John McCann

Archive for February, 2007|Monthly archive page


In Mediamorphosis on February 28, 2007 at 5:45 pm

Ten years ago, Roger Fidler wrote Mediamorphosis: Understanding the New Media, (Pine Forge Press, 1997) and I started using it in my lectures about the upcoming media changes in the 21st century. Early in the book, he offers a definition of mediamorphosis:

“Mediamorphosis is a unified way of thinking about the technological evolution of communication media. By studying the communications system as a whole, we will see that new media do not arise spontaneously and independently — they emerge gradually from the metamorphosis

Wikipedia defines metamorphosis as a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching.

I thought of the mediamorphosis concept as I was writing my previous post about traditional media entering the Participation Age. I will explain this concept in this post.

Fidler derives his metamorphosis principle from three concepts: coevolution, convergence and complexity.

“All forms of communication are tightly woven into the fabric of the human communication system and cannot exist independently from one another in our culture. As each new form emerges and develops, it influences, over time and to varying degrees, the development of every other existing form. Coevolution and coexistence, rather than sequential evolution and replacement, have been the norm.”

Existing forms of media evolve when a new form enters, and each form is operating in an ecosystem where its evolution is dependent on the evolution of those around it. History indicates that the old and the new will coexist, rather than the old one dying. For example, AM radio coevolved with television in the post World War II era, and then again when FM came onto the scene to take most of the music audience.

“Convergence: a crossing of paths or marriage, which results in the transformation of each converging entity, as well as the creation of new entities. The forms of media that exist today are the result of innumerable small-scale convergences that have occurred frequently throughout time.”

I think of media convergence as one format borrowing what works from another media format. It was natural for a television station to develop a website that contained some of its video segments. We are seeing convergence today in this area as newspapers offer their own video segments on their websites.

“When external pressures are applied and new innovations are introduced, each form of communication is affected by an intrinsic self-organizing process that spontaneously occurs within the system. Just as species evolve for better survival in a changing environment, so do forms of communication and established media.

According to Fidler, this process is the essence of mediamorphosis.

Notice that he is talking about the interplay between forms of communication and media enterprises. Ten years ago or so, the Internet introduced emailing a new form of communication. I can go to one of my local newspapers website and arrange for it to automatically send stories I am interested in to my email address.

Instant messaging (IM) and short messaging (SM) is a new form for most of the population and we are seeing traditional media companies using them to distribute their information, e.g., ESPN sending sports scores to cell phones. This is the convergence of a form of person-to-person communication with a mass medium. From a mass media firm’s perspective, the emergence of IM and SM were a change in its environment and it had to evolve.


Traditional media enter the Participation Age

In Long Tail, Television on February 26, 2007 at 5:16 pm

It is now clear that the traditional media have joined the Participation Age by adopting the same tools originally deployed by amateurs: blogs, podcast, vidcasts, social networks, etc. This participation was highlighted by a headline in the Wall Street Journal on February 13: “MTV to Lay Off 250 in Digital Shift.”

“Viacom Inc.’s MTV Networks plans to lay off 250 employees this week, in an effort to realign its work force away from its traditional television business in favor of higher-growth digital media.”

I read this article shortly after examining the Top Podcasts list in the iTunes Store: almost all of the top 20 podcasts come from the traditional media such as ESPN, NPR and the other television networks. This means that podcasts from the traditional media are in the fat part of the long tail distribution, which is to be expected for branded material produced by professionals.

As the MTV’s of the world have shifted part of their efforts to the domains that were originally the province of the amateurs, it appears that those amateurs are going to be in the long tail. But it could be a “fat” long tail, as indicated by a recent press release from Verizon:

“PRESS RELEASE — NEW YORK, Feb. 22 /PRNewswire/ — Verizon FiOS TV and consumer broadband customers will soon have easy access to premium user-generated video content from Revver (, the first marketplace for viral videos. Revver content will launch on Verizon’s Surround broadband entertainment portal by the end of the first quarter and on FiOS TV later this year, and it will be free to Verizon FiOS TV and broadband subscribers.”

Verizon is a big company but is not thought of as a traditional media company. As Verizon grows its broadband TV system, it provides a venue for talented amateurs to gain distribution that could move them closer to the fat part of the long tail.

A similar venue is being offered by the New York Times, perhaps the epitome of traditional media:

“PRESS RELEASE — announced today that couples who submit announcements to the Weddings/Celebrations pages of The New York Times will be able to submit their own How We Met homemade videos to Never before has featured user-generated content in a video format.”

It is clear that the New York Times has joined the Participation Age, as has the Associated Press:

“PRESS RELEASE — NEW YORK — The Associated Press and announced Friday that they have agreed to an innovative initiative designed to bring citizen content into AP newsgathering, and to explore ways to involve NowPublic’s on-the-ground network of news contributors in AP’s breaking news coverage., based in Vancouver, is the world’s largest participatory news network with more than 60,000 contributors from 140 countries.”

Participatory news networks are likely to become a bigger part of our future, either as readers or news gatherers.

I write it; you own it; that’s not right

In Content business on February 23, 2007 at 1:33 pm

A recent post by Terry Heaton delves into the issues behind the attempts by Google to convince the TV networks, and other copyright holders, to put their content on YouTube. According to Heaton, this situation is part of a bigger cultural and legal issue.

“There is more at stake in this battle than meets the eye, for the very nature of contemporary copyright law is what’s being challenged. It’s a touchpoint between the controlled distribution of modernism and the shared distribution of postmodernism, and I don’t think anybody really knows where it’s all heading.

I do know that the whole concept of copyright needs to be reexamined by lawmakers, because the public interest is not served by current law. Content creators aren’t served by it either, only the copyright holders — the elite and tightly-controlled world of music, film, video, print and artistic publishers — is benefited, and this artificial government only has itself to blame for its current conundrum.”

The concept of “shared distribution of postmoderism” refers to the distribution of content by multiple parties, not just the party who owns the content’s copyright. On one level, shared distribution does not seem to be the correct process unless the copyright holder agrees. That is clearly the way it has worked in most countries for a long time. As the record companies often say, without controlled distribution the artists will not get paid.

Heaton’s second point deals with this position; the content authors (the artists, writers, etc.) do not own the copyrights and thus may not benefit from distribution controlled by the copyright holder.

I am very supportive of this position because of my previous experiences. I wrote my first academic article while I was a PhD student at Purdue University and was elated when the article was accepted for publication by the leading journal in my field. My elation was reduced when I read the form that I had to sign; it required me to assign the article’s copyright to the journal. I had to give up all rights to the article, and even had to get the journal’s permission to hand out copies of the article to my students. This infuriated me because I had worked for over a year on the article and the journal had done nothing, absolutely nothing, to create the content.

I was told by my colleagues that I had no option. If I wanted to succeed in the academic world, I had to publish articles in leading journals, all of which required me to give up the copyright. I learned that it was even worse in some academic fields in which it was common practice for the author of the paper to pay the journal to publish it. Every time that I published an article or a book, I cringed when the dreaded copyright form arrived.

IMHO … no, make that IMAO (In My Angry Opinion), the content business is broken and needs fixing. So I applaud attempts by Google and others to design and implement a better model.

Father of Participant TV

In Television on February 22, 2007 at 3:16 pm

An AP story by Frazier Moore documents efforts by the broadcast networks to offer their content on the Web.

“But, even with all the new content, viewers weren’t content to just sit and watch. This year marked the coming-of-age for participant TV. Or, expressed another way, the YouTube Age.”

In yesterday’s lecture, I talked about the evolution of viewers from passive to active. At one point, we talked about the days prior to the invention of the remote control, which was a time when changing channels was only done with some thought because it required someone to get up and turn the dial on the TV set. The first form of participation came with the remote control … simply changing channels at will is clearly a form of participation.

Just this week, Robert Adler, the inventor of the remote control, passed away. CNet’s headline tells it all: “‘Father of the clicker’ dies at 93.” I prefer to think of him as the “father of participant TV.”