The other day I was surfing the web and stumbled on a post to an American political blog talking about how Jon Stewart had really let Cliff May have it about torture. There was an embedded player with the full interview and since they had only played snippets from it the night before on The Daily Show, I decided to watch.
There was a slight problem with my plan, though. Seeing as I live in Canada, the clip wasn’t available to me. I had to find it on the Comedy Network website instead, which I did a few minutes later. While spending a few extra seconds to see a piece of mainstream TV on the internet really isn’t important enough on its own to write about, it does bring up larger issues.
In order to offer an alternative to people posting clips and in some cases entire shows on YouTube, many corporate broadcasters in the states have decided to start streaming shows themselves on their own sites or places like Hulu. This seems like quite a logical solution: if you don’t want people posting your stuff, just do it yourself.
It sounds good so far. If you want to watch something independent, non-corporate and underground, you can. If you want to watch something commercial, you can as well, you just may have to sit through a few pre-roll commercials.
Unfortunately corporate broadcasters are treating this new medium (new for them, at least) the same way they do regular television, at least when it comes to rights. The company that has the exclusive rights to air a show in a particular country also has exclusive streaming rights for that country as well. It’s kind of like the simultaneous signal substitution law applied to the web.
This doesn’t help Canadian artists and producers, in fact it hurts them. The setup protects the rights of Canadian media companies to make money (or not make money, as the case may very well be) by airing American content while doing nothing to encourage local production.
Imagine if there were no restrictions and you could access the American web content anywhere. Companies like CTV GlobeMedia would be forced to put more money into their own productions as this would be the only material they would be able to offer exclusively on the web.
The internet has the potential to change how the TV biz works by getting rid of the idea of territory. Instead of content creators selling their work to various outlets and each outlet holding exclusive rights for their area, the content producers would either become their own outlet with a global audience or else join up with other outlets that are all global broadcasters (or rather webcasters).
This will lead and already is leading to more content being produced and more voices being heard globally. This will put the spotlight more on local creation as local media outlets won’t be relying on imported content because everyone can get that imported content from the source already.
Independent media like Democracy Now! and on a much smaller scale us here at Forget The Box have the right idea. Not surprisingly, big corporate media doesn’t get it yet or maybe doesn’t want to get it. Hopefully they won’t roll back the openness in media that the internet has fostered and force their model on the rest of us.
If they don’t and independent voices prevail, the media giants will have two choices: get with the program or fade away and leave place for other more grassroots media projects to continue to shine.