An interesting phenomenon is gaining momentum in the world of media as people begin to use technology to take control of when, where, and how they consume content. Christine Rosen wrote a seminal article “The Age of Egocasting” in The New Atlantis that describes this phenomenon in great detail. Rosen takes the reader through a fascinating journey covering the history of various technological advances such as the TV, remote control, VCR, TiVo, and iPod, and explains how they have now culminated in the capability to create a personal bubble, inside which we as “content consumers” are the sole masters of what we see and hear. Rosen bestowed on this phenomenon the catchy name “Egocasting” and went on to define it as “the thoroughly personalized and extremely narrow pursuit of one’s personal taste, where we exercise an unparalleled degree of control over what we watch and what we hear.”
Although Rosen describes how content consumption patterns are changing, the content being consumed in Rosen’s world is still exclusively produced by the mainstream media (MSM, as it is sometimes called these days). Actually, technology is having a very big impact on the content production side as well, and is giving rise to a new media that may one day be a big powerful rival to the MSM. Before we review the changing power equation, let’s take a quick look at the main sources of power the MSM possesses:
- Production: Producing any type of content—be it books, newspapers, music, movies, videos, television programs, or whatever—is an expensive proposition, requiring a lot of investment.
- Distribution: The channels for distribution—bookstores, video stores, movie theaters, broadcast networks, and the cable and satellite infrastructure—are very expensive to set up and run. The limited amount of shelf space, number of movie theaters, and number of channels available also constrain content distribution.
- Consumption: The convenience of reading a printed book or newspaper, watching TV, or listening to radio ties us to these methods of consumption and, by extension, to their methods of production and distribution as well.
No wonder the MSM gets to decide whose ideas get published—and how, when, and where. Let’s see how egocasting alters the power structure.
Rise of the New Media
With the advent of the internet, it has become easy for almost anyone to create a Web site and publish content on it—making the cost of distribution close to zero. Content need not be just text but can have audio and video elements as well, and can be produced easily using an inexpensive home computer and video camera. This makes the cost of production close to zero as well. As blogs (weblogs) have become popular, even the need to use complex Web publishing tools has disappeared. The blogosphere (collection of all blogs) today is estimated to contain over 34 million blogs, and the number continues to rise. As a consequence, a staggering amount of multimedia content gets produced and distributed. The blogosphere does contain über-blogs like Boing Boing that are highly influential, somewhat like the MSM. However, content producers can, through the use of technologies like search engines and Really Simple Syndication (RSS), reach precisely those consumers who enjoy the type of content they are producing. All this happens without a bit of influence from the MSM or the über-blogs.
Reaching the Favorite Device
Although content production and distribution have become easier, until recently, content had to be consumed using a computer—not necessarily the best device for consumption. Enter new technologies that allow you to send content to your favorite device—podcasting allows you to transfer audio to your iPod (or any other MP3 player); media streaming servers allow you to stream audio and video to your TV from your computer.
Direct from Your Couch to Your Audience
What if we could publish content and distribute directly to the consumer’s favorite device without having to use the internet at all? Enter IPTV from Microsoft, which is being tested by major telephone companies around the world. By using a request/response architecture similar to that of the Web, Microsoft has essentially eliminated the limitation of the fixed number of channels that cable and broadcast have. This means that the cost of owning your channel may become as small as having your own Web site or blog once Microsoft figures out how to patch individual broadcasts into the system. So some day not too far in the future, you could have your own IPTV channel where you are broadcasting your own program from your living room couch for the consumption of your audience. It is not too difficult to imagine IPRadio coming along and making the same thing happen in the audio world.
All of us have heard of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, one of the long-standing theories of human motivation. The self-esteem needs that Maslow describes are clearly fulfilled by egocasting. I think ultimately all technology will evolve to fulfill our self-esteem needs! —Rajagopal Sukumar
Guest author Rajagopal Sukumar lives in Chennai, India and serves as the Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) of a software consulting company that specializes in the global delivery model. You can read his personal blog at www.sastwingees.org.