I’m generally skeptical that any new year will bring mark changes. However, for the first time in many years, I foresee six marked changes in the online publishing will occur this year:
- (1). The most obvious will that verbal bloodshed will erupt between the faction of pundits who believe that the future of news publishing will belong to ‘citizen journalists’ and the faction who believes that readers will still prefer to have professionals investigating and reporting the news. The first sanguined skirmishes have begun (such as this report about ‘Memogate’). A French observer, Bertrand Pecquerie, director of the World Editors Forum in Paris, wisely noted that this schism is an American phenomenon.
It indeed is, one as old as the American republic itself. Thomas Jefferson and his Democrat-Republican Party (which became the Democratic Party in 1836 and is unrelated to the current U.S. President’s Republican Party, which itself was founded in 1856) believed that the American people are capable of guiding themselves. By contrast, Alexander Hamilton and his Federalists Party believed that the People, however noble, are neither wise nor skilled enough to guide themselves and will need educated and professional help. This schism of political philosophies that has been raging in the America for more than 200 years. (One manifestation of it, established as a political compromise between the two philosophies, is the Legislative branch of the U.S. government: a House of Representatives whose members are directly elected by the People and a Senate whose members were, until 1913, wise men appointed by the states’ own legislatures and not by the people themselves.)
The schism between advocates of ‘citizen journalists’ and advocates of professional journalists will deepen and worsen throughout 2005. The din about it in the trade press will also obscure other changes during 2005 that will be even more important. Such as …
(2). The advent of video news search technologies. Most experts at online publishing are beginning to understand the growing importance of news search engines (such Google News, Topix, or, if they are ‘citizen journalists’, Technorati or Feedster). Those index news that is in the form of text or still photos. For the past 30 years, however, most people have gotten their news from television. The technology to index the world’s news, talk show, and entertainment video minute-by-minute in real-time already exist. This year will see the rise of several companies that have developed that technology. These companies will become fairly prominent in the news industry later this year, some might even be purchased by the text search engine companies. By the end of this year, pundits will look back and wonder how everyone could have been happy these past years searching for just news text and news photos.
(3). Likewise, 2005 will begin the ascendency of broadcasters online. The reason is that most people online now have broadband access. For example, somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of U.S. households now have broadband access, and the percentages of U.S. offices that have it is even higher, a combination of percentages that leads many experts to calculate that more than 55 percent of U.S. adults now have broadband access at either home or work. They have access that can bring them news in video format as easily as it can bring them news in text format. As I mentioned above, most people have long prefered to get their news from television, and will now be able to do that online. During the past ten years in the online world, broadcasters were the poor cousins of publishers, due to consumers’ lack of highspeed access. But the world has changed. The new balance favors the broadcasters many of whom now realize this and are pouring money into online endeavors.
(4). As I mentioned in my first prediction above, the topics that get the most din in the trade press rarely are the most important. Podcasting as a means to transmit audio programming received a lot of converage last year, and the chatter about it obscured the steady rise of a more important form of online broadcasting Internet streaming radio.
Podcasting involves producing an audio program in MP3 format that can then be transmitted by RSS delivery into a person’s Apple iPod device (here is a BBC story that gives a fuller explanation). It’s a fun technology that’s getting much chatter by the digerati. A few news organizations are experimenting with it as a means to deliver their radio programs. Apple sold five million iPods since introducing those devices in October 2001 and expects to sell 15 million more this year. Twenty million iPods sounds like a broadcast market, yet how many of those iPod users are technosavvy enough to know about, nonetheless use, Podcasting?
In contrast, 19 million Americans do listen to Internet streaming radio each week, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal. Likewise, compare those 19 million against the 3.4 million who subscribe to satellite radio, another new technology that’s gotten much more publicity than Internet streaming radio has. Some of those 19 million Americans are listening to traditional radio stations streaming programs online, but others are listening thousands of Internet-only broadcasters that have arisen during the past several years.
Internet streaming extends a broadcaster’s reach worldwide, far beyond the range of most traditional broadcasting. Microsoft, HP, Dell, Sony, and other companies this year are selling products and software that bridge Internet broadcasting into home stereos and televisions. Those products and successors will begin to have a profound effect on the broadcasting industry and on how consumers relate to broadcast media.
(5). This year will see the start of broadcasters’ use of swarming downloads.
Regular download technologies let only one person download a file at a time; people must take turns to download that file from its beginning to its end. However, swarming technologies (such as BitTorrent) atomize large files into hundreds or thousands of smaller pieces, so each person can download whatever piece no one else simultaneously is downloading. Moreover, once that piece is downloaded, the swarming technology then offers it to whomever hasn’t yet downloaded it. It’s as if each person downloads that large file sideways, rather than from its beginning to end, eliminating almost any need to take turns downloading it. The result is huge files are downloaded very quickly.
People have used BitTorrent mainly to download music or movie files illegally. But this year some broadcasters are beginning to experiment with using swarming technologies to offer content legally. Those broadcasters are utilizing an imperfection in BitTorrent. It relies on trackers, or dedicated servers, to coordinate the swarming. While the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has been suing BitTorrent tracker sites, these broadcasters are instead starting such sites themselves to offer their own content (for a price).
(6). This year, we’ll see more and more how profitable online publishing division of print media companies will be absorbed into those companies’ print divisions as an accounting method of propping up those print divisions’ flagging revenues. Belo Interactive was an early victim of this unfortunate absorbtion trend.
Part of the parent companies’ rationale for this trend is that the online publishing divisions are using the print divisions’ contents, so the online publishing divisions should be made parts of those print divisions. Call it an unintended consequence of using shovelware. Last spring in Online Journalism Review, I warned of some of the dangers of this for both the print and online divisions.
This will be quite a year for the industry.