Webcasting, Streaming, Digital Downloading and Broadcasting
All these terms refer to the same thing: the ability to distribute
media. Until recently, we'd been using TV, Radio broadcasting, CDs
and tapes to distribute our media. The internet has changed all
that: making receiving some music, TV and moveis as easy as sending
People are already doing this in their millions every day, often
to the annoyance of the copyright holders. Rather than talk about
the legal issues, let's focus on what's possible. The more interesting
questions are about what can we build.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to a single principle
- transferring data over the net. Web pages and text were just smaller
files - it was just easier to do that first.
We're familiar with MP3s now. This has massively increased awareness
of how the internet changes media consumption. The increased speed
of internet access ("broadband") in the home, combined
with greatly reduced cost of transmission ("bandwidth")
is leading us toward tangible alternative business and consumption
We are in that period of change.
1) Redefining "Live"
Broadcasting has always been defined by physics - transmission is
limited to territories. Our businesses and laws have evolved to
exploit a territory-based commercial structure for distribution
and profit. Although global, satellite has always been too expensive
to make it worthwhile for all but a small minority of content providers.
Online we can all be broadcasters. Any PC sold in the last
5 years is powerful enough to act as a "transmitter".
For audio ("radio") you don't even need broadband.
After a lot of deliberation, I now use the term Webcasting to encapsulate
any form of live transmission that uses the IP (the Internet
Protocol) as a carrier (which will eventually be everything).
2) Redefining "Demand"
Our product-led "demand" media world is also completely
governed by territory-based rights, just like broadcasting.
But our analog on-demand world also has two distinct stages. The
first is buying/borrowing some hard-media, like a CD. Once we have
it, we have another choice - what hard-media to take out of its
box and place in our CD player. The effort involved in this should
not be under-estimated. It makes us choose what we listen to quite
When we don't want to choose carefully we put on the TV or Radio
- Live Broadcasting is (was) content someone else choose for us.
Now, sitting here with my entire music collection 1-click away,
all my patterns of choice have changed. Quite often I choose "random
play" and rediscover music I've not listened to for ages. If
I get bored I can skip an album with the same effort I used to skip
a track. It's really very different.
If I want to listen to a friends CD or some new music that they
think I might like, they can just e-mail it to me. If I like it
I don't "make a copy", I just don't delete it. If I want
to pay the artist I can sometimes buy the tracks online, otherwise
I'd have to order the CD off Amazon.
But anyone can send me the files, and I can send them to anyone
Online we can all be distributors. Virtually any PC in existence
can act as a distributor - which is why services like Kazaa just
So what do we do with it all?
All the hooha about legal rights is based on territory and technology-based
models that dont fit online. But I said I wasn't going to talk about
Instead, let's look at why we "are where we are": the
legal rights are actually meant to be there to "protect the
people who make a living out of being creative". We are this
"creative industry". We are meant to be being creative
with all these new applications - instead our 8 year-old kids are
just working out what they want and are getting on with it, while
much of the industry tries to protect its old house.
What we can do instead, now the 'net bubble is gone, is focus on
being creative with our industry - taking risks. We can building
direct relationships between our customers and how we finance our
business (or, in more popular jargon "engage with our community").
We can build trust-networks, be completely transparent, not rely
on intermediaries assuming editorial control, be our own channel
with other people that we like - let our audiences decide for themselves
and let them tell us directly.
We have a unique opportunity to listen to and even watch our own
audiences. We need to work out how to engage with them, not isolate
them even further from the creative world that they are buying into
and are an integral part of.
Chairman, International Webcasting Association (Europe)
Feedback to gavin [at] dgen.net
v1.0 Gavin Starks, 1st March 2004