Not Another King Kong Remake!

News reports from the recent Consumer Electronics Show had that breathless air that once typified coverage of the now-defunct Comdex trade show before the crash. As the Silicon Valley Sleuth blog observed, “As the bubble deflated, so did Comdex.” But let’s not be negative. For now the force is strong with CES and like all epic stories it needs larger-than-life characters such as those anointed by one New York Times story :

“Two ascending Internet giants, Google and Yahoo are to make plain today that they intend to move aggressively beyond the Internet browser and onto the television screen,” began the January 6 piece by reporter Saul Hansell, who later noted how the two search engines “have emerged as potent threats to television networks because they are drawing ad dollars to their existing sites.”

I mention this as a follow on to my Monday blog about the perpetual decay and composting of companies and ideas that is a hallmark of capitalism. And I add a question: is it really a big deal if Google and Yahoo replace NBC and CBS? It strikes me as the same script with fresh faces, just as Peter Jackson’s King Kong is a glitzier remake of the 1976 Dino De Laurentis bomb that adds little but special effects to the 1933 origina l. Big ape pounds chest, paws chick, dies. End of story!

It only takes a quick step back in time to meet the Yahooligan who started it all, the guy who Googled the world in the age when people must have confused algorithm with a musical tempo. I’m talking about David Sarnoff, the broadcast pioneer who cut an even bigger swath across Manhattan than did Kong. As Time Magazine proclaimed in a special on the 100 most important people of the 20th Century:

“(Sarnoff) foresaw radio as a mass medium built around a network, then did it again for television, rearranging living rooms everywhere.”

One nugget from the Time story by writers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner should flesh out the Sarnoff myth:

“Like so many people in the communications business, he was at the right place at the right time. On April 14, 1912, Sarnoff was working at the Marconi station atop Wanamaker’s department store when he picked up a message relayed from ships at sea: “S.S. Titanic ran into iceberg, sinking fast.” For the next 72 hours, the story goes, he remained at his post, giving the world the first authentic news of the disaster.”

The Wikipedia entry on Sarnoff reminds us that he was a legend in his day, appearing on the cover of Time Magazine in 1929.

So Sarnoff was a great man. So are the new media darlings of the Web great in their own ways. But if we truly think web media represent something new under the sun, then we have to identify what that novelty is and determine whether puffed up characters on the stage represent this newness — or simply reflect a recycled story line. (To be continued.)

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