Friday rant: The Internet isn’t broadcasting

Friday rant: The Internet isn’t broadcasting.
Time and again, I run into the mistaken proposition that the Internet is just another form of broadcasting. Sadly, this view is pretty common amongst broadcasters, and it’s what keeps them from entering into a profitable relationship with the Web — something I believe is essential in our digital world.

When I left TV News in 1998 and bought into an Internet startup, I believed as most broadcasters do. Consequently, it was easy to create a business model wherein advertising was the principal revenue stream. It didn’t work. In fact, I believe — in hindsight — that this misunderstanding of the nature of the Web was a key factor in the building of and later collapse of the Internet bubble.

It didn’t work (and doesn’t work), because the Internet serves a master more powerful than the mass market. The laws of reach and frequency don’t work here, because the end user calls all the shots. The individual user is god, and broadcasters are inherently unable to get ahold of that, because their nature is to speak to and influence a captive audience. You cannot “serve ads” to people who don’t want them online, but if you give them some say in those ads, they’ll gladly take part. I don’t know how to say it more clearly than Doc Searls has: There is no market for unsolicited messages. There never has been, and the Internet makes that abundantly clear.

The Internet is an ongoing conversation. You are welcome to enter in and do business, but don’t even think about using your muscle to interrupt the flow, because you’ll soon find yourself uninvited.

This is an oversimplication, but the Internet was created as a way that military communications could continue, even if a part or parts of it were under attack. One of the first acts in war is to assault the enemy’s “command and control” center. With the Internet, there is no command and control center to attack. It’s built like a web, not a hub with spokes. So by the nature of the structure, it is resistent to attempts to command and control it. In fact, as Joe Trippi discovered, you’ll smother anything on the Internet that you try to command and control.

This is the essential problem in transitioning from a business model that works from the top-down (broadcasting) to one that works from the bottom-up (the Internet). Every problem has a solution, and this one does too, but it begins with acceptance and education.

I’m constantly harping at my contemporaries to move and move quickly to a multimedia business model, one that includes actually empowering the people who used to be their captives. There’s a lot of fear there, and that’s understandable. It took me a long time to learn the things I’ve learned, and I’ve paid a personal price for it. I mean, who wants to re-learn the world at age 50? But there really isn’t any other choice, for to engage in denial and rationalization — hope that somehow this will all be proven false and that the business model of a TV station is sound after all — is ultimately suicide.

The Internet isn’t broadcasting, and the truth is it’s actually better. That is the carrot at the end of the stick.


  1. Amen. Now tell it to Comcast. The Service Agreement for their high-speed “100% pure broadband” connection forbids one from serving content. We’re supposed to be passive.

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