Sunday, May 17, 2009 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Cutting the (Video) Cord: Two Excellent Washington Post Articles

As part of our ongoing series that tracks the gradual transition of video content to the boob tube to online outlets, I want to draw everyone's attention to two excellent articles in today's Washington Post about this trend. One is by Paul Fahri ("Click, Change: The Traditional Tube Is Getting Squeezed Out of the Picture") and the other by Monica Hesse ("Web Series Are Coming Into A Prime Time of Their Own"). I love the way Paul opens his piece with a look forward at how many of us will be explaining the "old days" of TV viewing to our grand kids:

Sit down, kids, and let Grandpa tell you about something we used to call "watching television."

Why, back when, we had to tune to something called a "channel" to see our favorite programs. And we couldn't take the television set with us; we had to go see it!

Ah, those were simpler times.

Oh, sure, we had some technology we thought was pretty fancy then, too, like your TiVo and your cable and your satellite, which gave us a few hundred "channels" of TV at a time. Imagine that -- just a few hundred! And we had to pay for it every month! Isn't the past quaint, children?

Well, it all started to change around aught-eight, or maybe '09, for sure. That's when you no longer needed a television to watch all the television you could ever want.

Yes, I still remember it like it was yesterday . . .

Too true. Anyway, Paul goes on to document how some folks have already completely made the jump to an online-online TV existence and are doing just fine, although the idea of us all gathering around the tube to share common experiences may be a causality of the migration to smaller screens, he notes.

Monica's piece documents the rise of independent online television shows and notes:

The shows don't look exactly like the traditional television series we're used to, but if you're willing to adapt to the medium you might discover something surprising: You can become a very satisfied television addict without ever straying from your laptop. When done right, the experience can be more intimate, more creative and more personal than you ever expected.

She then discusses the growth of online series such as "The Guild," "Gemini Division," and "Sorority Forever," which features the Jessica Rose (aka "Lonely Girl15"), who was instrumental in getting the online video TV series trend off the ground. Of course, the viewing numbers for online shows still pale in comparison to major network or cable shows, but that could change in the future.

Again, to reiterate a point we have made here many times before, what makes all this so interesting from a policy perspective is the way media law remain stuck in a time warp, or what I have referred to as a jurisprudential Twilight Zone: Identical words and images are being regulated in completely different ways depending on the medium of transmission. As I noted in an earlier essay in this series:

The video marketplace is changing rapidly. Meanwhile, however, back in the surreal regulatory la-la land of Washington, DC, it remains business as usual. As Brian Anderson and I point out in our new book, A Manifesto for Media Freedom, policymakers are still trying applying a host of unique regulations to "old media" providers, including: various censorship rules, educational programming mandates, special campaign finance advertising laws, must carry regs, media ownership caps, broadcast "localism" requirements and various other "public interest" obligations, and much more.

And yet, online video remains (thankfully) completely unregulated. Will that last? Or will the worst regulation of old television era gradually creep over into new video realms? That's something I am increasingly concerned about; the dawn of what I call "convergence-era content regulation."

Get ready. A regulatory war awaits.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 11:24 AM | Cutting the Video Cord , Mass Media