Content: this is where it gets personal

I have news for the guardians of Canada’s cultural sovereignty. The Web isn’t TV on downers.

Here’s the plot spoiler. Onliners use the Internet as a personal medium, not as a substitute for radio and television broadcasting. Yes, it really is a disruptive technology. That’s why conventional media have been so disrupted by it. Quick, what’s the number-one use onliners make of the Internet? Shopping and product research? Downloading music and software? Watching videos? Getting the daily news? Using search engines? None of the above. It’s sending and reading email.

Try telling that to the CRTC, our federal policymakers, broadcasters or the cultural interest groups that have testified at the new media proceeding. The big hot-button issue has been the levy on ISPs, with the interested parties dragging out the usual surveys, expert witnesses and legal opinions. I’m with the ISPs on this one. The idea is crazy. A levy may be illegal. It’s impossible to devise a fool-proof system for identifying online content as Canadian. Most broadband subscribers would rather not foot the bill. And from the vantage point of those who might stand to benefit, I can only say: don’t hold your breath. Ottawa isn’t equipped to decide whether our developer community should concentrate on webisodes instead of MMORPGs. Who told me? Developers trying to wrangle a buck from the Canada New Media Fund.

The meme that’s doing the real harm, however, is the delusion that the Web is the next platform for broadcasting. A little more bandwidth and a lot more regulation, and presto! The Web will move on past all that low quality personal video and foster the rebirth of network TV. The Commission can at least be forgiven for doing the job our elected representatives spelled out for them in the Broadcasting Act. That’s why this is a proceeding about broadcasting, not about new media. We’ve been here before by the way. The supply-side approach: let’s put millions into TV and movie production and leave that pesky problem of the demand side for another day.

We can agree to disagree about many of these issues. But with due respect to ACTRA, actor Colin Mochrie, pollster Harris-Decima and their colleagues, there is no freaking way on god’s green earth that “roughly 70 per cent of what people are doing on the Internet is watching programming content,” as Mr Mochrie claimed in the Ottawa Citizen the opening day of the hearings.

All the surveys I’ve read – and helped design – over the last decade have shown unfailingly that, on the contrary, most of what we do on the Internet is personal messaging. When a respected member of the cultural community claims (same article) that “most of what we do on the Internet falls under the definition of broadcasting,” the result can only be a continuing failure by Ottawa to understand the transformative effects digital media can have on our cultural, social and economic well-being.