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JAMCO Online International Symposium

22nd JAMCO Online International Symposium

March to December, 2014

The Internet and TV Stations in the Asia-Pacific Region

[Discussant 1] The Direction of Television in the Internet Age
– Understanding the Current Circumstances in Asia in the Context of Media Theory –

Koichi Kobayashi
Professor Emeritus, Tokyo University

1. Introduction

As commercial television broadcasting began in the United States in 1941, we can say that it took more than 70 years for television to become engrained in our lives and for "the age of television" or "the age of video images" to become an "epoch" in the history of human communication. Recently however, triggered by diverse and fast-paced innovations in the Internet and related technology areas, it seems that cataclysmic changes are occurring in none other than the world of television. In this essay I would like to outline the global trends in the transformation of television, which appears to be undergoing a paradigm shift, and in this context review the reports from Asian countries we received in this Web symposium.


2. Internet: Revolutionizing the Distribution of Knowledge

Before going into the main theme of this essay I would like to confirm one point, which is what makes the Internet epoch-making from the standpoint of media history. There are two main points that should be addressed with regard to this question:

  1. The Internet enables and facilitates a wide range of new types of communication activities that were not previously possible.
  2. The Internet is pressuring existing communication activities (businesses) to change while bringing about new possibilities (which may present new threats and challenges to existing players).

The above two aspects should be considered separately.

To understand the first groundbreaking aspect, one should reflect on cases such as Wikipedia through which a completely new type of intellectual collaboration is producing information property that did not previously exist, or the role of various forms of social media that are enabling people to come together in unprecedented ways and inspiring new information transmitting activities and social movements. It is undeniable that the Internet is generating culture (intellectual content) and communication relationships that are unique to the Internet.

However, for the purpose of the main subject, we must consider the second groundbreaking aspect, which is the characteristic of the Internet as a medium that promotes the reconfiguration of existing communication activities and the information materials that are generated from these activities, rather than a medium that creates new culture and communication relationships. I would like to explain this point in some detail.
Since the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press, various information and communication technologies that have been incorporated in our communication activities have formed a consistent system unique to the medium from the production of information property (upstream) through the distribution (midstream) to consumption (downstream), which contributed to the creation of an original culture. For instance, publishing culture has a system that progresses from the publisher the reader, movie culture has a system that goes from the film studio through the movie theater to the audience, and broadcasting travels through a system that goes from the broadcasting station through the transmission network to the audience (receiver device).

However, the (second) groundbreaking aspect of the Internet is somewhat different from existing media technologies in that it becomes an intellectual platform. In other words, it is a space where various cultural activities that have flourished on individual media systems in the past can move beyond the vertical structures and intersect in every direction. From another perspective, newspapers, movies and television can be enjoyed on any kind of device that is connected to the Internet.

New and old players who are pursuing new possibilities on the Internet platform are taking on new challenges to take the culture that has been nurtured through individual media and bring it to the new distribution system of the Internet for redistribution (resale) and further expansion or reconfiguration to create new and increased added value.

In such an environment, existing newspaper companies and publishers are moving to e-newspapers and e-books while new players in various cultural fields are competing with existing media powers in the same playing field and in some cases devising new business models.

In recent years, the world of television (video services) is facing structural changes against the backdrop of the following trends:

  1. Broadbandization of the Internet
  2. Innovation in streaming technology
  3. Accumulation (server) technology that realize dramatic cost reductions

At this point, we should confirm an important fact, which is that the penetration of the Internet will not immediately or in the foreseeable future negate the mass media culture established in the 20th century, including the culture of films, publishing, newspaper journalism and broadcasting. It is true that some established newspaper companies are facing financial collapse (which is a prominent trend in the United States) but that does not mean that the role of journalism (and journalists) is being denied. Similarly, although it has been pointed out that people are increasingly turning away from television, they still have a strong liking of television (or TV-like) culture. Therefore, the question that is being posed at the moment is who will take on the task of vitalizing and revitalizing traditional forms of intellectual content such as films, publishing, newspaper journalism and television culture with the advent of the vast platform of the Internet.


What Kind of Changes is the Internet Bringing to Television?

Next, what kind of structural changes and forms of "activation and reactivation" is the television media experiencing amid the expansion of the Internet?

With respect to this question, we should first look at the television (as well as video) reception environment surrounding the viewers, who are positioned at the downstream of the system. The most remarkable evolution here can be summarized as the "TV Anytime" and "TV Anywhere" environment.

Last May, the online edition of the New York Times carried an article with the headline "Viewers Start to Embrace Television on Demand."*1 The article explained that in the beginning, partly due to miscalculations by cable providers and television networks as well as technical restraints, video-on-demand (VOD) services only had a limited number of attractive content on offer and from a business standpoint only added secondary value, but recently, a wide selection of prime-time television programs that have recently been aired have been added to the service lineup and user support is increasing, causing a qualitative shift in VOD services. Another fact that was mentioned in this article that is interesting from the standpoint of the main subject of this essay is that users are starting to move away from recording programs and shifting to cloud-format video services.

Now, if we look back on the history of changes in television viewing styles in this context, we can see that it was entirely a culmination of efforts to find ways to expand the VOD environment using the power of communication technology.
Needless to say, broadcasting was a medium that imposed strict restrictions on users regarding the time and place the services were to be enjoyed, and services could only be received "here and now (hic et nunc)." In other words, viewers had to adhere to "the programming" that was predetermined by the sender and follow a given timeline. Looking back on the situation, we realize that the diffusion of recording devices in the latter half of the 20th century was the first paradigm shift in broadcasting media history and a groundbreaking event that marked the start of the expanding environment for "TV Anytime," which continues to this day.

On the other hand, if we look back on the evolution of "TV Anywhere," we can see that it can be traced back to the shift "from one television for every home to one television for every room (every person)." Today, as the Internet and the wide variety of digital devices that can be connected to it becomes engrained in our everyday lives, it is becoming possible to receive broadcast (or broadcast-type) services without being tied to a single broadcast resource starting point (broadcast wave receiving antenna installation points / cable television & connector installation points). Come to think of it, broadcasting was initially aimed at "expanding from one broadcast resource starting point to an entire area = broadcasting" but the "area" is now becoming markedly more detailed and multilayered.

Through the process described above, television in the Internet age has realized the aim of satisfying viewer needs as much as possible in a new dimension by providing services "anytime, anywhere and on various devices (without being limited to specific receiving devices)," which are the characteristics of VOD that had been progressing gradually until now.

In response to these changes in the downstream environment (on the level of the viewers), in the midstream, there is increased activity related to new business opportunities that promote the multidimensional distribution of television (video) culture, namely,

  1. live transmission of television through the Internet,
  2. on-demand transmission of already aired programs and other video resources (such as services including Hulu and Netflix that are becoming popular in the US),
  3. cable television companies providing services that allow subscribers to view programs on devices other than TV sets (so-called "TV Anywhere"),
  4. major players whose origins are in the Internet such as Amazon, Apple and YouTube participating in television (video) distribution businesses.

I should also point out as a backdrop to the expansion of such activities the fact that the strong media regulations that have controlled the broadcasting industry over the years do not apply to the Internet with the exception of basic principles and issues related to copyrights.

The last issue I would like to point out with regard to television and the Internet is the relationship between television viewing and contact with "new media," which were thought to be in an adversarial relationship until recently. Today, for example, by communicating through Twitter, viewers become excited about viewing sports programs and live events on television.

Such phenomena give rise to the hope that the two can coexist and complement one another. The case of Voice TV in Thailand that was mentioned in the report by Sasiphan Bilmanoch is an example of this but there should be many similar cases in other Asian countries as well.


4. Understanding the Present Situation in Asia

As we have seen, the structural changes that the Internet is bringing to television media on a global scale is certainly progressing in Asia as well, as we have seen from the reports from various countries in this online symposium. Now I will consider the reports from each country as well as additional data to paint a picture of the situation in Asia.

There are several portal sites around the world providing television services through the Internet using the streaming method, but one of the more substantial sites I believe is "SQUID TV" (http://watch.squidtv.net/). An attempt to understand the whole picture of Internet television from the wide array of Internet television services on this site categorized by region (Africa, America, Asia, Europe, Mid East, Oceania) would have to be made at another opportunity, but if I were to summarize the present state of Internet television in Asian countries based on this portal site and the reports made at this symposium, I would say, "An advanced Internet television environment is being established, despite the existence of a digital divide." But what does this mean? I would like to describe the situation in more detail based on the circumstances in Cambodia, which can be learned from the portal site mentioned above and which was not discussed in the symposium.

According to the global (fixed line) broadband diffusion rate ranking compiled by a private Japanese company based on data from ITU, Cambodia has a low ranking of 150th out of 189 surveyed countries.*2 However, according to "SQUID TV," many television stations including major television stations in the country are conducting simultaneous live transmissions and transmissions of previously aired programs through the Internet. In fact, streaming from stations such as TVK, BayonTV, TV3, TV5, SEA TV, ApsaraTV, TV9, CTV9 and Mekong TV can be viewed in Japan as well. Moreover, Mekong TV, in addition to providing its own channel, operates an Internet television portal site (http://www.mekongtv.net/) through which viewers can access the channels TVK, BayonTV, TV3, TV5, SEATV, ApsaraTV and CTV9 and view programs previously aired by these stations. In addition, by registering as a member (which people can do from Japan), people can use VOD services.

However, if we consider the previously mentioned broadband diffusion rate in Cambodia and other data, the only people who can enjoy such an Internet television environment are economically advantaged people who live in the capital city Phnom Penh. In other words, it is an advanced media environment that only exists on one side of the divide.

The fact that "an advanced Internet television environment is being established, despite the existence of a digital divide," I believe, is due to the following circumstances. One is a phenomenon that is often seen in technology transfers in developing countries. When a country belatedly introduces a technical system, it often adopts the system that is the most advanced at that point in time. As a result, it reaches standards that are equal to advanced countries in a relatively short period of time. This was seen, for example, in the 1980s when developing countries introducing wire telephone networks skipped over the crossbar switching system and went directly to electronic automatic exchange systems, or in the 1990s when they established mobile communications networks before wire telephone networks that require more initial investment. The introduction of Internet television in Asia could be seen as a similar case.


5. Future Prospects and Challenges

Lastly, I will list the prospects and challenges of Internet television in Asia.

  1. First, with respect to the broadband environment in each country, it can be expected that wireless-based infrastructure will expand supported by smartphone demand, in addition to fixed line-based infrastructure. But the rate of expansion will depend on the economic measures and ICT measures of each country and the disparity between countries may expand.

  2. As the report from South Korea at the online symposium demonstrated and as seen in most advanced countries, when the broadband population of a country reaches a market size that surpasses a given threshold, and industries involved in the production of contents (intellectual property) gain power, stakeholders will become more eager to protect their intellectual property rights, giving momentum to a move to "correct" the previously lax contents distribution order – using none other than digital technology.
    From the point of view of the end user, such a situation may be seen as "constricted" and a "regression" in the move toward an environment where people can enjoy video culture. However, as can be seen from the "fair use" policy that was established in the late 20th century, a "copyright order principle for the digital age" that satisfies both the rights holder and the user has not yet been established. There is a need for such a new order to be established on a global scale in the near future.

  3. We don’t know how long it will take or whether such a situation will actually develop, but we should also pay attention to what kind of a relationship will be established between the new video culture that was enabled by the Internet – the kind that is spreading via YouTube for example – and the 20th century video culture based on television.



Notes:

  1. "Viewers Start to Embrace Television on Demand," New York Times Online, May 26, 2013. *1

  2. http://www.globalnote.jp/post-1748.html – The English version can be accessed by registering as a free member. *2

Koichi Kobayashi

Professor Emeritus, Tokyo University

Born in 1942, he graduated from Waseda University School of Humanities and Social Sciences (Sociology) and finished doctoral program without dissertation at Waseda University (Sociology) in 1975. He worked as a researcher at RITE (Research Institute of Telecommunications and Economics) and as a professor at Seijo University, Tokyo University, Toyo University and Waseda University. His field of research includes information society, information media and cultural sociology.

Past Symposiums

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