This is the third part in a series of posts on the Internet and journalism. Earlier in the week, I started with “The Internet is for data“. I continued with “Suspension of disbelief is critical to process data“. And today I want to move from talking about ‘data’ in the generic sense to looking at different types of data – written, audio and video.
My conclusion is going to be that the Internet has been a significant disruptor of all three data types. But it’s the level of disruption that matters when thinking about where this is headed. And journalism, being in the first bucket of written data, has been tremendously disrupted.
Data rates used to be the limiting factor
When the Internet age began, it was mostly about text because data transfer speeds were so slow. And even if they were faster, storage capacity was a huge limiting factor.
Back in the mid-1980s, my university, Dartmouth, was a forerunner in getting people wired. And I remember everyone getting a Mac PC and an Intranet connection to be able to send text messages back and forth on our BlitzMail accounts. As I remember it, I had a Mac Plus at first, later upgrading to a Mac SE with something like 20MB of storage capacity before I left school. That’s tiny.
So no INternet and almost no storage. Eventually, by the time I moved on to business school, I got on the Internet. But it was via a dial-up connection, transferring data at 28kbps. It didn’t matter how much storage capacity I had, the only thing the internet was good for was text, some light graphics and small audio file transfers.
When I lived in London after B-school, the world that Kim Maxwell talked about in his book “Residential Broadband” — where people would be connected any- and everywhere at high data rates — seemed almost fantasyland. He talked about 2029 as the date when this dream would be realized. And amazingly, I believe we will beat him to that date, with ubiquitous broadband connections here almost now.
Data size matters
I have participated in this transformation first hand as an employee at an Internet Service Provider, a young executive in a technology company, and as a technology geek consumer. I went from the fully wired intranet system at Dartmouth 30 years ago to a dial-up connection in New York at B-school to DSL in London to Metricom’s wireless internet service Richochet back in New York to FIOS broadband when I moved to the DC area.
And I can tell you data size matters. It matters in terms of data transfer and media streaming speeds. And it also matters in terms of storage capacity.
Text is much less data intensive than audio. But audio is an order of magnitude less data intensive than video. A resume might take up 100 or 200 kilobytes of data, while an mp3 audio song file might take up 4 to 8 megabytes of data. The biggest leap is to video, where a 40 minute video encoded at 720p would take up 2.4 gigabytes.
And as I said in the first post, “suddenly, you are competing with any- and everyone to deliver a service or a good. And unless you offer something tangibly superior, you’re going to have to compete on price.” So the first industries to get ‘disintermediated then were the one’s that depended on text data. Journalism is one of those industries. And without offering something tangibly superior, something with serious non-commodity-like benefits, your company is going to be in trouble in that world.
Only later did that disintermediation move to industries based on audio like the music industry. And now, we are bang in the middle of the video industry disintermediation battle. My view: margins for TV and movies are going to sink even further from here.
In the next post, I will give a few examples of how this disruption by the Internet has taken place, with newspapers, the media and journalism a big part of that discussion.