Rebel TV

What if you could make television shows on your desktop and send them out over the Internet? We are about to find out if I understand the upshot of a new software tool based on BitTorrent. The tool set is called Broadcast Machine. It was released by an outfit called the Participatory Culture Foundation.. That foundation is either related to or spun off from Downhill Battle, which describes itself as “a non-profit organization working to break the major label monopoly of the record industry and put control back in the hands of musicians and fans.” Regretfully, I have just revealed everything I know about these topics. But do bear with me while I explain why I’m blown away by the potential behind this — and what I am sure are similar efforts as yet unknown to me. My first media job in 1975 was running a closed circuit television and radio station aboard a U.S. Navy ship in the Pacific Fleet. I was an enlisted man. My television station was, for its time, a marvel of miniaturization. But that meant videotapes — most of the programs I broadcast came in this format — were inch-thick reels. The live camera I used to do news broadcasts weighed about 90 pounds and was literally bolted to the bulkhead (aka “wall”). A control panel routed the various video inputs through coaxial cables to 15 or 20 television sets in the enlisted and officer quarters that reached our ship’s crew of 350.

How we got television programming in the middle of the Pacific was a marvel in the pre-Blockbuster-NetFlix-satellite-television era. Our ship would pull up alongside another ship that had come from port with our mail and other supplies, including those one-inch videotapes. The ships would come alongside, about 100 feet apart as I recall, and rig the equivalent of steel clotheslines between each other. They would then cruise along at the same precise speeds, passing stuff back and forth. The Navy calls this process underway replenishment. It’s quite a sight to behold. Anyway, all the crew cared about was getting football games and other sporting events, which arrived two or three or four weeks late, on videotape. I could never understand the fascination. They already knew the score. But I had my biggest audiences during games (talk about market research — I could leave the station while the hour-long tape was running itself, walk through the berthing quarters and literally count noses!) Given this I-used-to-walk-ten-miles-through-the-snow perspective, you can understand my amazement at the ease of production and delivery. On the other hand, given that I’ve witnessed one slice of the demographic glued to the tube, watching beefy brutes tackle one another in a contest whose outcome was already known, I question how much of today’s civilian audience is hungry for alternative content — and, if so, how all this guerilla content will be paid for. Before I forget, I learned about Broadcast Machine through, which is somehow involved in all this new-fangled TV stuff. I signed up for their email newsletter because I found their writing bright, tight and informative, as exemplified by the following segment that ended their report on the BM announcement: “The question is,” said, “will Broadcast Machine users want to support “non-corporate creativity and political engagement” and other substantial non-infringing fair uses, or simply to download the latest hit television programs? No doubt the corporate copyright lawyers are already sharpening their quills in anticipation.” (P.S. I’ll be camping until Tuesday or Wednesday. See you then!)

Tom Abate
Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media