Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

The changing face of media at E3


When I worked at Superchannel in the mid-90’s, I pined for the day when cheap hardware and software would allow anyone to start up their own television station, free from the restrictions of both the CRTC and TV execs who continually aimed straight down the middle at the lowest common denominator. THere weren’t any shows that seemed to address what I was interested in, and no way to use my talents to cover interesting niche topics because there simply wasn’t a venue for that kind of content. Remember, this is before Youtube, when Realplayer was as good as it got for online video (ie. terrible.)

But there was one exception to this rule, a show produced in Vancouver called the Electric Playground, made for gamers by gamers, and at the time the only media in the mainstream that treated gamers with respect instead of derision. At the time I vowed that one day I would work for the show….and against all odds, one day I actually did just that.

The road to EP involved Macworld, working with Leo Laporte and a bunch of other details I won’t go into, but suffice it to say I got to write, produce, edit and occasionally shoot for some really cool projects. But within a year I quit to form my own company. Sound odd? Well, it all has to do with what I see as a radical change in the media.

In fact, I should go back to Leo, because his decision to leave “The Lab with Leo Laporte” was part of why I decided to strike out on my own. Leo had worked for decades in broadcast, particularly the ill-fated Tech TV, but big media wasn’t really allowing him to concentrate on technology. At the same time, he was finding increasing popularity online via podcasting, and as of mid-2008, he decided to strike out on his own with the TWIT network, a move which has paid off in spades.

At any rate running my own business has had its share of ups and downs, and at the same time I’ve been freelancing for gaming sites like Eurogamer and Gamepro. I figured it made sense to head down to E3, THE game industry conference of the year, and make as many contacts as I could.

But once I got there I soon realized that the games industry is Ground Zero for the sweeping changes in media. There were kids (literally, in some cases) all over the press room, all of them reporting for gaming blogs, and many of them toting broadcast-level video gear.

Now, this either means a lot of rich kids have an expensive hobby, or there’s some sort of business model to the madness. The most stark example of the shift from professional media to so-called amateur was at the Sony press conference, where the broadcast riser was choked with cameras from websites from all over the world…and a few tv stations and EP in the middle.

Looking at this forest of cameras, it occurred to me that it doesn’t even matter if all these websites were staffed by wealthy dilettantes. The fact is, the media could once rely on being the only voice for news and event coverage, and right there in front of me was the proof that this is most definitely no longer the case. All of this information is going directly to the same people (including myself) who used to rely on television, and it’s not coming back. THere won’t be a grand consolidation or some sort of rollback, because that just isn’t how information technology works.

More to the point, this sort of thing is happening with gaming and other edge-case nerdery right now, but it’s only a matter of time before it happens to any area of interest. The tools will get a little cheaper and easier to use, and all of a sudden Fashion TV or even niche sports networks will have something to worry about.

And I for one am all for it. Within the TV industry, nothing’s changed from the days where I sat in Master Control. No-one in charge wants anything to change, even as their entire industry morphs around them. At least in this changing media ecology, I stand a fighting chance, which is more than I can say for my prospects under the old order.

Warren Frey is a journalist, freelance writer, podcaster, video producer, and all-around media consultant currently based in Vancouver, Canada. His written work has appeared in such publications as Metro Vancouver, the Westender, Mac | Life and the Japan Times.

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