Never met an elephant metaphor I didn’t like

Streaming Dreams: YouTube turns pro

Until I read that article, I didn’t know YouTube started with a homemade video of a young man stating the obvious about an elephant. Now a Google-owned and expanding YouTube is the “elephant in the room” for the television industry — the obvious idea that may be too vast or too threatening to talk about, an open market of online media that two-way network connections make possible.

Having spent the last couple of years researching old-time radio programs for, and reflecting on my TV-watching childhood, I keep thinking of the question “What’s on tonight?” as the cornerstone of media empires for 80 years. The question  becomes almost irrelevant when on-demand streaming and digital archives make the answer “everything.”

Clay Shirky’s anti-SOPA/PIPA video last week reminded me that  producers of the television programming I grew up with had a relatively easy job. They didn’t have to produce “the best,” just something a little better than the other two programs being broadcast in that time slot that night. Presto, millions of viewers.

Cable changed that. So did VHS, DVD, Blockbuster and Netflix. Now add the idea of thousands of choice-filled YouTube niche-channels to Internet-enabled big screen TVs, and we have a new trunkloaded media elephant, with new questions about (useful/annoying/intrusive) narrowly targetted advertising, serendipity-seeking algorithyms, social-media promotion and who-knows-what next.

Enough preamble. John Seabrook’s “Annals of Technology” New Yorker piece on the future of video in the age of a Google-owned YouTube, linked above, is fascinating. I hope you have the time and patience to read it.

Part personal profile, part cultural study, part business profile, part geek garage dream, it fills seven pages in The New Yorker (Jan. 16, 2012; pp 24-30). Can I get students to read that much online? Should Seabrook do a YouTube video about it?

There actually is a short audio podcast of him talking about the article, including a good observation on fighting the temptation to shift from “journalism” to “futurism.”

When I hang up this phone and get to a bigger screen later this weekend, I’ll add links to that audio, to Shirky’s video, and to another piece of thinking-big online media serendipity — a Harvard event last fall with Newton Minow, who a half-century ago threw the phrase “vast wasteland” at the TV industry.

Now we have a new vastness to deal with, and it looks like we’re all in the “What’s on?” business.

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.

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