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Media Censorship and the Internet…

Posted by bryan on February 21, 2008 in Cloud Computing, E-Business with No Comments

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English: A map showing the level of Internet c...

Media Censorship by Country – Image via Wikipedia

Two things that may not necessarily play so well together: Media Censorship and the Internet (more specifically, the World Wide Web).


It is kind of shocking when you think about what type of content is readily available nowadays to men & women, boys & girls, children of all ages.


I’ve had the good… or… lets just say, fortune, of having grown up and lived out my formative years in the 80s and early 90s. This was a period where for the first time, widespread satellite distribution meant you get basically an entire continent’s TV programming (and eventually the most significant programs of the whole globe) live at your fingertips. Not exactly on-demand, but here the syndication concept tested in the 70s really saw a market boom, and through re-run programs broadcast at off hours, you could eventually find what you were looking for, if you were patient.


This was also a period when music came to the TV in a big way. Through the Music Video, the industry found a whole new outlet for “creatively” reaching their desired audiences. The Music industry enjoyed its newfound home with TV, and exploited their stay accordingly through MTV, creating a legion of fans and followers through a lot of hype, some moderately elaborate sets, and a few teen heart-throbs. All this created a cycle of watch-shop-buy, share with friends, repeat consuming which would last over a decade and fuel one massively over-sized market. For all intents and purposes this was an ecosystem, without the eco… buyers being the real pawns as the industry went through storage format after storage format (from vynil to 8-track to cassettes to CDs, all within the span of a little over a decade); each time requiring the “hip and with it consumer” to go out and re-purchase their entire collection on the new format I might add.

Then, something happened. Napster, a small decentralized Peer-to-Peer music location and file sharing service created by Shawn Fanning – while still a student at Northeastern University in Boston – came along and changed the Music industry forever. The major studios and record labels reeled in horror as they saw digital, copyright-bypassing music distribution take off. People finally began to realize that music transcends formats, studios, labels, venues, albums or even the artists themselves. Music was an idea, an idea that could be shared with others, but still retained by the sharing party. It always had been, but somewhere in between the days where outdoor concerts were the only way to perform music for an audience, and the creation of storage media, this concept was forgotten. As society woke up, the concept empowered the masses, and… well… the masses went a little Black Monday on the industry. Sales dropped faster than a speeding bullet, and the executive types tried anything and everything they possibly could (i.e. lawsuits for everyone, from Jane & Joe customer to application developers to internet service providers) just to retain market share and hold on to their “golden hen“.


Now that wasn’t just a walk down memory lane, this case study of what happens when one industry that relies on a particular media of delivery to maintain its (captive) customer bases and operating margins, converges into another media that can’t possibly sustain such disproportionate cost-expense ratios, is a cautionary tale for the TV and Movie industries.


Looking now at the convergence that is clearly taking place between TV and the Internet, it seems all too clear what is inevitably bound to happen. History WILL repeat itself, and the powers that be realize this. They are already scrambling in advance, in attempts to prevent the same kind of loss of control on customers’ mind-share (and pocket-books). Efforts like Hulu, the co-opting of BitTorrent and continued attacks on Net Neutrality are just the most obvious examples.


In alot of ways we (Children of the 80s) were THE Video Generation… It was all around us. Parents would often plop their kids down on a sofa in front of the boob tube with a stack of Disney videos, Saturday Morning cartoons, or Nickelodeon… all in good faith that their child would:


A. Be entertained (in which case they would almost certainly shut up & keep quiet for an hour or so)

B. Be educated (in which case they were improving themselves, so nothing to worry about)

C. In the very least have some pretty moving pictures to look at (see result of part A)


Meanwhile, toddlers nowadays are said to be the Internet or Information Generation. What was previously controllable by the same powers-that-be that have your pocket-book close at mind, is, thanks to push-button publishing, now completely and utterly beyond control. Adult and Mature programming is readily available in all corners of the web, and as adult content filters to the top of search results (maybe not the top 10, but have you checked the top 50 lately) it has never been easier to find either.


Parents can no longer sit their children in front of “the box of our day”, and be assured that their children will be entertained, educated or be able to nicely and safely kill time… instead they must be concerned that their children will not be “shocked”, “seduced” or “recruited for a cult” as this article from MediaWeek reminds us, even TV still has its problems.


But far beyond Dexter there is a plethora of much more offensive and shocking material becoming available at children’s finger tips. This is a harsh reminder that in fact, perhaps we do need the facilitators of content to provide at least some level of self-censorship to the content that they facilitate. Case in point, kids today can go to YouTube and within seconds command the power of the over 3.5 million questionable “Booty Shaking or Webcam Dance” videos, for which the online video provider gained infamy in its early growth stages. They can also find at least another few million odd videos which include the word F@%K.


So, perhaps it is not enough to leave censorship up to the individual… and what we need are a set of technical and/or legal guidelines that more strictly regulate the publishing of content on the web. A solid ratings system built on existing open standards such as ICRA or SafeSurf for the internet could go a long way, as could browser-based Parental Controls. In addition, it would seem that the successful studio of the future is not just the one that is most accountable when things go wrong, but the one that is best structured to ensure things go right, and that content is pushed through their pipessustainably, without offending the masses.

We at BC$ are constantly considering such issues as we develop our content recommendation and recognition technologies, and we are working on a future that can create a truly fair ecosystem in this new digital market place.