in order to increase level of investment and triggering the multiplier effect. In practice though, the move had negative consequences where media businesses took huge leaps to forge mega mergers (Owers, Carveth, Aleander, 2004)

This manic trend of mergers finds basis in the deregulation of media in the late 1980s and through the 1990s. Such relaxation of rules as led to massive consolidation and creation of an oligopolistic media market, continues to be a matter of acute concern for media researchers, economic experts and advocates of a ‘free and independent news media’, localism, and cultural identity and diversity.

The term deregulation itself has come to be debated for its many effects. Moyo cites Steven Vogel who has referred to deregulation as “semantic confusion”, in the sense that deregulation is used to refer both to the introduction of more competition within a market and the reduction or elimination of government regulations.

The more appropriate term suggested is “re-regulation”, which means reformulating old rules and creating new ones, resulting in freer markets but with more rules.

Moyo then cites Hesmondhalgh who prefers the term marketisation and argues that both deregulation and re-regulation provide misleading positive connotations in describing the spread of neoliberal policies.

Critiques of deregulation are many and a particularly harsh one comes from Mary Hickman, who says that an explosion of mergers leading to an oligopolistic market has the government’s blessings, and in America, the media oligopoly is actually subsidized by the government (Hickman, 2007).

Although Cuillenburg and Mcquail call it economic pragmatism, they say the retreating of governments from regulation where it interferes with market development gives relatively more priority to economic over social-cultural and political welfare of the nation.

Governments are also blamed for framing conflicting policies because different policy makers pursue different objectives simultaneously. Media industry is variously governed through industrial development policy, labor policy, trade policy, competition policy, cultural policy and media specific policy, each of which may be at odds with the other, making a unified outcome nearly impossible (Harcourt, Picard, 2009).

Impact of new media on media regulation

Media industries gained economic significance only in the wake of convergence between the media and telecommunications technologies, forcing nations across the globe to adopt new regulatory philosophies (Napoli, 2004).

Napoli’s views echo Cuilenburg and McQuail who say ‘communications policy’ as an idea took clear shape in the late 20th century because of technological and economic convergence – that is the merging of the branches of computing, communications and content.

It’s pertinent to say that the current economic dynamics of the media and telecommunications industries has been brought about by the Internet. The Internet has not only revolutionized the way content is produced but also the way consumers access it and consume it. Although originating in government sponsorship, the Internet paradoxically, began and flourished in “freedom” (Cuillenburg, McQuail, 2003). Therefore the guiding principle for any policy that concerns the Internet has to follow the concepts of freedom, access, and control or accountability.

Consequent to convergence, ministries of communication were founded in governments and new media laws began to be promulgated. Regulation of mass media became increasingly connected to telecommunications regulation.

Some of the elements that govern media economics today are ownership limit, cross-media ownership, access to broadcast spectrum, channel assignment, licensing, net neutrality, copyrights, diversity and localism of content, and public interest.

Cuilenburg and McQuail also touch upon political economy as a driver for media economic development, as also globalization of communication, and the reach of multinational media across national borders.

In the face of new technologies with unknowable potential for development, and vast commercial and industrial interests at stake, governments are struggling to keep abreast of change.

The Net Neutrality Debate

With the growth of the Internet, governments are now seized with the critical issues of Internet governance and content regulation (Moyo, 2004).

However, a more important issue that is calling on government intervention today is that of Network Neutrality – an issue that is tied in again with choosing between corporate interests and consumer interests.

Net neutrality or network neutrality or Internet neutrality as it is variously referred to, is about maintaining and protecting the neutral nature of the Internet without the service providing companies or the content providing companies deciding who can access what content and how on the Internet.

Internet service providers contend that they are justified in wanting a share of revenues that content carriers like Google and Yahoo rake in, using the service providers’ existing infrastructure. Consumer and media advocates fear this will lead to content prioritization by the service providers, which is unfair to other content companies as also to the consumer who will likely end up paying more to access such content.

Content prioritization or a tiered Internet translates to huge returns for telecommunications and media companies that may choose to tie up to cash on premium content.

Most countries, including the United States, have not legislated on this aspect of media business, and are not likely to do so any sooner considering the global advocacy against it.

Towards a democratic global policy

Increasingly, as media conglomerates expand their operations beyond national borders, media policy too is being made outside of national regulatory agencies at global venues. Increasingly too, political economies are influencing global media economics, with the hitherto developing nations asserting themselves for equal opportunities.

However, this is not necessarily a healthy situation since most global media policy discussions tend to be dominated by the United States, which invariably is prompted by the interests of the big business rather than those of consumers, be it American or those across the world (Costanza-Chock, 2005).

The manic levels of consolidation and cross-ownership in the wake of further deregulation by the FCC in the US in 2003-2004 took the policy debate to a whole new level of advocacy that reached beyond national borders (Costanza-Chock, 2005).

Media policy activists from around the world are increasingly rallying together against mega mergers, at such forums as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU),  World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

But perhaps global communications policy may after all move beyond the purview of the influential West because such policies are no longer “made” at any clearly definable locations but are increasingly a result of formal and informal mechanisms working across a multiplicity of sites such as the forums mentioned above (Raboy, 2002)

Working towards a “free trade in communication”, (Winseck, 2002) what was until recently defined by national legislative and regulatory frameworks and a minimum of international supervision, is now a subject of a complex ecology of interdependent structures made up of national parliaments and ministries, international organizations (such as WTO, ITU and UNESCO), global clubs such as the G8 and the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), regional bodies and treaty agreements such as EU and NAFTA as well as transnational corporate boardrooms (Raboy, 2002).

Conclusion

Although the all too powerful transnational media behemoths appear to dictate policy owing to their sheer size, scale and scope of operations – not to mention their significant contribution to a nation’s GDP – States are still carrying out the critical function of lawmaking; and are still responsible for licensing broadcasters, imposing limitations on ownership and operations, etc. (Moyo, 2004).

But more than 70 years of experience with regulation of communications industries has proven, if nothing else, that public interest is an elusive concept (Media Economics Theory and Practice). Nevertheless, the Internet is hoped to be a democratizing factor where public interest will gain priority in policy, access being the main goal (Cuilenburg, McQuail, 2003). However, what form would governmental control take, remains unclear.

In the internationalizing of media policies, clearly, it is economic, rather than political considerations that are dominant; and if global media issues reach the agenda of international bodies, it is simply because of factors influencing global financial markets (Nordenstreng, 2011).

Economic transformation notwithstanding, one thing that has not only remained constant but has become a determinant factor in the transformation, is the profit motive. And that is why policy and regulation remain crucial.

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Citations

Albarran, A. B. (2004). Media Economics. In The Sage Handbook of Media Studies. Sage Publishers.

Albarran, A. B. (2010). The Media Economy. Routledge/Taylor & Francis.

Costanza-Chock, S. (2005). The Globalization of Media Policy. In R. N. Robert McChesney, The Future of Media: Resistance and in the 21st Century. New York, London, Toronto, Melbourne: Seven Stories Press.

Department for Culture, Media & Sport. (2013, February 27). Making it easier for the media and creative industries to grow, while protecting the interests of citizens. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from Gov.UK: https://www.gov.uk/government/policies

Fixmer, A. (2011, June 14). US Media Industry Revenue Rose 3.1% in 2010 for First Gain Since 2007. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from Bloomberg.com: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-14/u-s-media-industry-revenue-rose-3-1-in-2010-for-first-gain-since-2007.html

Hickman, M. (2007). The Effects of Media Globalization. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from http://www.radford.edu/~mahickman/portfolio/index.html

Owers, J., Carveth, R. (2004). An Introduction to Media Economics Theory and Practice. In O. C. Alexander, Media Economics Theory and Practice Third Edition. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Jan van Cuilenburg, McQuail, D. (2003). Media Policy Paradigm Shifts-Towards a New Communications Policy Paradigm. European Journal of Communication, Sage Publications .

Moyo, Dumisani (2004). Globalisation, Culture and Politics. Media and Globalisation .

Napoli, P. M. (2004). Media Economics & Media Policy: The Good and the Bad. The Donald McGannon Communication Research Center.

Nordenstreng, K. (2011). Free Flow Doctrine in Global Media Policy. In M. R. Robin Mansell, The Handbook of Global Media and Communication Policy. Blackwell Publishing Ltd., UK.

Picard, R.G., Harcourt, A. (2009). Policy, Economic, and Business Challenges of Media Ownership Regulation. Journal of Media Business Studies .

Raboy, M. (2002). Global Media Policy in the New Mellennium. University of Luton Press, UK.

Corn-Revere, R., Carveth, R. (2004). Economics and Media Regulation. In O. C. Alexander, Media Economics Theory and Practice Third Edition. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Sarikakis, K. (2009, October 23). Regulation Regularisation and Change in the Global Integration. Department of Communication Faculty of Social Sciences.

Winseck, D. (2002). The WTO, Emerging Policy Regimes and the Political Economy of Transnational Communications. In M. Raboy, Global Media Policy in the New Millennium. University of Luton Press, UK.

 

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

Media industry consolidation and online media consumers June 19, 2014

Another course submission that throws light on the impact of media industry consolidation (read, mega mergers, acquisitions and conglomeration) on online media consumers.

Srirekha Chakravarty

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Abstract:

Technological convergence over the past decade has led to the rapid movement of media companies into the global markets, bringing unprecedented changes in the media ownership structures and their impact on production, delivery and consumption of media content.

However, consolidation among the intersecting and overlapping telecommunications and media industries is leading to concentration of ownership in the hands of a few powerful media barons, who are increasingly controlling content, with far reaching consequences for online media consumers.

Theoretical Framework:

Convergence of media technologies has given rise to new theories of media consumption, leveraging on consumer uses and gratification, and hypothesizing the Internet as the great leveler for the all powerful transnational conglomerates.

However, content production, carriage, delivery, access and consumption are entrenched in the economic compulsions of a media company’s need to maximize profits and shareholder satisfaction (Doyle, 2002). Fewer media companies owning and controlling more and more consumer markets are explained in the microeconomic Theory of the Firm to understand media industry’s oligopolistic market structure.

The Transnational Media Management Theory, a research stream that first emerged in the 1970s in response to consolidation in the newspaper industry, continues to be a major focus of research today. It concentrates mainly on the effects of newspaper chain ownership on media content as compared to independent ownership (Mierzejewska, 2010).

This review finds props in this theory to help understand the impact on content in the transition of traditional media to new media.

Media concentration itself is an area of theoretical development in media economics, which explores competition and regulation to limit concentration. Research points to increasing consolidation across all areas of media industries with a handful of firms dominating the industry (Albarran, 2004).

Introduction:

Information and entertainment, as has been foreseen by new media theorists, is increasingly being consumed through devices that combine a computer and the television set, and transmitted via cable, satellite, telephone lines and airwaves (Martin, 2010). Such convergence, further goaded by digitalization and the provision of broadband channels, is leading to mega mergers and alliances across media and telecommunications sectors.

Technological convergence has led to consolidation of ownership and control of media organizations in three broad forms: horizontal, vertical, and diagonal (Thakurta, 2012).

“Horizontal” mergers occur when two entities engaged in the same activity join hands or combine forces.

“Vertical” expansion entails “forward/upstream” or “backward/downstream” integration into different stages of the supply chain, like when content creators get into the retail and wholesale distribution of the same content to bring down transaction costs.

In the current context are new forms of “diagonal” mergers or “lateral” expansion where there is a strategic association between a telecommunications company and a media company to enable use of common infrastructure.

The consequent concentration of ownership of telecommunications and media industries in many countries with a handful of powerful media barons, has significantly affected the content of mass media, in turn, impacting consumers. This trend of consolidation has increasingly come to include the Internet which many media scholars and theorists – concerning themselves with the likely ‘digital divide’ – view as having dire implications for society at large (Warf, 2007).

The benefits of economies of scale and scope rationalize the convergence of telecommunications and media industries; but it also leads to the possible curbing of freedom of expression and imposes subtle forms of censorship in the pursuit of profit maximization and increasing market shares (Thakurta, 2012).

Of particular concern to this review is the increasing consolidation among broadband Internet service providers with content providers. The ubiquitous usage of the Internet comes from the consumer perception that online content is free. However, with lack of competition in the broadband Internet industry and absence of a clear regulatory framework, industry consolidation will likely mean that Internet will not remain “free” or “open” for long (Independent Film & Television Alliance, 2010).

Although a good deal of user generated content (UGC) might still be free, more and more content will come at a premium (Jenkins, 2004), especially if consolidations among content carriers and content providers lead to tiered Internet or do away with network neutrality.

Near future fallout of such consolidation is expected to be on net neutrality. Net neutrality is currently in the foreground of policy making considerations in many countries as it will have far reaching implications for online media consumers, both in terms of what content they access online and at what price.

This review thus attempts to view the consumer within the economic equation of consolidated media markets rather than take a socio-cultural or political view of the context.

Convergence and Content:

To understand what is driving present day media consolidation, it is pertinent to understand convergence of media. Convergence is defined as the interlinking of computing and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), communication networks, and online media content, and the convergent products, services and activities that have emerged in the digital media space (Australian Law Reform Commission, 2012).

Many see this as simply the tip of the iceberg, since all aspects of institutional activity and social life, from art to business, government to journalism, health and education, and beyond, are increasingly conducted in this interactive digital media environment, across a plethora of networked ICT devices (Australian Law Reform Commission, 2012).

Broadband applications include interactive digital television and high-speed Internet services for multimedia uses, including live broadcasts, business-to-business linkages, Internet gaming, telemedicine, videoconferencing, and Internet telephony.

In a convergent media culture, it is not just television and internet services that present barriers to information access, but also the content and the hardware of apps, tablets, eReaders and connected TVs, which may not be available to all users.

Digital media content can be sourced, distributed and accessed from any point in the world to any other point in the world. This has led to the rise of media platforms and content distributors such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Apple iTunes that transcend national jurisdictions (Australian Law Reform Commission, 2012).

Why consolidate?

Media economist Alan Albarran posits at least four strategic reasons for media industry consolidations (Albarran, 2004).

Not surprisingly, he rates financial factors first for driving the unprecedented merger and acquisition activities that have reshaped the structure of the media industry.  A second strategic reason is to leverage content such as programming over an increased number of distribution channels; and as an add-on, to be able to cross-promote across media.

A third reason, he enumerates is the creation of barriers to new competition, where vertically integrated companies with respect to media content and distribution, make it difficult for smaller content competitors to access audience. And the final strategic factor is globalization whereby media companies have identified international markets as a prime source of future revenue growth (Albarran, 2004).

Yet another reason for media consolidation is the high cost involved in the creation, maintenance and constant upgradation of the infrastructure required to deliver content. Naturally, telecommunications companies would want to ensure their returns by controlling the content that passes through their delivery systems.

On a different plane, it may be argued that the web increases the amount of information available to consumers, but it does not increase their capacity for consuming that information. Therefore, what content producers and advertisers are battling for is consumer attention in what is increasingly evolving as an “attention economy” (Martin, 2010). Consumer attention is scarce and in the race to grab eyeballs, content aggregators and content delivery companies are tying up to cash in on priority content.

Vertically integrated gatekeepers have both the means and the incentive to favor their own services and to exclude rivals. Gateway monopolists can abuse their position either by denying access to rival service providers or by offering access on terms that are very disadvantageous to potential competitors. Like monopolists in any other situation, gatekeepers have power to raise prices, restrict output and engage in other forms of behavior that run contrary to the interests of consumers (Doyle, 2002).

The Media Market:

The giants dominating the global media and telecommunications industry, which together employ 1.3 million people, are AT&T (telecom), AOL Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, News Corporation, and Vivendi. Collectively, they control 75% of the US television audience and 90% of the television news audience (Warf, 2007).

Thus, over the past two decades, the dramatic transformation in the telecommunications and media industries has resulted in an oligopolistic market structure with ownership concentrated in the hands of a few powerful media barons (Warf, 2007). This has significantly affected content of mass media, the consequences of which have a direct bearing on consumers. And typical to firms in an oligopolistic market, these conglomerates act as price-setters rather than as price takers, which would mean higher prices for consumers (Warf, 2007).

Taking a rather cynical view of the implications of media oligopolization, Warf says the idea of a “free market” today is mythical and found only in economics textbooks because the media and telecommunications sectors “resemble a cartel where members act in collusion.”

In his arguments against consolidation, Warf is concerned with the intersecting and overlapping media and telecommunications industries, which play a central role in providing information, and the new economic structure of the industry which has enormous implications for the consumer’s ability to procure information.

With operations that extend from books, magazines, and newspapers to cable television, satellite television, and, increasingly, the Internet, these enormous multinationals are driven by profits, aided as they are by deregulation, the search for economies of scale, and digital convergence (Warf, 2007).

In an article titled “Media Consolidation Comes to the Internet” Johnnie L. Roberts talks about “cyberhogs” or giant companies that draw most of the traffic on the Internet (Roberts, 2001).

When leading American internet service provider Comcast announced a merger with content producer NBC Universal, there was a hue and cry from small and independent content producers. Fear was that the same conglomerates that have consolidated and controlled traditional media would now be allowed to act as gatekeepers for the Internet (Independent Film & Television Alliance, 2010).

It was critical, they said, that such conglomerates are not allowed to discriminate and manipulate the speed or services provided to the public in order to favor self-owned or other major conglomerate content.

The Comcast-NBCU merger:

For media watchdog groups and consumer advocates, the February 2013 merger of America’s largest cable and Internet company Comcast, with one of the country’s oldest and largest news and entertainment producers, NBC-Universal, is a binding case in point to voice their objection to creation of such behemoths.

In a deal that is expected to cost cable viewers as much as $2.4 billion over the next decade, the cable giant bought General Electric’s 49% stake in NBCU, which includes the network news division along with cable properties such as MSNBC and CNBC. This means that Comcast is the sole owner of NBC, instead of just owning a majority of the network (McChesney & Nichols, 2011).

In July 2012, Comcast had purchased Microsoft’s stake in MSNBC.com to gain sole ownership. In a coinciding branding shift, MSNBC.com became NBCNews.com, and in early 2013, MSNBC.com re-emerged as a site just for the cable channel. Comcast now owns the entire digital business of NBC News.

With this move, Comcast will now control one in five hours of all TV viewing in the United States; will own more than 125 major cable channels, television stations, websites, film studios and related production facilities; and will dominate local media controlling cable and Internet service and TV stations in major cities across the US (McChesney & Nichols, 2011).

The Indian scenario:

Although comparatively smaller, the Indian media is nevertheless significant in terms of its potential growth on the wings of increasing mobile Internet connectivity.

The horizontal and vertical mergers in India are still happening in the traditional media sector including newspapers and television. The April 2012 merger of the Hindi dailies Dainik Jagran and Nai Dunia is an example of horizontal merger; and the STAR (Satellite Television Asia Region) group’s control of cable distributor Hathway; the Zee group’s control of direct-to-home (DTH) satellite channels provider Dish TV, and the Sun group’s control of cable distributor Sumangali are examples of vertical integration (Thakurta, 2012).

Of particular concern, however, are the recent diagonal mergers where telecommunications giant Reliance Industrial Limited (RIL) has entered into a strategic association with the media company Network 18 and the Eenadu groups; and the Aditya Birla group has acquired a substantial holding in the Living Media group (Thakurta, 2012).

Paying for content:

Most believe that the commercializing of cyberspace has majorly undercut the web’s prevailing “gift economy.” Although there will still be a great deal of free content produced by users, more and more content will come with a price tag. The choice of how we pay for web content can have enormous cultural implications (Jenkins, 2004).

Jenkins indicates that a shift towards a subscription-based model will result in greater media concentration and the construction of higher barriers of entry to the cultural marketplace, since most consumers will buy only a limited number of subscriptions and are more likely to buy them from companies that can promise them the broadest range of possible content (Jenkins, 2004).

The Net Neutrality debate:

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are expected to not discriminate between different kinds of content on commercial grounds, which includes not giving priority to their own content over that of competing businesses. This principle also forbids the practice of a tiered Internet, that is, higher priced priority channels for faster and better quality carriage.

In the debate on net neutrality, the proponents say that if neutrality is done away with, the ISPs can discriminate against innovative apps; kill competition by selectively disallowing certain applications; control consumers making them inaccessible to other players; and set the price for prioritized content. This will hurt consumers in the long run (Sridhar, 2012).

The opponents of net neutrality, on the other hand, argue that mobile broadband capacity (spectrum) is limited and therefore its capacity is finite. If there is no prioritization, a few apps will consume too much bandwidth and hurt everybody; and also it reduces the service provider’s motivation to increase bandwidth.

They also argue that prioritization and higher pricing for specific apps can be used to pay for new innovations in future network capacity increases (Sridhar, 2012).

However, a key argument by the ISPs is that they are entitled to a share in the huge profits that content providers make using the network providers’ pipes. Proponents of net neutrality see this argument as nothing but one goaded by greed, because ISPs already charge the content providers as well as the end consumer a fee for accessing the Internet in the first place (Mittal, 2012)

In favor of consolidation:

In harping on the downside to consolidation, it must be said that there are also the proponents who claim it benefits consumers by providing them with more news and entertainment variety. If large corporations didn’t buy up some of the smaller ones, they would go out of business anyway. Bigger companies can capitalize on economies of scale and pass the benefits along to the consumer (cabrini.edu).

It can be said that larger companies are better able to afford to bring in the investments needed for technological convergence which is making content accessible to consumers anytime, anywhere and on any mobile, connected device.

Until recently online content was synonymous with low quality, freely available media, which is not the case anymore. Today, content creators and film studios are increasingly creating and distributing high resolution, quality hi-definition content either directly or through service providers and content aggregators, thereby alleviating scarcity of quality content (Narang, 2012).

This content, however, does not come cheap. Over-the-top services (OTT) are no longer seen as complementary but entering mainstream platform offering convenience of on-demand and catch-up TV at competitive cost. It is estimated that OTT video will grow from $1 billion in 2010 to over $20 billion by 2014 (Narang, 2012).

By 2017 there will be nearly three times as many internet connected devices as people and global internet traffic will have reached 1.0 zettabytes a year. Users will access a new wave of content via an ever growing array of devices. Media consumers will adopt video as the channel of choice, accessing it via mobile smart phones, tablets and even televisions. By 2017, every second, nearly a million minutes of video content will cross the global Internet (Cisco, 2013).

 

Such future projections simply indicate the need for massive investments in the requisite infrastructure.

As of today, much of these investments in new media products and new avenues for distribution of media output have come from existing large players in the media and communications industries, such as Time Warner, Pearson, Bertelsmann and Telefonica.

This has, obviously, led to the emergence of de facto vertical and horizontal monopoly situations (Doyle, 2002). But Doyle says “monopolies may have to be tolerated at least in the short term” considering the high cost of laying broadband cable infrastructures.

Conclusion:

To counter monopoly situations and to encourage the development of new media, Doyle posits that the conduct of the large players should be regulated in such a way as to prevent anti-competitive behavior (Doyle, 2002).

The close interdependence of access to media content and access to distribution infrastructures has led to media market watchers and consumer advocates calling for strengthened policies to tackle vertical cross-ownership.

Interestingly, Henry Jenkins brings out the innate insecurity of these large firms, which, despite their size, fear fragmentation of audiences, who are increasingly becoming “active” and “noisy” (Jenkins, 2004).

Thus, with policy frameworks largely conducive to more consolidation, it may be said that increased consumer agency can keep the media conglomerates on their toes.

Pertinently, Canadian media academic Dwayne Winseck says, talk about media concentration is really “a proxy for bigger conversations about consumer choice, freedom of expression as well as democracy.” (Winseck, 2012).

This review thus concludes that while consolidation in the media industries may be an economic reality that impacts consumer access to and consumption of content, what is required to ensure consumer protection against aggressive monopolies is government regulation that is sorely lacking in many countries.

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Citations/Bibliography:

 

Albarran, A. B. (2004). Media Economy. Sage Publications.

Australian Law Reform Commission. (2012). Media Convergence and the Transformed Media Environment. National Classification Scheme Review.

Cisco. (2013, May). The Zettabyte Era – Trends and Analysis. Retrieved August 2013, from Cisco Visual Networking Index: http://www.cisco/com/en/US/solutions/collateral/nc341/ns525/ns537/ns705/ns827/VNI.html

Doyle, G. (2002). Understanding Media Economics. Sage Publications.

Independent Film & Television Alliance. (2010, March 8). Issues. Retrieved August 2013, from Independent Film & Television Alliance: http://www.ifta-online.org/issues

Jenkins, H. (2004). The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence. International Journal of Cultural Studies .

Martin, T. D. (2010). Updating Diversity of Voice Arguments for Online Media. Global Media Journal – Australian Edition, Volume 4:1 .

Mierzejewska, B. I. (2010). Media Management in Theory and Practice. In M. Deuze, Managing Media Work (pp. 13-30). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Mittal, S. (2012, July 24). Airtel now vocally against network neutrality. Retrieved August 2013, from TechWhack: http://techwhack.co/airtel-vocally-network-neutrality-4038/

Narang, N. (2012). Digital Media Convergence:Are the Stakeholders Listening? Infosys Lab Briefings, Infosys .

Nichols, R. W. (2011, January 20). Comcast/NBC Merger Takes Media Consolidation to the Next Level. Retrieved August 2013, from The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/157898/comcastnbc-merger-takes-media-consolidation-next-level#

Nichols, R. W. (2011, January 20). Comcast/NBC Merger Takes Media Consolidation to the Next Level. Retrieved August 2013, from The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/157898/comcastnbc-merger-takes-media-consolidation-next-level#axzz2bAUCu1Bu

Roberts, J. L. (2001). Media Consolidation Comes to the Internet. Retrieved August 2013, from Rense.com: http://rense.com/general11/media.htm

Sridhar, V. (2012, September). Net Neutrality Debate – A Supply/Demand Perspective. Turing100@Persistent Lecture Series . Pune, Maharashtra, India.

Thakurta, P. G. (2012, August). Good for Business, Bad for Freedom-Convergence and Consolidation-Part-I. Retrieved August 2013, from The Hoot: http://thehoot.org/web/Good-for-business-bad-for-freedom/6169-1-1-4-true.html

Warf, B. (2007, March). Oligopolization of Global Media and Telecommunications and its Implications for Democracy. Ethics, Place and Environment, Vol.10, No.1 .

Winseck, D. (2012, November). Media and Internet Concentration in Canada, 1984-2011. Retrieved August 2013, from Mediamorphis: http://dwmw.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/media-and-internet-concentration-in-canada/

 

 

Technoculture and Human Relationships

This one is an academic submission — a review of literature — to analyse the effects of technoculture in the new mediated society.

Srirekha Chakravarty

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This literature review follows the critical theory of Simon Cooper who follows in the tradition of Heidegger, to posit that it is possible to say both ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ to technology (Cooper, 2002).

In his book Technoculture and Critical Theory: In the Service of the Machine, Cooper theorizes about the hesitation most of us feel towards technological progress; and the imposing nature of technology in recreating social and cultural meanings.

Cooper theorizes that in technoculture, while we welcome the social and cultural transformation, we may set limits on technological mediation (Cooper, 2002).

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 Introduction:

“New media transforms all culture and cultural theory into an ‘open source.’ This opening up of cultural techniques, conventions, forms, and concepts is ultimately the most promising cultural effect of computerization.”– Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Manovich, 2001)

The urgency and indeed the overbearing nature of new media technology was elucidated to rather controversial reactions by Marshall McLuhan, who set off the futuristic wheels of understanding the irrevocable relationship between man and machine way back in the 1960s. McLuhan’s practical yet paradoxically deterministic approach to technology and indeed his uncanny acceptance of its effects on human society is reflected in the McLuhanism: “The most human thing about us is technology.”  (McLuhan, 1974)[1]

The unprecedented developments in Internet-enabled information and digital communication technologies beginning in the early 2000’s, and the consequent transformation of society deepened the roots of technoculture to organically branch out into digital culture and the more punkish cyberculture.

Theorists who were still wrapping up debates on early technoculture – including the brand professed by McLuhan in the 1960’s and later vilified by Neil Postman in the early 1990’s – found themselves grappling with the way society, culture and technology were radically redefining each other.

Technoculture has been adopted as a construct of the new mediated world since the Internet was opened up for public use in the early 1990’s, and spread its roots wider with digitization of information and communication technology over the past decade. The constantly evolving communications technology is a critical element of that culture, where, as Jean Baudrillard (Baudrillard, 1983) said in the context of the television, “our own body and the whole surrounding universe become a control screen.”

Technoculture refers simultaneously to the cultural dimensions of technology and to the technological dimensions of culture (Vannini, 2009).

Beginning with the 1990s, the confluence of computers and communication technologies where it is no longer about computers or laptops but about information appliances, interaction with technology has become as much about what people feel as it is about what they do (John McCarthy, 2004).

There is healthy interest in academia that is viewing technoculture as a contemporary reality – one that exists in a “continuous state of flux” whose transformations have been driven by human inventions (Kozinets, 2010).

And while some skeptics foresee a world inhabited by cyborgs (Haraway, 1991)enslaved by technology, there are others who see no boundaries between technology and culture in a world of cybernatics, bionics and interactive cyberspace (Gibson, 1984). The debate between technology and culture may then seem outdated because technoculture is seen as a “hybridization” of both (Berger, 1996).

The dynamic relationship between technology and culture then makes it necessary to not only keep up with new communicational vocabulary such as ‘googling’, ‘facebooking’, ‘twittering’, ‘texting’ ‘radio blogging’ ‘gaming’, etc., but also to understand the survivability of traditional local cultures against the forces of technology.

While McLuhan himself was never overtly opposed to a technology infused culture, his protégé, Neil Postman (Postman, 1993) took a critical stance on a culture that was becoming more pervasive than pop culture. This review then is a pertinent exercise in analyzing from a socio-techno-cultural perspective, what it means to live in a digital age; and understanding in that context, whether Neil Postman’s antithetical view that culture always pays a price for technology, (Postman, 1998)[2] really holds out.

Advent of technoculture

The advent of technoculture in human society may be traced back to the evolution of communications from the oral tradition to a written one and later to print, to the current day technological breakthrough with computers and mobile phones with broadband capacity.

Given the historical perspective, “technoculture” would map the technologically saturated worlds of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries (Lovlie, 2006).

 Welcome to technoculture

Taking a somewhat romanticized view, Phillip Vannini and his colleagues (Vannini, 2009) believe technoculture resides in “old docks, in toy stores, in the hobbyist’s toolbox, and in the refrigerator as much as it resides in the cathodes of an electronic tube or in the chips of a personal computer.”

A clinical view suggests that as communities are increasingly finding their common ground in cyberspace rather than on terra firma (Mitchell, 1996),real world communities are more homogenized and becoming part of a ‘big, one-world conversation’ (Robins, 1999).

What William J. Mitchell talks about is a virtual world where humans will exist as ‘disembodied and fragmented subjects, freed from the constraints of physical space’. He declares that the new technologically-mediated world will be a post-geographical world where humans effectively will put an end to the ‘tyranny of distance’.

Mitchell goes so far as to dream up a technocultural utopia of a virtual ‘transparent society’ inhabited by mutually sympathetic persons.

On a more pragmatic note, what is apparently shaping social reality is the idea that technology and culture are no longer mutually exclusive but inseparably linked in a world mediated by Internet and all the devices that allow access to it (Gibson, 1984).

Technoculture – Drivers & Riders

New statistics from the International Telecommunications Union reflect the extent to which the world is mediated by Internet and internet-enabled devices (International Telecommunications Union, 2013). 

There are over 2.4 billion Internet users in the world, and the mobile broadband market is the most dynamic with 2.1 billion subscriptions globally. More telling is ITU’s prediction that there will be 7.3 billion active cell phones in the world by 2014, which is more than the world population (approximately 7 billion).[3]

Thus, in the mediated culture, access to technology is not only narrowing the gap between digital immigrants and digital natives (Prensky, 2001) but also bridging generational divides. To define, digital natives are those that formed their first information literacy skills in the digital world with computers, videos and the Internet; and digital immigrants are those that formed their information literacy skills in the print world (Toledo, 2007).

Typical to the pedagogical orientation of a digital native student would be podcasts, vodcasts (video podcast), webcasts or PowerPoint with audio posted online – loaded into a wiki; supplemented with lectures found in iTunes; eBooks – viewable on handhelds, iPods, laptops – Wikispaces or PBWiki (Toledo, 2007).

Although it runs the risk of painting a futuristic comic book universe, David Silver’s world of technoculture as described in his annotated bibliography (Silver, 1995) is a combination of cyberspace, hyperspace, virtual space; virtual communities, virtual realities, virtual identities; cyborgs, cybernetics, science fiction; spectacles, simulations, simulacra; postcertainties and postmodernity.

Silver’s world is not dystopian though; it’s connected and intricately networked with a variety of fast moving media devices such as smart phones, webcams, TiVo, PDA, HDTV, Blue Ray, phones with cameras, WiFi-enabled wrist watches, radios with Internet, televisions with Internet, cell phones that are no longer just phones but also texting devices, MP3 players, navigational tools, Internet/WiFi enabled for accessing video (Design Education.ca, 2007).

Jurgen Habermas’ Public Sphere (Habermas, 1989) that had become a redundant concept, has since been resurrected to gain momentum on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, MySpace, Web logs (Blogs), Video logs (Vlogs), online forums, chat rooms, email, etc. in the form of social networks (Themightystork, 2009).

Looking at technoculture from a feminists’ viewpoint, Sadie Plant argues in her book ‘Zeroes and Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture’ (Plant, 1997) that the computer is rewriting the old conceptions of man and his world and suggests that the telecom revolution is also a sexual revolution which undermines the fundamental assumptions crucial to patriarchal culture.

Techno-feminism aside, what technoculture has irrevocably transformed are interpersonal relationships and face-to-face interactions.

To understand this phenomenon by sample, a 2012 survey conducted on 2,227 American adults found that 18-24 year olds sent or received an average of 109.5 text messages per day, which works out to be more than 3,200 text messages per month (Drussell, 2012).

In a 2007 European study of 635 participants ages 16-55 year olds, 48.9% reported preferring to use their cell phones for texting over voice calls, and 26.1% reported texting too much. This study also measured levels of loneliness, expressive control, interaction anxiousness, and conversational involvement. Further, 61% of the participants stated that they say things in text that they would not feel comfortable saying face-to-face and 64% stated they feel they are able to express their true feelings best in text messages rather than in face-to-face interactions or voice calls (Drussell, 2012).

Yet another dimension to the psycho-social aspect of online behavior is the increasing use of virtual ‘avatars’ (Cleland, 2008). Owing to interaction through images and screens, the mediated face-to-face encounter is extending, augmenting and even replacing the physical face-to face encounter. Cleland argues that through the “image avatars” the online communicators experience themselves both as physical and virtual, “as their identities migrate from the physical world to photographs, video, the Internet, games consoles, personal computers and mobile phones” (Cleland, 2008).

Critique of Technoculture

Perhaps the most vocal and insightful critiques of technology’s impact on society comes from Neil Postman for whom Technopoly (a society dictated by technology) was a state of culture that eliminates alternatives to itself, making them irrelevant (Postman, 1993).

Aris Mousoutzanis goes a step further to refer to contemporary media culture as ‘technocultural shock’ with psychopathological implications caused by “information overload” and the sense of disruption of time and space (Mousoutzanis, 2010).

But a bigger concern is that of sociologists who see the potential erosion of social values in a technoculture of highly customized and personalized access to entertainment that devices like TiVo and iPods provide. Christine Rosen (Rosen, 2004) warns of the resultant “opportunity costs” that will be felt in an individual’s relationships with families, friends and communities. Rosen also sees an erosion of civility in public space in particular and transformation of social space in general, because people increasingly are “absent present”, i.e. they are physically present, but mentally absent, owing to preoccupation with their own cell phones, iPods, portable DVDs, etc., which allow them to create little digital cocoons for themselves.

Such integrated, multi-tasking machines may be described as in Donna Haraway’s futuristic Cyborg Manifesto (Haraway, 1991) in which she says, our machines are disturbingly lively, and humans frighteningly inert.

Conclusion:

Critiques notwithstanding, it may be accepted that technoculture effectively erases the gap between domains of life and technology. And that in itself is not a bad thing because much as technoculture may seem pervasive and spread across geographies, it is not ubiquitous. Also, no one cultural manifestation of a technoculture is universally acceptable (Green, 2002).

So does technoculture lead to a universal code of human behavior? Perhaps not, because, although technoculture assumes certain universality in its components, how each of those components impacts different cultural groups in different countries, and even within a country is almost as customized as the local culture itself (Green, 2002).

The review finds merit in Kozinets’ argument that if we can accept homo sapiens and homo habilis as tool-makers and innovators, we may well accept that cyberculture is as much a part of human culture as is ‘alphabet culture’, ‘wheel culture’ or ‘electricity culture’ (Kozinets, 2010).

Vannini too chastises deterministic views that see technology as alienating. He says, “Technoculture is about making and remaking; we carve the world with our tools, and then we adapt to having to interact with what we have carved.” (Vannini, 2009)

McLuhan’s prophetic pronouncements about what he called the “electric age” talked of new media technology being an extension of the human nervous system. What he saw as a complete break from five thousand years of mechanical technology, he said was neither a good thing nor a bad thing, because “to do so would be meaningless and arrogant.”  (McLuhan, 1987).[4]

To go back to Simon Cooper’s theoretical arguments that one can stay ambivalent about technology (Cooper, 2002) and its impact on society, it may be concluded that technology and culture are dialectically integrated, and can effectively be mediated to work for contemporary human society.

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Citations:

Baudrillard, J. (1983). The Ecstasy of Communication. The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture . Seattle: Bay Press.

Berger, R. (1996, December 20). Note on Techno. Retrieved August 27, 2013

Cleland, K. (2008). Image Avatars: Self-Other Encounters in a Mediated World. Doctoral Thesis, University of Technology . Sydney, Australia.

Cooper, S. (2002). Technoculture and Critical Theory – In the service of the machine? Routledge.

Design Education.ca. (2007, July 9). Mass Media vs. User-Generated Content. Retrieved July 2013, from Slide Share: http://www.slideshare.net/designeducation/mass-media-vs-usergenerated-content-75856

Drussell, J. (2012). Social Networking and Interpersonal Communication and Conflict Resolution Skills among College Freshmen. Master of Social Work Clinical Research Papers, Paper 21 .

Gibson, W. (1984). Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books.

Green, L. (2002). Communication, Technology and Society. Sage Publications.

Habermas, J. (1989). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere:An Inquiry into a category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge ISBN )-7456-0274-6.

Haraway, D. (1991). A Cyborg Manifesto:Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. New York: Routledge.

International Telecommunications Union. (2013, February 13). Press Release. Retrieved June 2013, from http://www.itu.int/net/pressoffice/press releases/2013/05.aspx#.UdxNhzs3BqU

McCarthy. J. (2004). Technology As Experience. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Robins, K. (1999). Times of the Technoculture: From the Information Society to the Virtual Life. Routledge.

Kozinets, R. V. (2010). Netnography – Doing Ethnographic Research Online. Sage Publications.

Lovlie, L. (2006). Technocultural Education. International Journal of Media, Technology and Lifelong Learning, Vol.2, Issue 1 .

Manovich, L. (2001). The Language of New Media. MIT Press.

McLuhan, M. (1987). Letter to Robert Fulford, 1964. Letters of Marshall McLuhan .

McLuhan, M. (1974). Man and the Future of Organizations.

Mitchell, W. (1996). City of Bits:Space,Place,and the Infobahn. MIT Press.

Mousoutzanis, A. (2010). Cybertrauma and Technocultural Shock in Contemporary Media Culture. In A. M. Riha, New Media and the Politics of Online Communities. Inter-Disciplinary Press, Oxford, UK.

Vannini, P.  (2009). Toward a Technography of Everyday Life:The Methodological Legacy of James W. Carey. Sage Publications.

Plant, S. (1997). Zeroes + Ones. Doubleday Press.

Postman, N. (1998, March 17). Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change. NewTech ’98 . Denver, Colorado, USA.

Postman, N. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books.

Postman, N. (1993). Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Vintage Books.

Prensky, M. (October 2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, MCB University Press, Vol.9 No.5 .

Rosen, C. (2004). The Age of Egocasting. The New Atlantis-Journal of Technology and Society, No.7 .

Silver, D. (1995, December 9). Exploring Technoculture: Computers, Society, Pedagogy. Retrieved June 2013, from Cyberpunk: http://project.cyberpunk.ru/idb/exploring technoculture.html

Designeducation.ca (2007, July 9). Retrieved June 2013, from http://www.slideshare.net/designeducation/mass-media-vs-usergenerated-content-75856

Themightystork. (2009, March 15). What is Technoculture? Retrieved July 2013, from Slide Share: http://www.slideshare.net/Themightystork/mark-2

Toledo, C. A. (2007). Digital Culture: Immigrants and Tourists-Responding to the Natives’ Drumbeat. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Vol.19, No.1 .

 

 

[1] McLuhann Quote: The most human thing about us is our technology.

Man and the future of organizations, Volume 5, School of Business Administration, Georgia State University, 1974, p. 19

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan

 

[2] Neil Postman original quote: “Idea number one is that culture always pays a price for technology.” From Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change, a speech given by Neil Postman at NewTech ’98 in Denver, Colorado, March 17, 1998

 

[3] The current and projected statistics include multiple device usage by existing users; it does not mean the digital divide between developed and under-developed societies will diminish

[4] McLuhan Quote: My main theme is the extension of the nervous system in the electric age, and thus, the complete break with five thousand years of mechanical technology. This I state over and over again. I do not say whether it is a good or bad thing. To do so would be meaningless and arrogant.” Letter to Robert Fulford, 1964. Letters of Marshall McLuhan (1987), p. 300

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan