Internet vs TV

Date: 17th December 2009

Web TV: the media revolution!

The television-set is the most widespread appliance in the world. People are so used to listen and watch everything on TV that during the years they developed a sort of feeling with this device: they trust it almost without any doubt. But another media is gaining the scenes and it announces to be very powerful: it is the Internet a huge multimedia container where people may interact and spread ideas. What will the future of information distribution be?

What you get from TV

The TV is a domestic appliance, a hypnotising box that anyone watches passively and may only select the channel to view. Most of the time you are not satisfied of what you are watching: it does not match your needs or mood of the moment, for example. When you come home after a heavy working day, you usually relax watching some TV and all you get is some boring quizzes, movies that you do not like and a lot of commercials. The situations are endless, but it is difficult that TV shows what you want when you want. However,

you continue zapping until you are watching unconnected flashing images, but the idea of turning the TV off never crosses your mind.

This is the hypnotising power of the bright box; it comes from the association between pictures in motion and audio. These ingredients give to people the illusion of being part of another reality, perhaps more thrilling than theirs. The step from this state of unconsciousness to believing in what you are watching on TV is short. According to the interests of people, there are various kinds of channels and they can be subdivided according to the subject (theme) they refer to.

The result is that TV offers a wide list of theme channels available 24/7. They are most about news, documentaries, music, porn, sports, cartoons and movies. So a lot of new contents are distributed all over the world giving to people a huge range of programmes to select. Television is still the most trusted device by people and of course it is widespread all over the world too.

Watching TV
Picture from the movie "Poltergeist" (1982)

A different approach to information: the Internet

The introduction of a faster Internet was a real communication breakthrough because it paved the way to the creation of the most famous video site of the world: YouTube. This has been a great step in communication technology because anyone can become a video maker and a producer with only a web-cam or a mobile phone, then YouTube does the rest and makes you visible to the whole world. The cases of people that have become famous in this way are a lot. This Internet site has changed the idea of making TV forever, so that it can be called kaleidoscopic television.

Before, television and fame were only for few privileged people, now they are for all. The limit is that if you have a video uploaded on YouTube, you can be more famous than a superstar. Both YouTube and television spread more or less the same content, but to produce a video for the Internet is less expensive than broadcasting a TV programme. Moreover from October 2008 it is possible to upload also high quality videos on YouTube, even in HD. A big step, because it opens the doors to professionals.

It is a sign of changing the case of the movie "Home". This is the first big professional work to be shown on YouTube, instead of a big cinema hall with press, photographers and celebrities. Now anyone can be the star of its own video creations and can share anything with the whole world. The Internet has become a new medium of video information, which was exclusive property of television only a few years ago.

We can see from picture n.1 that the Internet is not so spread as we can imagine. The causes are multiple:

  1. The digital divide among the before-PC generation and the after-PC generation: to surf the Internet you need a PC, which requires more skills than a TV appliance, but not all the people learnt how to interact with a machine by mouse or keyboard.
  2. In some countries like China the Web is controlled and regulated: the goverment prohibits to express an opinion on blogs and the access to a lot of other sites is denied.
  3. In India, for example, the users are so scarce because there is not a diffuse culture about PC: the majority of people has more important needs to satisfy as to feed themselves. However this country has a very complex society so that someone says that it lies in three different centuries.
  4. The aerial broadcasting requires less investments than a cable dependent infrastructure one like the Internet.
I do not want to go further with this list, but these points give a clear idea of the main hindrances for Internet development.
Differences: psycho-impact and infrastructure

To have a rough idea of the power of television, it is enough to look at picture n.2: almost all the people who owns a house have at least one TV appliance inside. Televisions surround us: think about when you go to a shopping centre, a pub, a bar or a restaurant. If we are willing to quantify the power of the two media, we can compare the two pictures laying one next to the other and the difference between TV and the Internet is self-evident.

Let's make an example to show the impact of this difference on reality. If you publish the following piece of news on the home page of the most viewed site of the web: Red Team won the soccer championship and you broadcast on TV another piece of news like this: Blue Team won the soccer championship. Except for what is the truth. Who do you think people trust? Also without looking at the two pictures above you should know the answer.

The Internet is still far from being a close competitor of aerial broadcasting for both technical and economic reasons. At present the two media co-exist with borders roughly defined:

  • They have different devices: Internet needs a computer and skills to use it, but you have to wait for a lot of seconds to be operative; with a television, information bombs you from the instant you switch the appliance on.
  • The infrastructures are different: aerial broadcasting has seen lots of investments brought by big companies with advertisements, so the technology of transmission is very powerful and spread anywhere. The phone cable instead, has been relegated to the same use until the Internet came, but 56 Kbps are not enough to transmit audio and video at high speed. Only broadband can make the difference and a large quantity of people cannot still access to it (picture n.3).
  • Television shows more refined content than the Internet does: a normal TV, or a Full HD one, can reproduce frames at higher definition than YouTube; moreover lots of videos on the Web are homemade so they are low quality. Now with High Quality (HQ) YouTube things are changing, but it is impossible to have a clean stream with a slow connection, even if the video is low quality. This is the biggest gap to fill: until broadband is not the standard Internet connection, television will be the first media content distributor.

The actual scenario

Looking at the Internet in these terms you would say that there are no chances to make business with a Web-TV, but that is not true. The population interested to the Web is growing and foreseeing new opportunities, many TV and radio channels started to add on their site a podcast section, or even a TV section. There are also hardier sites that started a real television on the web, they stream contents 24/7 or at particular hours of the day. The themes of these Web-TV's are endless and you can find lots of them at this site

The advertising industry is recognising the growing power of the WebTV. Some videos have a few seconds of sponsor before starting, in others a little banner appears over. This is a sign that money are coming to the Internet. The Information Technology industry has perceived it and new kinds of devices have been built: media-centres, and set-top-boxes which link to the World Wide Web (WWW). These electronic products stay in the middle between a computer and a television: they are useful to watch Web contents on TV sitting on a comfortable couch. This is possible thanks to video compression: MPG, AVI, DVX, XVID, and MP4 are not new names for anyone.

The phone companies do not stop at staring and they offer to their clients various kinds of TV packets. To watch them antennas are not needed on the contrary of satellite-TV and Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB). So new terms like Video on Demand (VOD), IPTV and P2P-TV are spreading. A lot of Web-sites offer video streaming on request, some even for free, this means that you can watch what you want (through a contents list) without having an hard disk to store your favourite videos.

All that I mentioned above supports my initial thesis of co-existence with rough boundaries: the Internet is becoming a close competitor of TV broadcasting, infact you can surf the Internet also with a TV now. At this point we must answer another question where broadband is already present, how could the Internet be really competitive with aerial broadcasting? The Internet is already winning the battle there, because it ensures a wider range of interactive services and is made by the people and for the people, except for some control measures adopted by the politics of some countries.

The discussions about different thoughts, like the comments on YouTube, are a powerful and horrible aspect for someone. Because the TV broadcaster decides what you must see and no one shows comments about this or that programme. Only the statistical audience is assumed as judge, but it is a sum of mere cold numbers. On the Internet things are really different: on YouTube the uploaded videos are commented, so people can exchange opinions about anything. Most are the cases where the discussions deal with different arguments than what the video shows.

The drivers of future information

The big companies study how society evolves and they have already noticed people's desire of confronting their own opinions. Investors are pouring a lot of money on the Internet, but they are still cautious: they are investing where they are sure to have an income in the short time. No one is risking in long time investments, this because there are no adequate infrastructures, but to build new infrastructures needs money.

A company will invest only if it is sure to pay back the capital used plus a gain that the entrepreneurs consider reasonable. This is the reason why the investments in broadband Internet, like optic fibres or ADSL, reach only those cities where they guarantee an adequate money return. Moreover where television broadcasters and Internet providers occupy a monopolist position, they will prevent to other possible competitors to join a business of millions of euros (the case of how WiMax disappeared in Italy is an example).

Despite this, the war for a new kind of media diffusion has begun and it has both economic and social implications. It is too soon to sing a new song "Internet kills the video stars", but to have a Web-TV is so easy and so cheap that anyone can afford it. New competitors can face on the scene and the big broadcasting companies know it. Now people still prefer being bombed by a television without doing anything, but the "Broadcast Yourself" power is spreading and it is going to change our life. What about a brand new "Live your Web"?

Data resources and tools:

  • Cia World Factbook 2009
  • (to create charts)

Creative Commons LicenseThis article is written by Ruben Lino Villa and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.