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Communications Essay 'Does the internet signal the death of broadcast media'

Communications Essay 'Does the internet signal the death of broadcast media'



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Justin Beck 18552439

From 1955-1985 television broadcasting thoroughly dominated mass communications and culture
throughout the western world (David:629). In the 1990\u2019s however a communications medium with a
different architecture was developed. The rapid changes brought by the internet and its network
architecture were heralded by theorists as a \u2018second media age\u2019, and prompted Gilder to declare
\u2018Television is a tool of tyrants\u2026 [Its] overthrow is at hand (Gilder:49)\u2019.
The purpose of this essay is to argue that the broadcast communications architecturesauthority may be
dead, but broadcast itself is far from dead. Instead, broadcast and network architectures have integrated
into a new, multi media environment. To show this I will (1) present the \u2018Second Media Age\u2019 thesis.
Then (2) give reasons for rejecting the second media age thesis, including (3) a (short) case study of
television\u2019s integration into the internet. Before (4) concluding that broadcast and network architectures
share aco n ju n c ti ve relationship.

The \u2018Second Media Age\u2019 thesis holds that the emergence of new communications technologies in the
late 20th century, exemplified by the internet, fundamentally shift the nature of communications, and
therefore the structure of society. The defining feature of this new environment is that communications
occur within an e two r ked architecture. This can be juxtaposed against the previousbroadcast
communications architecture, which is exemplified by television. The orthodox view for social
theorists is that the emergence of networked communications constitutes a communications revolution;
it signals the death of the broadcast era and delivers us into the \u2018network society\u2019. As we can see this
assumes ad isju n ct iv e relationship between network and broadcast communications architectures:

Networked architectures are decentralised; information is sent and received by numerous
interconnected nodes. This allows for a large number of producers of messages and a large number of
receivers of messages. The many speak to the many in a horizontal fashion (Holmes 2005:p10).
Furthermore new communications networks are digitised. That is, information (text, audio, graphics
and video) is sent, stored and received in bits, allowing it to be sent near instantaneously across time
and space, and across media (Barr:p29). Digital communication networks are characterised as
facilitating universality, high levels of interactivity and a more liberal flow of information (Holmes

2005:p10, Levy:p91).

In contrast, broadcast communication architectures are centralised; few producers broadcast
messages \u2018down\u2019 to a large number of receivers. Few speak to the many in a vertical fashion (Holmes
2005:p10). Communication has a hierarchical structure, where many receivers have little power to
speak back to the few with the power to speak. Consequently, broadcast communications are
characterised as master slave architectures, and television as being the catalyst for docile, mass,
consumer society (Gilder:p40, Adorno:1993). Gilder sees \u2018television as squeezing the consciousness of
an entire nation through a few score channels\u2019, having a detrimental effect on freedom, culture and
morality (Gilder:p46). While Adorno argues that television is a culture industry: not only does it create

The Second
Media Age
Justin Beck 18552439
2products (such as image\u2019s) that have potentially unlimited demand, but it indoctrinates the audience
with the prevailing capitalist ideology, manipulating them into a mass of consumers (Adorno1993,
Holmes 2005:p23).

Simplistically we can identify two reasons why Second Media Age theorists argue network
communications, embodied by the internet, eclipse broadcast communications: network renders
broadcast socially obsolete and network renders broadcast technically obsolete. Rheingold (1993),
Negroponte (1995), Poster (1997) and Van Dijk (1999) all argue that digital and networked
communications architectures and new communications technologies have utopian potential.
They provide a virtual community (Rheingold), a mode for strengthening the public sphere and
democracy (Poster), free flow of information (Negroponte), and increased levels of interactivity.

Furthermore, new networked communications media supersede older media technically. Broadcast
media typically send information through scarce low-bandwidth analog channels, severely limiting the
number of production centres and the quality and quantity of information (Gilder:38-40). The internet
and digitalisation on the other hand allow for cheaper, more efficient, higher capacity, two way modes
of communication. In stark contrast to the dystopian picture of a broadcast society described by Adorno
and Gilder, and according to Second Media Age theorists, the network society is a fundamentally better
realisation of the \u2018good society\u2019. It signals the death of the broadcast era.

Despite the fantastic claims of the Second Media Age, there are strong grounds upon which to reject
the thesis. Firstly, we may refute the technical distinction that is made between typical broadcast
technologies (ie television) and the internet. Then secondly, we may cast further doubt on the Second
Media Age thesis by questioning the claim that broadcast and network architectures are mutually
exclusive, instead positing Holmes\u2019 view that they are mutually constitutive.

Marvin warns that \u2018the phenomenon of mass broadcast media lies like a great whale across the terrain
of our intellectual concern (Marvin:p4).\u2019 Indeed it is a mistake to think that any particular electronic
communications medium has a monopoly over, or is restricted to a specific form of communication.
Telephone, print, television and the internet may all potentially be used in a many-to-many (distributed
network), one-to-many (broadcast) or one-to-one fashion. Furthermore, and contrary to Gilders
criticisms, all are capable of using digital technology and high-bandwidth to carry a superior signal.
Cable television is perhaps the best example of how a \u201cbroadcast\u201d technology is capable of two-way
communications. On the other hand, the internet is capable of being a mass medium (Morris:p39). Take
the example of the millions of hotmail members all receiving a generic newsletter email every month,
or the number of internet users who have their homepage set toNine MSN. The technological capacity
of a medium does not solely shape its use. Economic, social and political factors are also important in
determining whether that technology is utilised in a one-way or in an interactive fashion. In the
instance of cable television, the ability it has to send messages both ways, from producer to audience,
and from audience back to producer, is only just being realised. Products like Foxtel digital, where the


the Second Media Age Thesis

Justin Beck 18552439
3user is empowered with the ability to manipulate content are often suppressed because they are not

economically viable, or there is not supervening social necessity1 (Winston: p6, 12). It is simplistic to proclaim the death of particular media, such as television, without examining the political, economic and social conditions underlying its use. As we will show later, television is far from dead and is far from just a broadcast medium.

Holmes (2005) diminishes the broadcast-network distinction even further. He argues that broadcast and
network architectures are mutually constitutive: both are capable of being interactive, both
architectures individuate their audience members, both presuppose the same economic logic and finally
the same content is reproduced across both architectures.

Broadcast can be considered interactive in a number of ways, we readily forget that avenues such as
talk-back radio, letters to the editor, sms competitions and even ratings give audience members
opportunities to talk back to broadcast producers. However audience is interactive in another important
way. Because broadcast can send the same message to a large number of dispersed individuals,
individual audience members can form horizontal bonds between each other based on the shared
meaning they receive. A broadcast is like an invisible meeting. For instance Cathy Freeman\u2019s gold
medal run at Sydney 2000 develops a conscience collective: any individual who watched it may
interact with any other individual on the basis of the shared meaning they received from that event.
Contrary to this however, both network and broadcast architecture have the ability to individuate their
audience andd im in i sh their horizontal bonds. Adorno argues that the centralised flow of information
individuates audience members because they become dependent on the media as a source of cultural
production and abandon their horizontal networks. Likewise new networked media diminishes the need
for face-to-face interaction. We can buy groceries, hand in assignments, do work from home, entertain
ourselves all through networked media. We increasingly withdraw to \u2018techno-shells\u2019, interacting only
with the interface of our PC, mobile phone, discman etc (Holmes 2005:p91). The reproduction and
overlapping of content between broadcast and network architectures is however the most vivid
evidence that the two architectures are not distinct. Nancy Baym\u2019s case study (Baym:p1) of
rec.arts.tv.soaps, an electronic network bulletin board distributed through the internet, shows how
broadcast content, in this case soap opera\u2019s, transcends the broadcast architecture. In her case study, a
soap-opera community depends on broadcast to provide the shared content, and the network to enable
many-to-many speech within the community. Television content interlinking with the internet is
widespread. Television content has spawned millions of websites (Deary:p163). From official
television show sites such as www.bigbrother.com.au, to fan sites such as www.thesopranos.com, to
online journal articles about television, to online discussion forums that directly follow from television
programming such as the Four Corners Forum2. In this way, Holmes argues network architectures are
\u2018parasitic\u2019 on broadcast architectures3 (Holmes 2005:ch4).

1 The shutdown of Napster is an example of how the internets capacity for networked communication
has been suppressed by the commercial interests of record companies.
2h ttp :/ /w w w 2 b . ab c .n et .au /4 co r n er s /f o r u m/d ef au l t.h tm
3 Particularly on the images and icons created by broadcast media.

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