If Content is King, Context is its Crown

One of the major projects at the Resaearch Department that I am heading (at the National Library of Sweden) is EUscreen – a beta version of this televisual heritage portal is up and running at euscreen.eu. One of the subtask attached to this project is establishing an academic journal, all likely in association with Critical Studies in Television. I have promised to write a piece for the very first issue to appear next year, and the other day I submitted a first draft of an article entitled “If Content is King, Context is its Crown”. The quote in the title is taken from Eric Schmidt’s recent MacTaggart lecture in Edinburgh, and, if the future of television is located online, Google is naturally bound to have an interest. In short, the article tries to reflect on new tele-computational structures, modes and search modalities in relation to digital media collections online (as euscreen.eu), and the ways that ‘context of data’ might differ and alternate at major media sites as, for example, YouTube. The article starts as follows:

Some people truly believe that “the Internet is fundamental to the future of TV”. Be that as it may; given the convergence of televisual and net based interactivity, similar software and hardware screens—or even program formats for that matter—such a claim could, naturally, be regarded as merely stating the obvious. But if delivered by Eric Schmidt, former CEO at Google, it somehow makes a difference. As a television industry outsider, in late August 2011 Schmidt presented “a hard-hitting MacTaggart address to TV broadcasters in Edinburgh”, according to the contextual description accompanying the video of the filmed event on YouTube. As the first non-broadcaster to deliver the MacTaggart lecture in 35 years, Schmidt’s talk on Google’s ‘small tube business’ has been widely debated, and is, indeed, interesting on many levels. Centered on viewers ability to mix web and television content on TV screens via a Google Chrome browser (on a PC, Android smart phone or tablet), it can arguably be perceived as one of the more intriguing speeches in recent years on upgraded forms of television and computational mode(l)s to come.

If the default value of ‘digital TV’ has shifted towards online, executives within the industry—like in other media sectors—are, nevertheless, still trying hard to think about, and try to come up with viable commercial and public service strategies for ‘old media’. The stakes are high, and as a web tech insider, Schmidt’s take is, of course, different, literally suggesting new ways of looking. So, even if seen as “a CompSci guy in the world of telly”, as one commentator put it on YouTube, his talk is nevertheless illustrative for a shift of perspective, accentuating a web centric view of the televisual landscape, notably with various forms of catch-up and on-demand TV services like the hugely popular BBC iPlayer. From a Google perspective with its clear cut mission (and commercial strategy) to attract as many users as possible, Schmidt was crystal clear in his talk about the company’s absolute commitment to its Google TV launch during 2012, as well as a strait forward acceptance that TV “is clearly winning the competition for attention”. Despite the hype in recent years around new media in general and the video vortex online in particular, global viewing patterns for traditional forms of television still outnumber web usage. All digerati knows this; lack of attending eyeballs remains a problematic, not the least financially since online advertisement is akin to follow the decreased formula of trading ‘analog dollar into digital dimes’. In the UK alone, for example, adults spend more time watching television in four days then they do using the web in a month. However, according to Schmidt, “you ignore the Internet at your peril. The Internet is fundamental to the future of Television for one simple reason: because it’s what people want. Technologically, the Internet is a platform for things that traditional TV cannot support. It makes TV more personal, more participative, more pertinent.”