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<nettime> Streaming for whom: advertisers or people?
Dimitri Devyatkin on 21 Oct 2000 17:50:02 -0000


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<nettime> Streaming for whom: advertisers or people?


[written for the reader of the http://net.congestion.org amsterdam streaming
media festival]

Streaming for whom: advertisers or people?

Is the best use of streaming media to provide 'stickiness' -- eye candy for
e-commerce sites
or for free speech, low cost distribution of video and audio programming

By Dimitri Devyatkin

Streaming media is a powerful tool for advertising. Commercial operators see
great potential for streaming technology to attract viewers, resulting in a
flood of e-commerce transactions on the Internet. Snag your viewer with a
snazzy, full motion TV-style commercial, like catching a housefly on
flypaper, and then let 'em click on the frame to purchase the item. The most
obnoxious example of commercial streaming I've seen was an interview with
Monica Lewinsky, where the viewer was supposed to click on her necklace, her
sweater, her nail polish or her lipstick, to reveal the price and a glowing
BUY IT button. To have such wondrous technology as streaming media, and
force it to serve only narrow commercial uses, is as irrational as if
Gutenberg's printing press had been designed to print little advertising
flyers... and not the Bible.

The investors of Silicon Valley are like piranhas. They dart around in the
streaming Amazon, attacking bleeding cows that fall into the river in a wild
feeding frenzy. There is a headlong, money-hungry urge on the part of most
Silicon Valley investors, who demand to see profits within two quarters, or
else they draw blood. That makes any honest content production hard to
sustain for most companies, if they can't build a support system in half a
year. At first the piranhas sang 'Content is King!' then began buzzing
'B-2-B' (business-to-business) as the way of the future. Rapacious investors
have already darted on to the next bleeding cow, wireless and WAP.  Such
investors can be a curse -- They devalue real development in favor of show,
tend to be dishonest and promotion driven, and are flimsy support for any
long-term project. Non-commercial prerogatives quickly get postponed when
looking for new shareholders. (Remember 'Its Just Business, Man!'   how the
hippie owners of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream sold out to Unilever for millions
after promoting their green 'egalitarian' brand and 'Save the Rainforests!'
for years.)

Competing with commercial producers on the Net will always be difficult. The
spectacles that the deep-pocketed can display on their sites will always
draw a mass audience. And on the Internet, you are competing with everyone
who has ever put his or her content on the Net, all the time. 'Anyone who is
trying to get an idea out there is competing with these multinational
corporations who are in the ideas business as well, which is why I think the
challenge for the left is so great at this point.' Naomi Klein, from an
interview on IndyMedia.org.

Corporations today use branding, as a step beyond simple product
advertising, to put forward their image as a corporation, independent of the
actual products they sell, sneakers, cigarettes or candy. Brand advertising
threatens culture in general, usurping its place in all media, feeding on
any modern trends. The politics of diversity of the 1980's and 1990's opened
a gold mine of branding for youth, an airbrushed genderless, bisexual,
black-and-white-together fantasyland, like Benetton ads.

Non-threatening Internet - The 'powers that be' do not feel threatened by
the free flowing, uncensored Internet, it seems, because they know the big
established information sources will still feed the overwhelming majority of
users. For example, the top 300 Websites, like Yahoo!, ESPN and E-bay
probably get more visitors than all the 10+ million sites worldwide
combined. Allowing the 2% of progressives to use the Internet seems no
threat, and actually can be thought of as 'letting off steam'  It provides
an outlet for voices that otherwise would be stifled. For what most people
see, try looking up China on Yahoo! You'll only find material acceptable to
the Chinese government. Is that the free speech we can expect from the
future Internet? Soon there'll be Keywords on Microsoft's Internet Explorer
and Netscape. If you enter Books, you'll have one choice -- Amazon.

Advertisers are searching for a claim to life in a future world, where
viewers can zap commercials out of their lives for good. For example, making
a viewer endure the certifiable viewing of a commercial will be part of the
trade-off for watching a program. The viewer can choose when to take the
required dose of commercials, either at the beginning, middle or end of a
program. The commercials embedded in future movies must be played at regular
speed, and cannot be fast-forwarded. Imagine Ford Motors will reward you
with a free Pay-per-View movie, let's say, in exchange for certifiably
watching their 5 minute commercial on the new Mustang and Thunderbird
models. Imagine a toggle on/off switch: watch programs with commercials ON
at no cost, switch the ads OFF and you pay. If rich people can pay a little
extra to avoid advertising, then the audience will end up being people who
can't afford it, not the most desirable audience to the advertisers.

I became interested in streaming media, for the same reason I became
interested in independent media  the potential for something approaching
free speech, with a tremendous reach. It is the dream of Free Speech as
written about by the great American Revolutionary Thomas Paine, who
published hand printed pamphlets in the late 1700's that set the theoretical
basis for declaring independence from Britain. By lowering production and
access costs, the Internet, and specifically streaming technology, could
bring the dream of a true Free Speech environment to life. I fully agree
with Robert McChesney that the issue is The Media, the critical issue of
awareness of the problems confronting us. 'People who are concerned about
human rights issues, issues of social justice, the environment, need to
understand that unless you change the media you never really ultimately are
going to change anything. It's inconceivable that we could have a fair and
just society with our current media system." (Interview on IndyMedia)

Concrete actions: An example of concrete action is to remind governments
that they are entitled to multi-billion dollar payments from commercial
interests blessed with constantly renewed licenses to transmit on choice
frequencies. Look at the recent sale of UMTS wireless frequencies in Germany
for over 50 billion Euros, erasing a third of Germany's national debt. Let's
see the big US broadcasters and telecoms pay their fair share for use of the
public airwaves for the last hundred years now. Advertising expenses should
not be deductible from corporate tax liability. I support groups like
www.AdBusters.org and anti-corporate initiatives, like the prize-winning
www.McSpotlight.com site nailing McDonalds. Ads aimed at children under 12
should be banned, as in many countries already; likewise all policital
advertising and advertising during news broadcast should be eliminated.

Streaming technology breaks down the 'auteur' theory for good, though it is
still seems to lie deep in the subconscious of film and video makers  that
authors have a special say in presenting the information they accumulate.
 In a movie house, audiences actually pay for tickets, sit silently in rows
in a darkened hall and wait for the film to begin. The director is in full
control of the big screen experience.
 On television, the audience more often happens upon the program while
channel surfing, with remote control in hand. Bore them for an instant, and
click, they're gone to another channel. While watching TV, people will
telephone, eat, walk around the room, &c. showing little respect for the TV
program. But at least in TV, a producer gets a few hundred thousand bucks to
make the program and advertisers pay because there might be millions of
viewers on the other end. The author still controls the program, and it all
goes in only one direction.
 On the Internet it is much tougher  The viewer is in control. The best a
creative person can hope to be is a guide or purveyor of information, to
give the visitor to a Website a pass or menu to wander through selected
information  like searching through a database. Information can be conveyed
in many forms, from streaming video or audio, still photos, music, spoken
word, text, &c. The Internet elevates the viewer to interactive participant.
Producers who cannot convey a soulful, sympathetic way of presenting such
menus of choice will not be able to compete in the Internet media world.

----
Dimitri Devyatkin, an American of Russian ancestry, is a video art,
documentary & news producer, with many international broadcasts. A
co-founder of the New York video theatre, 'The Kitchen' in the 1970's, he
now works for an American streaming media company, based in Amsterdam.
E-mail:  dimitrid {AT} xs4all.nl

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