Toward the Knowledge Portal: Public Broadcasting and University Continuing Education in the Internet Age

By Vedro, Steven R. | Technos: Quarterly for Education and Technology, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Toward the Knowledge Portal: Public Broadcasting and University Continuing Education in the Internet Age


Vedro, Steven R., Technos: Quarterly for Education and Technology


DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY CONVERGENCE IS RADICALLY UNDERMINING ALL ASPECTS OF THE INFORMATION AND ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRIES. IT IS ALREADY FORCING PUBLIC TELEVISION TO REEVALUATE ITS BUSINESS PRACTICES IN THE LIGHT OF COMPETITION AT EVERY STAGE FROM PRODUCTION TO DELIVERY. THESE SAME FORCES WILL SOON CONFRONT ALL ASPECTS OF CLASSROOM AND CONTINUING EDUCATION. MEDIA-BASED EDUCATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS, LIKE THEIR PUBLIC TELEVISION COUNTERPARTS, MUST BEGIN TO RETHINK THEIR PLACE IN THE KNOWLEDGE MARKETPLACE, MOVING FROM MONOPOLY PROVIDERS OF SCARCE CONTENT TO ARBITERS OF INFORMATION ABUNDANCE, CHANGING FROM SINGLE-CHANNEL, ONE-WAY "BROADCASTERS," TO INTERACTIVE, CUSTOMER-DRIVEN "KNOWLEDGE PORTALS."

Driven by cheaper, faster, and ever-smarter technology elements throughout the media supply chain, the blending of television and computing is moving inevitably forward. Even more important, these technology advances are changing the economics and intellectual property relations between producers, distributors, audiences, and marketers of information-based entertainment and knowledge. Nowhere are these changes so evident than on the emerging commercial Internet.

THE IMPACT OF DIGITAL CONVERGENCE ON THE INFORMATION MARKETPLACE

Low-cost cameras, PC-based recording and editing hardware, and the incredible drop in digital memory costs have made it easy for anyone to be a music or video producer. The emergence of standards for video compression and decoding has made it possible to transport digital video, music, and multimedia over the Internet (and soon wireless systems) to desktop PCs and a new generation of low-cost portable receivers.

These changes in production and reception economics, combined with equally rapid expansion of the capacity of the Internet backbone and its "last-mile" local connections to the home and business, are creating a truly mass market for individualized media content delivered on demand, and at lower and lower cost.

These technologies are also changing the relationship between content providers and their suppliers and customers. On the Internet, downloaded music on demand is already threatening the recording industry and its retailers. MPEG-3 (MP3) file swaps have moved from the world of college dorms and record bootleggers to the mainstream. Do-it-yourself CD kiosks will soon be as common as self-service gasoline stations. Video-on-demand services, made possible by low-cost storage and broadband Internet distribution, are also beginning to change the nature of broadcasting from "media push" to customer-controlled "media pull." New searching and indexing tools, combined with "tapeless VCRs" (such as Replay TV and Tivo), are making it easier for viewers to create their own personalized TV channels, while TV viewing itself continues to decline and fragment as more and more viewers move to the more engaging interactive environment of the Internet.

The explosion in content providers and the resulting increase in competition and audience fragmentation, the erosion of localism as telecommunications makes distance a non-issue, and the growing importance of user-controlled and user-defined programming, are forcing a reinvention of commercial media. Hundred-plus channel cable and satellite television service is eroding the security of the local broadcaster, whose entire franchise was based on spectrum scarcity and a 60-mile transmission radius. The television market will continue to expand and fracture as high-speed cable and DSL-modem connections make Web-based video broadcasting technically feasible, and as advertisers shift their attention to smaller and smaller audience segments.

These same forces are also converging on public service broadcasters and on media-based university distance and continuing education programs. Public stations are finding that their signal is no longer the only choice in town. Audiences are being drawn away -- to cable competitors, to other public broadcasters imported by cable or satellite, and even more important, to the Internet.

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