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The Age of Media Transformation

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The media in general, especially the broadcasting industry has been moving rapidly in the last few decades from the times of War when the whole family gathered around a wireless radio to hear the latest news, or having access to a limited number of books and newspapers. Few years later there was TV but limited number of channels and programs, again not having any choice but to watch whatever the broadcasters throw at them. To the current day, that every person in a family consumes media on their own time, they choose what they want to watch and when they do so. 2006-7 report to the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee stated that “We are in the midst of a transformation in the way that viewers and listeners access and consume media content.

The move from analogue to digital broadcasting, the growth of broadband access to the internet, and the development of new platforms such as mobile TV are all giving consumers a far greater choice over what they watch and listen or read, or when and where they do so. As a result, whole new markets are opening up for creators and broadcasters and this is empowering consumers who are no longer forced to accept the narrow range of offerings of a limited number of broadcasters at a particular time “(2006-7 report). This essay will discuss how those digitization contents have enabled us to have access, from E-books, newspapers, to music and videos. Much of the focus will mainly be on the Internet and its contents, but first, a general discussion.

Today we take digital media contents for guaranteed, which include text, graphics, audio and video. There is no doubt that digitization of these contents have changed the way we consume media, from reading the news papers, watching TV, videos, listening to music and socializing online. The choice of contents for the consumers has increased tremendously in the last few years, from their living room TV set, personal computer to the smart phones. We spent more time than ever before using our mobile phones these days to socialize and communicate online. The reason is thought to be the flexibility of new smart phones that allowing us to multitask.

For example we can make a phone call while surfing the Internet, and it is getting ever more popular, especially amongst the young people. Ofcom’s research found that “among 16-24 year olds, almost a third (29 per cent) of their media activity is simultaneous, compared to just over one eighth (12 per cent) for people aged over 55. Consumers are now generally using a single device-typically their mobile phone for more than one type of media and communication use; there has also been a surge in smart phone ownership-up 81 per cent from 7.2 million users in May 2009 to 12.8 million in May 2010” (Ofcom).

We can see this increase in our everyday life observation, for example in the tube, train, bus etc. Anywhere we can see people using their mobile phone to surf the Internet, chat online, watch videos or indeed listen to their favorite music. However, more and more people using their smart phones to socialize online. Facebook is one of the major social networking sites with the applications available for users to download on their phone and use it wherever they go. A recent study from Ofcom shows that “social networking counts for nearly quarter of all time spent on the internet and the average Facebook users spent 6.5 hours on the site in May 2010. Facebook is also popular mobile Internet site in terms of time spent online in December 2009”.

A recent report from BBC (click) program showed that new mobiles coming to market have a dedicated button for Facebook so the users can directly be connected to their social networking site by pressing a button. So how have this affected our life? These digital worlds have allowed us to connect with friends and family around the world and exchange ideas, opinions, upload photos or videos of dramatic events and let other users to see, hear or watch those immediately. Hence we have a real time updates, social networking sits and the internet have allowed users to communicate freely, form their own groups and express their opinions, in many cases it has lead to bringing down of governments as we have seen such events take place recently from the Middle East to North Africa, BBC, Sky and CNN have reported that all these people involved in uprising formed group and communicated via internet.

Internet have changed the way we communicate and keeping in touch with friends and family. So how has it affected the way we consume other media products? I will look into music and film in a due course but first; I like to look into the printed media such as newspapers, books and magazines. Speaking of personal experience and those I have seen around me, the conventional way of going to shop and buying a newspaper or magazine is disappearing for many reasons. First, all the news and current affairs that a newspapers contains is already available on the web, sometimes we hear those news before it has been published on the papers through social networking sites. Secondly, the Internet is making it easier to have access and brows through different sites at our convenient time.

For example we can read the papers online when the shops are closed, or we do not have to read only one paper we can browse through different sites and get different views and prospective. Same reason for book readers, e- books make it easier for the consumer to take it with them and read it on the go. For instance, the new Amazon Kindles contain hundreds if not thousands of books in a very small device that weights half a physical book perhaps. Of course it would be ideal for consumer to have all of their books in one small device then to have a library of books in their house, which they cannot take it with them or not be accessible when he/she is not present. Therefore, it is clear that Internet has provided more variety to the consumers so what about the creators?

Internet has not only allowed us to have access to information and share power. Sharing power in this article means having access to variety of contents (if we look back hundreds of years ago who had power? Of course the answer is those who had access to book/knowledge) and those choices have increased dramatically in just a few years. The move from analogue platforms has allowed the number of terrestrial channels to rise from just five to dozens while digital cable and satellite channels offer hundreds more.

This has not only increased the choice for consumers, but I think that this increase has affected the overall variety of programs being shown as each channel trying to win some portion of those viewers. However, while the TV choice offers hundreds of channels the online world will offer a virtually unlimited numbers. As the consumer turn into internet we see the major players in the industry turning into internet as well to keep their audience, just in last few years we have witnessed the launching of dedicated sites such as BBC iPlayer, ITV player, channel 4- 4od etc.

Some of the elements that drive consumers towards the Internet are a wide range of titles that they can choose from. Whether it is listening to music, watch video, films or documentaries, the fast speed of broadband for downloading digitized contents allow users to have a constant access. Digitization of films also means a better quality, for example; a film can be downloaded more than a thousand times and it will not affect the quality of the video but if it was to be analogue i.e in tapes or cassettes there is a strong possibility that the quality for viewing might be affected. The growth of computer processing power and perhaps the most important element, computers greater storage capacity is other reasons why consumers choose the Internet.

The storage capacity of computer allows us to store hundreds and thousands of hours of music and videos, if we compare this to a physical cassette, tapes, CD or DVD then we will have to fill up a room to have the same amount of media choice. Digitised contents also make it easier for the consumer to browse amongst many titles and find their favourites. Yet it also allows us to carry all of them in a small device such as iPod, iPhone, iPad etc. The fast downloading speed of Internet allows us to get instant access to films, videos, music etc and watch them whenever and wherever we choose to do so. Other drivers include price reductions in high speed broadband, comparing to few years ago when Internet was in its early years with a dial up connection it was very slow and more expensive. Now some providers such as virgin media offer broadband at the speed of up to 50Gb. Improved functionality and increased interconnectivity in both PC and internet is thought to be yet another reason in driving more people towards internet.

This is all good news for consumers so how about the creators, musicians, artists and writers? We can look at this issue in two different prospective. First, the artists who is beginning their career and want their work to be published they can do so. For example a musician or a film maker can upload their work on YouTube or Vimeo and get thousands of viewers and make themselves known, without them having to sign contract with recording companies or indeed with the giant corporations.

The interactive sites also allows viewers to post their comments and thoughts, hence it is a good feedback for the creator to figure out what his/her audience wants, what they like or dislike, the creators are also able to have a better understanding of his/her audience in terms geographical location, age group and gender of his/her audience.

The 2006-7 report to the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee stated, “The genre in which recent growth has been especially striking is user-generated content on the Internet. The last two years have witnessed an explosion in the amount of audio, video and written material posted on websites such as YouTube, MySpace, and Flickr. Google told us that there are 65,000 videos uploaded to YouTube every day and a blog is created every second”. This means more variety for consumers and more freedom for the creators, so what does it mean for the big companies?

Although the digitisation may improve the sales of some products as the consumers get easy access to a wide range of titles to choose from such aslovefilm.com or iTunes, they may also lose revenue through illegal downloads and file sharing sites i.e pirate bay or lime wire etc.

The move from analogue to digital has increased the choice for consumers over the contents of what they want to watch. Yet the Internet offers unlimited contents from books, newspapers, magazines, music and videos, and even greater control for the consumers of what, when and where they want to access such contents, having access to all these information have empowered consumers. This empowerment have resulted in many revolution or uprising in recent years, it is all because Internet allows consumers to have access to information, and accessing information means accessing power.

Internet has also opened up a whole new market for the creators to express themselves. Although the Internet and its digitized contents making it easier for consumers to select from a number of titles, at the same time the companies could benefit from it too, yet they may lose revenue from illegal downloads. However, the legislation is thought to be complicated around this issue and we are in early years of this technology to define who will benefit from this technology. But one thing is for sure that consumers have far greater choice of variety of contents than ever before as a result of Internet. We read, hear and watch from people that may have not been possible otherwise.

Khan Mohammad Hussaini is a London-based Afghan writer and activist.

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