Christian Sandvig

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Topic: Networked Television Beyond Television Networks: The Policy Problems of Internet Video Distribution

We are in an exciting transitional moment for anyone interested in television—such as the 98.9% of Americans who watch it. Despite larger screens, new formats, digital broadcasts, and a variety of alternative platforms and technologies, the audience for network television is in decline (dropping 10% last year). Yet screen time with video remains strong, it is just increasingly on a device fed by (or occasionally replaced by) computation and served by the Internet in some form. Consider only one example of this Internet encroachment: Web-based video watched on a computer (Hulu, YouTube). About half of all Internet users in the US have tried it, nearly 1 in 6 adults watch on a daily or weekly basis, and almost 1 in 3 young people do. As of December, more than 1 in 6 searches performed on the Internet are seeking video, almost all on YouTube. Other Internet encroachments and combinations abound, with varying success so far (Netflix/360, AppleTV, Mobile TV, and so on).

Attention in media research and informatics has focused on this transition as promising decentralized cultural production and daring changes in the form of video content even beyond dancing puppies and laughing babies. Despite this enthusiasm for decentralization, in distribution and structure the “mass” media remain, although the mass may be a different one. Specifically, the necessity for expensive Content Delivery Networks implies that “The New Television” must be advertising-supported and driven by remarkably invasive profiling technology (cf. the Phorm scandal). At the same time, the structure of persistent Internet bottlenecks in North America suggest a new landscape of widespread video gatekeeping, viewer monitoring, and censorship that is quite opposite the expectations of many users.

The normative problems and social goals related to media also endure, but industrial and technological transitions in video distribution are stealthily renegotiating long-stable social commitments about them. This talk analyzes these problems by reconsidering our normative vs. empirical understandings of the concentration of attention.  These shifts have the potential to transform how society organizes news, entertainment, education, and culture on “the first screen”—the manifestation of media technology that most people in the world spend the most time with.