Issue No. 4
Spring 2000
Issue 4 home page
Return to current issue of TBS
Archives main page

From the Editor

CNN International’s first pictures of the year 2000, of Hong Kong bureau chief Mike Chinoy reporting live from the South Pacific, looked a bit choppy. The anchors explained the reason: our first glimpses of the new millennium were being broadcast via satellite phone.

This is just one sign of recent technological developments that TBS is very interested in exploring. TBS began several years ago with the goal of understanding the impact of broadcasting that transcends borders, which at that time was a very specialized and quite untapped field. Virtually all of the broadcast studies work being done dealt with national systems—international and comparative in nature, sometimes, but nonetheless confined by national borders, laws, and viewership.

Our focus, transnational broadcasting, is well on its way to becoming no longer a somewhat obscure specialty but the dominant model of broadcasting, thanks to convergence. Only five or six years ago, “convergence” was an insider’s phrase barely being alluded to in the more progressive computer and telecommunications journals; today it is one of the most frequently tossed-about buzzwords, the theme of major conferences around the world, and often touted as not only the trend of the future but also the reality of the here and now. Convergence as it has been discussed over the last few years has two parts: 1) convergence geographically speaking; global, regional, national and local distinctions are no longer so important, and 2) convergence of the once-separate fields of telecommunications, information networks, and broadcasting.

Over the last few years we’ve seen developments like webcasting and interactive TV that can be used for e-mail, internet and electronic program guides. These are significant, but still wired, still based on cable and phone lines for data transmission. What’s quickly becoming obvious is that the real future of convergence is wireless. There’s been a rush on the part of mobile phone makers and content providers to add new functions such as e-mail, simplified internet, and fax into mobile phones using wireless application protocol (WAP). One major use for this technology is m-commerce, the wireless younger sibling of e-commerce. Major players see the tremendous potential. In February, Amazon.com announced a new web portal designed specifically for its customers using wireless devices, allowing shoppers to place orders, do searches, and monitor the status of their purchases.

Another type of convergence, to add to the geographical and technological, is emerging, and that is partnerships among mobile phone manufacturers, service providers, computer companies, content providers, and even media. Nokia has made agreements with news services like CNN and Reuters; Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola all have partnerships with America Online. Microsoft invested in a partnership with mobile service provider Nextel, and last December announced joint ventures with Ericsson—one of the provisions being that Ericsson will use Microsoft Mobile Explorer on its WAP phones.

What all of this means is that you can pull out your mobile phone anywhere and anytime and check stocks, sports scores, or weather. While you’re standing at the cash register in the supermarket, you can transfer money between bank accounts. You can check your e-mail without being tied down by wires and cables.

For journalists, all of this can all be useful and important. The Internet has already changed the way news is presented, with sites like MSNBC.com leading the pack of fast-paced, multimedia, hyperlinked news coverage. But even traditional broadcasters can use new technology for newsgathering and instant coverage; journalists can receive wire copy (more accurately here, wireless copy!) feeds via mobile, or send voiceovers and copy back to the station.

Just like desktop publishing and the Internet made everyone with a computer and modem a potential publisher, new trends mean that anyone with a video camera and Internet hookup is a potential broadcaster—from the individual putting home movies online, all the way to financial companies like Merrill Lynch and PaineWebber, which are changing the model by which clients (and potential clients) receive their financial news. Instead of granting interviews to business news programs and financial publications, these firms are bypassing traditional media altogether and broadcasting, over the Internet, their own reports on market trends, stock tips, and other information.

The ultimate convergence, and the most interesting emerging development, is that of satellite, wireless internet, and television broadcasting. The future will see increased interactivity because of the development of low earth orbit satellites (LEOs) and digitalization. The lower the orbit is, the easier it is to transmit; there are fewer obstacles, and transmission is more universal under more conditions, and transmission can be two-way. The computer or computerized TV set become fully interactive. In the long term, with faster and faster delivery times, satellite time becomes cheaper. With digital compression, you can now put up ten channels or what it cost several years ago to put up one channel, which is true for voice and data as well. This means it will be financially viable for broadcasters to transmit thru a Internet via satellite platform, which can be received on a PC or computerized TV. Interactivity will be important commercially because of the possibility of video on demand.

One major implication of this is of particular interest to us at TBS. Every broadcaster that delivers its programs on satellite-driven wireless internet is, by virtue of technology, a transnational broadcaster, even if they have no interest in audiences outside their own nation. Jordan TV, Egyptian TV, or any other national broadcaster that may in the future broadcast with this technology becomes able to reach a worldwide audience, even if they only remain interested in reaching people within their own borders. National and local systems converge into global systems. In fact, with radio this has already happened to a large extent. As Leo Gher, director of the Brown Media Management Lab at Southern Illinois University, recently observed, radio is already increasingly going over to the Internet as its broadcasting platform because of the tremendous savings involved in replacing expensive transmission facilities.

This isn’t something that we foresaw when we started TBS a few years ago, but it’s certainly of great interest to us, because it means that the future of broadcasting is inherently transnational. The importance of this convergence is obvious in this issue, as our contributors time and time again point to these developments and their impact. Jacob Arback, Managing Director of Business Research International, who we welcome as a new contributing editor, writes on new technologies as they relate to emerging markets and the possibilities they lend for rapid development in those regions. Susan Irwin, Founder and President of Irwin Communications, Inc., talked to TBS about satellite-based Internet (see also this issue’s review of Irwin Communications’ publication “Internet Delivery Via Satellite”). Dolores Martos, Vice President for Latin American Sales at New Skies Satellites, discussed with us the impact of the Internet, especially satellite-delivered Internet, in Latin America. Gulf DTH/Showtime President and CEO Peter Einstein spoke in a symposium discussion about the emergence of new technologies in the Middle East and about Showtime’s commitment to employ interactive technologies. Contributing Editor Janet Fine reports from Mumbai that Rupert Murdoch, on a recent trip to India, announced an interest in exploring uses of WAP and other new technologies on the subcontinent.

TBS, it seems, has a bigger job cut out for it than was originally intended. We look forward to exploring these issues and continuing a convergence of our own: that of broadcasting scholars, professors and students alike; broadcast, telecom, satellite and computer industry leaders and professionals; and journalists covering this field. Again, welcome to our new contributing editor Jacob Arback, who brings extensive experience in the Middle East and Asia in the field of global satellite services, and welcome to Magdi Ghoneim of TV5, former veteran programmer for ART and Monte Carlo Radio, who will serve as Paris correspondent for TBS. We’re glad to have a diversity of contributors and readers, because that lends a more complete picture of what, as described above, is an increasingly exciting and complex arena. TBS

Copyright 2000 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo
E-mail: TBS@aucegypt.edu