Broadcasters need to hire Geeks

The longer I work in this emerging media world, the more I’m convinced that old media thinkers won’t have a place at the table in the not-too-distant future. David Kirkpatrick at Fortune puts it this way:

The mainstream media–or MSM as the bloggers call it–has a big problem. Innovative software is going to become an essential component for distributing media on the web, but the MSM has little software competence. I agree with Yahoo CEO Terry Semel, who said last week at the Web 2.0 Internet conference in San Francisco: “To be a media company…tech is what you must excel at.”
In a nutshell, Mr. Kirkpatrick has elegantly stated what I’ve been trying to tell local broadcasters for years — that they must get away from turn-key, third-party Internet providers, so that they can bring new technology into their own operating models. You can’t play in the new world unless you understand the technology. Handing that over to third-party providers in the mid-90s was a grave tactical error that cannot be corrected today without a lot of pain. But that’s a small price to pay for a seat at the table.

But even if old media types get the technology, there’s reason to wonder what they’ll do with it. Consider this article from cNet about Verizon’s fiber optic experiments in the creation of interactive TV. What are they experimenting with?

One of the new services currently being tested here is an interactive fantasy sports application that lets viewers compare statistics and keep track of points on their TVs while they’re watching games.

…In the kitchen, for example, someone watching Jamie Oliver’s “The Naked Chef” on The Food Network may want to pull up the recipe on the TV screen as they cook along with the program.

…Verizon believes people will be sharing their photos on their television screens…“People love to share pictures,” (David Philbin, a senior member of Verizon’s technical staff) said. “But no one wants to stand crowded around the PC in the home office to see them. They’d rather be on the couch.”

This is interactive TV? Call me a nut, but if this is the best they can come up with, I won’t be buying any Verizon stock soon.

Philbin noted in the article that Verizon has learned that people want interactivity, but they don’t want to “work for it.” Their research also shows some things are best left to the PC. I completely agree with those findings, but my point is that they are experimenting with ways to “involve” people in passive entertainment, instead of playing with new concepts altogether.

Somewhere in my past, some scholar opined that the Japanese lost in World War II, because all they could do was copy great strategies and tactics. This left them vulnerable to the creative Americans, who weren’t afraid to think outside the box (including, I guess, blowing two entire cities to smithereens). I don’t know if that’s true, but the analogy is appropriate here, because there’s a whole group of extremely talented and creative people (okay, “Geeks”) that would love to get their hands on Verizon’s fiber and create this thing called interactive TV.

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