Newspapers are dying - or so you might gather from articles like this:
* The New York Times Company’s results are just awful: Ad revenues in the news group down 21.8%.
* In the U.K., Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger (my boss) continues to beat the funereal drum about local papers there
* For the first time, according to Pew, the internet as surpassed newspapers as a primary source of news for the public.
Etc., etc., etc.
To what extent we are witnessing the demise of industry is still an open question, but there's no doubt that the Internet is driving a profound re-thinking of its role and business model (something that some of us have been telling the publishing industry for the last 13 or so years....) But while the gaze of most has been fixed on this sad spectacle, something else important is happening in the background:
A number of the world’s leading streaming media companies have recently joined together to create a new industry forum called the Internet Media Device Alliance. The IMDA has been formed with the aim of developing and promoting a set of open, interoperable standards and device profiles in order to maximise the growth of a global consumer market in Internet-connected media devices. "It’s clear that the time has come for Internet media device companies, broadcasters and content providers to join forces to present a clear message to assure the consumer that Internet radio products are produced and delivered to a certain industry standard," states Harry Johnson, Chairman of IMDA.
One of the key activities of the Alliance will be to define a series of end-to-end technical standards, functions and profiles to encourage the development of a wide range of Internet media devices. Other objectives include the promotion of Internet-connected device technology to consumers and retailers both within and outside the IMDA. Membership is open to consumer electronics OEMs, retailers, radio broadcasters, content aggregators, online music service providers, device manufacturers and technology providers.
Two things are notable here. The first, and perhaps most relevant to readers of this blog, is that one of the key characteristics of the proposed standards is that they will be open. The other is that the press release quoted above is deliciously ambiguous in the way it flits between talking about Internet radio - the apparent focus - and Internet media.
Internet radio is a sensible place to start, since it's already well developed and flourishing. It's ripe for the establishment of some open, interoperable standards. But as the other word "media" hints, radio is just the start. Once you have a radio platform, turning it into a media platform is relatively straightforward, because of the way the Internet works. Thanks to network neutrality (and we all support that, don't we?), a bit is a bit is a bit: there's no inherent difference between an Internet radio platform, and one for Internet TV, say.
So what the new IMDA is likely to lead to is the creation of an open Net-based radio and TV platform - meaning, potentially, that anyone, anywhere, can access any radio or TV station online. And once that's in place, the newspapers' current woes will look mild in comparison to what will happen to traditional radio and TV companies that fail to adapt to the new ways of watching.