The internet is about to swallow the television, a development that will change the nature of global media. Soon hundreds of thousands, and eventually hundreds of millions of viewers around the world will be on a path back from being passive couch potatoes into actively engaged citizens again, the way we were before mass media radio and then television arrived in our homes in the 1920’s, nearly a century ago. Here in the early days of YouTube, BitTorrent, Boxee, Mac Mini media centers, Hulu, Google TV, and the iPad, we are on the edge of moving from Web 2.0, the Read/Write and Social Web, to Web 3.0, the Metaverse (MetaverseReoadmap.org), a web development layer that includes TV-quality video, 3D virtual and mirror worlds, augmented reality, and pervasive human-constructed semantic metadata, sensors, and 100Mbps+ wired and wireless broadband. Of all of these, the emergence of Web 3.0 may be defined most clearly by the mass diffusion of NTSC-or-better quality open video to our TVs, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices, video that is based on open source and royalty free standards and technology, and is freely or cheaply sharable, mixable, and improvable, under simple licensing structures. Web 3.0 (true Internet TV) will eventually be followed by Web 4.0 (the Semantic Web), perhaps post 2020, where search, data models, and apps are reorganized around statistical, machine-constructed semantic tags and algorithms (think of Watson, IBM’s machine learning aided search platform), driven by the broad collective use of conversational interfaces. But the open video web seems likely to be the star of the 2010’s, the next stage of web development and the big media story of this decade.
FCC Chairman Newton Minow called TV a “vast wasteland” in 1961, and this comment is nearly as accurate today. But very soon, open source and open standards internet media centers and TVs, interfaced with wafer-thin handheld tablet remotes that look like Apple’s iPad but that run the open Android OS, will allow us to control and watch tens of thousands of web-based video channels on our home TVs and mobile devices. Though some telcos, digital media companies their major advertisers will try to delay this, Web 3.0 will soon deliver a universe of specialty video content that we can easily rate, share, group watch, edit, mash up, and pay for in disaggregated ways, as we desire, giving quality a financial incentive to rise to the top, and greatly expanding diversity for small audiences. We’ll be able to do not just broadcasting but narrowcasting, and create astounding new competitive and cooperative opportunities for video production and marketing.
Industry consortiums like the “Open” IPTV Forum, formed by big TV makers and telcos in March 2007, tell us they are hard at work developing standards for interactive, personalized internet television services. But all they’ve done in three years is create a web platform to deliver more highly DRM-protected content. They don’t empower users or democratize content production, rating, sharing, or editing. Ignore this group and other equally misnamed ventures, like the set-top box maker “Open TV”. In their vision of the future quality video is not increasingly ubiquitous, open, and free, but a scarce resource monetized by the few, and advertisements in our personal space remain out of our control. It’s time for a change.
Look instead to groups like the Open Video Alliance, who are advancing open source, royalty free standards and technology for web video. This movement is funded by companies whose business models revolve around openness, like Google and others, and is presently overseen by independent, user-centric nonprofit foundations, like Mozilla and Creative Commons. The new WebM open video format and free VP8 video compression technology license released last month by Google, Mozilla, and Opera for HTML5 video is a great example of an open video advance. We will need many more such advances in coming years to win this battle, and to gain control, for the first time, of the television and advertising content that streams into our homes, offices, and portable devices.
Once the appropriate Open Video Markup Language (OVML) standards have been developed by a range of civic-minded nonprofit standards organizations and employed on these new open internet television devices, we’ll be able to rate and filter all the video we receive, and share, edit, and remiix all the video that is creative commons licensed. These standards must also aid in indexing and marketizing copyrighted video content that has simple and reasonable royalties, licenses, and limited DRM attached, and do in a way that helps democratize, rather than monopolize content production. We’ll be able to directly and automatically send micropayments to channel aggregators and providers of content, and these providers will make additional money from unobtrusive ads on their web pages, like Google’s Adsense. Every video channel producer will have the option to pay small sharing fees, editing fees and remix fees, a fraction of the video licensing fee, at first to independent content producers, and eventually to Big Studios, the way we can now pay a $0.30 sharing fee per song to download DRM-free music on iTunes from the Big Studios today. These standards will allow us to pay independent editors and producers small fees to watch improved (and often mercifully shorter) movies with better, non-Hollywood beginnings, middles, or endings, to support increasingly factual, community-edited documentaries, and to see “the best” 20 minutes of all kinds of video, with our favorite channel producer’s comments added. We will also be able to watch our favorite NGO’s rating and commentary on every political or business video program that we care about, in streaming captions or sidebars, just as we can with our better sports programs today.
Advertising on Web 3.0 won’t go away, it will just get much more personalized and much less obtrusive. These two advertising trends, personalization and unobtrusivenesss, are inevitable in all future media, and the most foresighted advertisers are already embracing them, not fighting them. Small, lean, Web 3.0 television channel producers will allow us to mute, half mute, or caption all TV commercials during the breaks, and we can like, dislike, or speak back to the companies behind each advertisement by email, as the commercial is playing. We’ll never have to see or hear a commercial from any company, product, or politician that we don’t want to see or hear, ever again, and we can tell them why, and read the anonymized feedback of others who talk back to their TVs in this way. The advertising rates for these less obtrusive, fully personalized commercials will be far less than those in monopolistic corporate media today, at least at first, but more valuable, as the ads will now go only to those who want them, in the way they want them. This ad revenue stream will still support millions of new specialty video news, education, and entertainment content providers. We’ll be able to watch video with our friends, see what they are watching in realtime, and click links within or on the side of our video to find other video, audio, or text on related ideas, as or after we view. We will have our best hour or two of the day’s specialty video content waiting to watch when we get home, and we will know which of our friends also agree with our opinions on video content, and make new friends as we view.
Considering these benefits, we can tentatively imagine that the Web 3.0 video universe will be a great emancipator for all who choose to use it. Web 3.0 is our Declaration of Independence from almost a century of intrusive, mind-numbing, mass market TV programming and ads. We need a media that educates us, enlightens us, empowers and motivates us to take action. We need a media that doesn’t seek to endlessly addict or distract us as its core business model, but rather that can be customized to our needs, not the needs of the corporations. There will be many new forms of fun and new potentials for addiction and insulation in Web 3.0, but if we control the choices, on the whole this will make us more self-responsible and actualized. We need a media that can perpetually remind us that we are the ones who can fix our problems, that we ultimately control our countries, that we deserve representation, transparency, accountability, democracy, innovation, and sustainability.
We can use this greatly improved media to help us address some of our more difficult political and economic challenges as well. Over the last 60 years, America’s rich-poor divide has doubled more than twice. Today, the top 0.1% or 300,000 people, earn as much as the bottom 20%, or 60 million people, and we’ve fallen from green to blue to purple in the U.N.’s GINI coefficient map at right. As economic and political elites have risen and the middle class has hollowed out, our public educational systems have declined in standards and competitiveness, our manufacturing base has been sold out from under us, and democracy and freedom are in decline. The traditional American dream of middle class advancement and opportunity has never been under greater threat. But the web is about to get a lot more intelligent and personalized. As we increasingly use it to advise our consumption, our voices, and our votes, I am convinced that will be the critical difference that restores the balance.
Some big U.S. media companies and their shills will try to distract us from the early versions of these open source devices, and will keep trying to sell us their pretty but vacuous walled gardens, but we will soon have a choice. The more we choose to watch, rate, and share on open Web 3.0 media devices, the more we return to the old ways of learning, thinking and discussing our media with online friends, rather than being passively entertained, the cheaper, more personalized, and more user-centric Old Media must become. They can only delay our victory, they cannot win.
The powerful few who control politics, economics, and media in this country are about to lose control of one of these tools—the corporate media cartel. Reforming the media will help us reform these other pillars of society in turn. 21st century Americans will soon be able to get their education not from our failed schools, but directly from each other, over a video enabled and increasingly intelligent web.
This is nothing less than a revolution, and we can all play our part in it by asking “Where’s the Choice?,” by saying, like Howard Beale in Network, 1976, “We’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,” by cancelling our cable programming until it plays by our rules, by choosing to use Web 3.0, and by opening our eyes.