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Katherine Liberovskaya
With stream and against it: conceptions of cyber-television (2001)

Язык оригинала: русский

As an active independent video artist of many years, when in the
mid-nineties I first heard of the development of live video and audio
streaming over the Internet, I immediately imagined the possibility of
forms of pirate, wild, television (somewhat like the pirate radio movement
of the '80s in Europe) which I expected to rapidly emerge and spread
alongside other more mainstream models of cyber-television which were sure
to evolve shortly. Now, five years later, in spite of the ?important?
development of Cable as Internet carrier, there are surprisingly few actual
experiments of any kind of convergence of the two dominant media of our
time. Currently, the most prominent, and especially best-known, examples of
such convergence can be found on the complementary websites of major
television networks or shows typically featuring, among a vast amount of
textual information and links, a small moving image component such as for
example CNN's "News Story of the Week". My particular interest here,
however, lies in interventions specifically dedicated to the idea of
cyber-television as an alternative or new form of television.

Interestingly, while examples of such interventions are already quite
scarce, the few available seem to conceive the notion of an Internet or
cyber- television in a variety of quite different ways.

In this paper I will thus review four examples of conceptions of cyber-television which I consider as representative of the different current tendencies of the emerging form. These are: the activist FreeSpeech
TV, the artistic TV-Art.Net, the commercial very elaborate award-winning
CanalWeb, European leader in the area, and the quite different idea of
Microsoft's receiver-based WebTV. In addition to examining their origins,
projects and aims, my analysis will attempt to explore the aesthetic
implications of these endeavors in relation to the aesthetic dimensions of
television as we have known it to date.

FreeSpeech Internet TV (http://www.freespeech.org/)

FreeSpeech Internet TV defines itself as "public" Internet
television in the sense of the public interest television of the non-profit
US PBS corporation. FreeSpeech is not an exclusively Internet oriented
venture; it is the cyber-component of the alternative media organization
FreeSpeech TV which includes Free Speech Cable and Free Speech Digital
Broadcast Satellite Channel chapters. Physically based in Colorado, USA,
stemming from the activist net-radio movement of recent years, FreeSpeech
TV was created in 1995 as a project involving activists and cultural
workers for the development of a future full-time national network
dedicated to socially conscious, culturally inclusive, educational
television programming for the advance of progressive social change along
similar lines as other "indymedia" such as Deep Dish Satellite TV, Paper
Tiger TV, or Whisper Media. FreeSpeech Internet TV's declared aim is "to
respond to the interests of that majority of the people whose voices are
excluded or distorted in the corporate media". It thus provides free
hosting and promotion for over 7000 non-commercial websites and 2500 media
files. It also hosts an archive of over 600 titles of progressive and
independent documentary film, video and audio that can be directly
purchased through the FreeSpeech on-line store.

FreeSpeech Internet TV does thus not have much in common with the
formal aesthetic characteristics of the television medium. At first glance,
their site does not present any particular differences from numerous other
sites on the Web except for the fact that it is completely commercial free:
no ads, banners or corporate logos appear on its pages. The main page looks
and is organized in many ways like a print media page along what Raymond
Williams has called the "mosaic layout" of most newspapers. Much like a
paper's cover page in aspect and meaning, in addition to a static permanent
series of links to related sites and topics framing the site around the
left and top, it is composed of six different items, presented
simultaneously in two columns. These six items each made up of a few lines
of introductory text lead to the six different sections of the site: Video
Library, Hosted Web Sites, Television, Special Reports, Store and Archives.

FreeSpeech's version of "Internet television" is then video
streaming found in the Special Reports, Video Library and Archives sections
of the website, in the form of RealMedia encoded clips of diverse duration
(from a few minutes to over an hour) accessible through hyperlinks and
viewable on the home computer in a small window of the size of a large
postage stamp with the help of previously downloaded RealPlayer software.
Cybertelevision is thus here an on-line on-demand experience, a concept
that does not seem to incorporate any live dimension which can be seen as
insufficiently exploiting the full potential of video streaming?. But what
is important to FreeSpeech is not form, nor innovation or medium
specificity, rather it is media activism and an interest in Internet
television as part of an appropriation of an accumulation of media for
social and environmental action. Indeed, as an on-line journalist in an
article on Mediachannel.org explains:
Media activists have constructed their own public information spaces by
integrating various media formats and technologies: camcorders, Web radio,
streaming video, microradio, digital photography, community cable access,
DBS (direct broadcast satellite) transponders and laptop journalism. The
revolution is not only televised, but digitized and streamed. This is not
an attempt to "get on TV" but a commitment to create new forms of
information sharing using new spaces and technologies and new ways of
collaboration (<www.mediachannel.org/views/oped/ha>).

FreeSpeech's "Internet television" can thus be considered as part of a
tradition of socially-minded radical and idealist alternative utilization
of media by intellectuals and cultural workers where the message is more
important than the medium, a source of alternative information and
expression.

TV-Art.Net (<www.tv-art.net>)

Generally belonging to this tradition but often less explicitly political
and with a stronger emphasis on creativity are artistic models of
alternative media use, as is for example the slightly different philosophy
of the TV-Art.Net project. TV-Art.Net shares in many ways FreeSpeech's
spirit of idealism and independence but addresses the universe of
independent Media Art rather than that of alternative information. Based in
Paris, TV-Art.Net is an undertaking developed by artist David Guez whose
work has been, for some years, concerned with the relationship of the
Internet network to our world and its systems of representation. It is,
according to Guez, "an interactive television that transmits its programs
over the Web" which he proposes as an artistic intervention directly in the
public domain of media space. Conceived as a platform for the presentation
and creation of independent artistic content on the Internet, it aims to
offer artists the possibility of a new and different way of broadcasting
their work which affords them freedom of means and expression in comparison
to usual commercial television. TV-Art.Net is also a database where all the
programs it presents are archived: to date it offers over 400 documents
available for free on-line consultation 24 hours a day.

TV-Art.Net is, to Guez, part of a body of public art work he has
been developing over recent years focusing on alternatives to classic media
forms and their habitual complex production chains, based on his concept of
"self-media", the idea that anyone can create their own media, for which
some of his other projects provide the means of production (such
TeleWeb.Org that offers media production tools and instructions on-line).
Guez sees the project as an on-line media lab for experimentation and
innovation. He considers the Internet to be a tool that can serve the
community and enhance the exchange of knowledge. The idea of TV-Art.Net is
to introduce new forms of economic and social behavior to the world of
media art. Guez and his collaborators advocate different modes of creation
that would integrate the technical constraints of the vehicle used as the
possibility for artistic experimentation and innovation, rather than as
limitation. They also advocate a different way of participating:
We wish to build new bridges between the audience and the creator, stepping
on the norms of sharing and writing, without reducing them to mere
technological schemes without intelligence. Television in its known form
imposes on us timely rules, which can go as far as setting up the pace of
most people's lives; it is absolutely necessary to keep the time to look at
things. The Internet offers us the infinite wealth of a time which is
everybody's.

TV-Art.Net can thus be seen as an intervention to reclaim personal time
from the disciplinary character of what Patricia Mellencamp describes as
"TV time": "a gendered, hierarchichized commodity capitalizing on leisure
which rigorously apportions the present, reruns TV history and anxiously
awaits the future" (1990a; p 240). A notion very similar to Raymond
William's concept of the continuous commercial "flow" of television
(Williams; 1974).

At the same time as it collapses time, the goal of the TV-Art.Net
project is also to collapse space by creating a network of world-wide
partners and correspondents that will allow the elaboration of a content
"revealing the diversity of practices and thoughts while bringing out the
identity of each creation and each culture".

While on a philosophical level the TV-Art.Net project is
considerably well thought out and articulated, aesthetically, even more so
than FreeSpeech, it's website does not present any distinguishing
characteristics from sites having nothing to do with television. In fact
its interface is predominantly textual, somewhat of a disappointment coming
from a team of organizers mostly involved in the visual arts. The main page
is text and hypertext only: in addition to a static series of links to the
left, a long list of items one can scroll down features all the offerings
of the latest volume (there are several volumes a year with no apparent
regularity of release, each of which features invited curators). The
offerings can be streamed video, streamed audio or websites. Links to
videos lead to long scrollable lists of clips each identified by a small
still image thumbnail and some text. When clicked these again play in a
RealMedia window the size of a large postage stamp. Thus, also like
FreeSpeech, cyber-television is here too an on-line on-demand experience
with no significant live dimension.

From a certain angle, then, TV-Art.Net's like Freespeech's visions
and practices can be seen as contributing to what William Boddy (2000; p
68) has theorized as the New Media's (in his case in reference to the PVR)
erosion of traditional television's simultaneity and liveness. From a
different perspective, however, they can be considered as meaningful
initiatives to counter what has often been conceptualized as TV's
annihilation of memory and history (Mary Anne Doane; 1990; p 227) by the
substantial place devoted in their activities to the constitution of
meticulous vast archives of everything they ever present, readily available
on-line 24 hours a day, for these, and other such archives, form new
alternative "histories" of completely independent voices which are easily
and freely consultable by anyone anywhere having access to the Net.

Through their independent practices and philosophies of
cyber-television both FreeSpeech and TV-Art.Net are especially interesting
because they mark a space of autonomy, managing to reclaim certain
dimensions of time and space, within the discourse of power of the new
global "mediascape" (Appadurai; 1993). Though they do not seem to much
revolutionize the formal characteristics of television aesthetics, they are
important because they are sites of freedom of critical creativity in the
public sphere of cyberspace (as argued about art in general by Susan
Buck-Morss; 1997) which would have been unthinkable within the parameters
of broadcast television before the Internet. As they echo McLuhan's vision
of a global village fostering a retribalization of the planet, they can be
seen as part of a continuing countercultural rhetoric of empowerment
stemming from "do-it-yourself" activist traditions of the sixties embracing
pluralism and the politics of diversity to open up production and provide
alternative representations (Mellencamp 1990b; p 51). Such ideas of
pluralism and diversity are not solely the province of counterculture in
today's cyberspace, however, as will show the commercial example of the
CanalWeb venture, which also banks on the Internet's archiving potentiality
at the same time as it succeeds in exploiting video streaming's possibility
of livenes to the full.

CanalWeb (<www.canalweb.com>)

CanalWeb is neither a countercultural nor an "indy" undertaking. A
completely commercial "start-up", its aim is to be "the European leader of
Internet Television". It began in Paris in September 1997 as a newsletter
on Television and Internet Convergence. With the help of corporate
investors, including Groupe Sud-Ouest, the second largest regional press
group in France, and 15 employees, a year later it launched operations and
by January 1999 began airing four live shows on the World Wide Web. By
April'99 CanalWeb had engaged in a collaboration with the Fnac (the leading
French retailer of cultural products), and installed studios in five
stores. Over the following months it formed partnerships and set up
distribution agreements with a large variety of major European players. By
2000 it was proposing "100 hyper-thematic programs (of which 7 are
multilingual), 60 hours of live webcasts every week, and over 5000 hours of
on-demand content".

Today, CanalWeb's long statement of purpose found on its website
describes all the areas and dimensions of its activity. Through its
extensive live and on-demand programming, it seeks to cover a wide spectrum
of subjects and interests: From Chess to Comic Strips, Music to New Technologies, Video Games to
Gastronomy, CanalWeb embraces many specialized communities.

CanalWeb also takes pride in being involved in the emergence of
corporate Internet television. It develops Corporate TV channels dedicated
to both internal and external business communications. Among its clients:
FNAC, Fedex, Galeries Lafayette, Le Monde, The Department of Foreign
Affairs, The Department of Education, UNESCO, ... etc.

As well, it states that much effort is put into building a complete
ever-growing on-line program archive. Every program produced by CanalWeb is
archived, allowing consultation of all previous webcasts. According to
CanalWeb, this is one of the most important points differentiating Internet
TV from traditional TV, which today represents over 80% of viewer
consultations.

In addition, CanalWeb is rapidly constituting a vast catalogue of
programs developed in co-production. It explains:
[t]he majority of CanalWeb's programs are co-produced with external
partners (companies or individuals) bringing content to CanalWeb in
exchange for web-TV production know-how. CanalWeb co-owns content it
produces, enabling the creation of a program catalogue ensuring CanalWeb's
prime position, and adding to its future value, notably with the
perspective of broadband content development.

Finally, CanalWeb, and its subsidiary TVBourse.net, re-transmit their
programs via thirty affiliated distributors and beleive that agreements
will keep multiplying in response to the high demand of Web Sites for which
video content represents a major competitive advantage.

With this ambitious program of activity, CanalWeb, like its
independent counterparts, is interested in the dimensions of plurality and
diversity offered by Internet distribution, but not so much in the sense of
empowerment championed by activist and artistic practices, as in the sense
of the breakdown of the traditional collective television market and
audience into innumerable specialized communities and niche markets. It
sees in the convergence of Internet and television technologies an
audiovisual revolution which replaces broadcasting by "narrowcasting"
whereby television no longer need concern itself with being a mass media
and touching millions of people at once. Instead, CanalWeb believes that
programs may now be broadcast to a precise and targeted micro-audience.

According to CanalWeb, this "revolution" will foster an era of
hyper-thematic, specialized and community-oriented TV much like the
explosion of the specialized press industry which gave rise to thousands of
new niche genres of publication. Thus, it sees an impending development of
highly thematic and specialized "narrowcast" channels alongside mainstream
broadcast channels similar to the one of specialized magazines which have
found their place alongside the mainstream press. These specialized
channels, CanalWeb believes, will permit global access by eliminating the
limits of the geographical boundaries of traditional television. The
multiple, smaller, specialized niches that the Internet allows would
otherwise be too small to be accessed individually and locally, although
the global sum of their common interest yet geographically divided
audiences is substantial.

While, like TV-Art.Net, CanalWeb seeks to interrupt the economics
of traditional television's "flow" through the convergence of Internet and
television technologies, it is not so much to reclaim personal individual
time as to achieve the ideal version of a video on demand system:
Traditional television operators have striven to achieve "Video on Demand"
for over 20 years. Internet now allows television to be transformed from a
constant and uni-directional flow, to a multi-content, rich and readily
available stock, always accessible "On Demand". Each and every program of
an Internet TV channel enriches and adds to the overall channel content and
position. This is a far cry from the business model of traditional
broadcast channels.

Thus, multi-content stock is considered not as individual time in
opposition to broadcast television's collective imposed time, but rather as
a multitude of products in contrast to the uni-dimensional commercial
potential of TV's "flow".

It is evident that, though completely mercantile, CanalWeb's
philosophy and goals are very elaborate and informed. Elaborate is as well
the website's interface. Though also limited by the constraints of
RealMedia software which for the moment only permits streaming video
through a disappointingly small window, the site is quite remarkable and
most appealing. The appeal is largely due to the fact that it is
articulated around a visual organization much more than a textual one as
was the case with the previous projects. Most links of the main page and of
the sub-menus of the site are then images, still images from the video
clips available live or from the archives, and there is a multitude of them
because of the sheer volume of video material proposed by CanalWeb. Such a
design approach appropriately suits the visual nature of any conception of
cyber-television. In fact CanalWeb even states that it sees classic web
functions, such as chat, e-mail, e-commerce, associated information, search
engines, etc., simply as complements to the programs. "Each of these tools
helps build loyalty and provide service to channel subscribers" they say.
The focus then is the video streaming, be it live or on-demand. Perhaps
this too is part of CanalWeb's marketing strategy devised to be able to
adequately compete with the strong visual nature of television. Whatever
the scenario, it works. And the result is the most aesthetically effective
and promising model of any kind of Internet and television convergence
currently available.

Whether commercial or independent, more elaborate like CanalWeb or
more simple like FreeSpeech and TV-Art.Net, the three examples of Internet
television concepts examined to date in this study can be seen as attempts
to adapt or expand the concept of television to the different possibilities
of the Internet paradigm. The following example, for its part, Microsoft's
WebTV Networks, would, in contrast, rather seem to be developing ways of
bringing the Internet to television.

WebTV (http://www.webtv.com/)

WebTV Networks, developed in the mid-nineties in a Palo Alto, California,
garage and bought by Microsoft for $ 425 million in 1997, is a very
different idea of cyber-television. It seems to seek to push the limits of
our solidly established television paradigm to incorporate today's "new
communication media" within its familiar climate rather than to elaborate
any kind of new form or format of television for any new media reality
brought on by the Internet. WebTV is a leading developer and provider of
"enhanced-TV services": services based on today's network and digital
technologies designed as add-ons to the already habitual environment of
broadcast television.

On the WebTV website, Microsoft introduces its product in the
following way:
The future of television today. WebTV® gets you connected. Send email to
friends and family, surf the Internet, and interact with new forms of
entertainment all from your TV. Play along with game shows, participate in
polls, and chat with other viewers during Interactive TV programming.
Automatically program your VCR with a click of a button. Instantly search
thousands of on-screen Interactive TV Listings and always know what's on.
And join a community of people who share ideas through online Chat.
The idea since the beginning has been to bring the joys of Web access to
still "un-wired" TV viewers through the very comfort of their own TV sets
by means of an affordable all-in-one set-top receiver box which plugs into
the television set's input jack and receives net-content over any phone
line (the basic Web TV box costs around US $100.00) and via different
TV-related devices such as satellite products. Basic interaction is
achieved with the hand-held remote control; however, to do e-mail or to
enter URLs manually an optional wireless keyboard needs to be purchased
additionally.

Devised to deliver the Internet to Middle America, Web-TV is
intended as a low cost easy to use solution to get on the "Information
Superhighway", a "backdoor way" to connect Grandma to e-mail, providing the
possibility to altogether bypass the financial toll of purchasing, as well
as what many still see as the daunting complexity of configuring, a
computer (though reportedly targeted computer neophyte customers tend to
find the operation of the wireless keyboard as intimidating as learning to
use a PC). Whatever its current technical problems, however, in addition to
its apparently more democratic politics of coming up with an interface able
to reach out to the less educated and lower income population strata, to
reach "every home", Web-TV is most interesting by the fact that it has
adopted the strategy of using the universally accepted domestic technology
of television as the model for the development of communication
technologies of the future.

As a result, Web-TV's focus is to create web content relevant to
television programming. As well, it uses a secure proprietary browser that
supports most functionality offered by Microsoft's Internet Explorer and
Netscape's Navigator Gold. An important difference, however, is that the
WebTV browser manipulates text and images so that they look better on a TV
screen. Without such special feature, text would flicker on a TV screen and
be very difficult to read.

To Internet and cyberculture enthousiasts, the prospect and
implications of this television inspired project are highly disturbing.
They see Web-TV and similar concepts as the colonization of the Web by
television as well as a regressive tendency in the technological progress
movement of communication media. On the Nettime Web Discussion List, for
example, some consider that the worst possible outcome for the Internet is
its potential conversion to "enhanced TV" under which most users become
acclimated to a broadcast concept, an example, to them of technological
capacity moving backwards which, others say, threatens to undermine the
most positive and productive feature of the Internet, its facilitation of
many-to-many communication with active participation by users, to "a dumbed
down space for endless re-runs of sitcoms, commercials and infotainment"
facilitated by the familiarity of the domestic architecture of the
television set as delivery medium.

Others, on the contrary, see television's community building
capacity through the creation of a sense of collective time as the key
example for any kind of viable model of Internet/TV convergence. Media Art
curator, critic and theorist Michael Nash, for example, considers that TV's
ability to produce a collective present, through the "flow" of broadcast
temporality, particularly live transmission is perhaps the most important
audience- and community-building dynamic of any contemporary medium.
According to Nash, shared social experiences of this kind are increasingly
important and necessary in a world he believes to be ever more fragmented
and with ever fewer sources of commonality. He considers that TV's
capability of "immersion in a collective temporal framework is one of the
most powerful socialization mechanisms in contemporary life" in contrast to
the Internet which he sees, for the moment, as "defin[ing] time as a series
of decision intervals, which tends to take people out of any collective
temporal context and into their own personal routines and idiosyncrasies"
which makes it feel "more like a personalized information and
communications utility than a public domain".

How ever one views Web-TV, what it, and a few lesser known similar
initiatives of television-centered convergence with cyberspace such as
DiamondWeb Television, proposes is to go with the established flow of
broadcast television rather than against it as advocated and exploited by
all the Internet-based examples reviewed above. Though interesting by the
fact that it does not follow the current ever-increasing hype of adapting
all possible media to the universal personal computer, such an approach
nevertheless risks limiting the development of Internet or cyber-
television solely to the parameters of the corporate model of consumer-
rather than community-based cultural organization of the context of
broadcast television, a highly questionable model to which the context of
the Internet, for its part, seems, for the moment, to be able to offer a
variety of alternatives well worth exploring.

Conclusion

The convergence of television and Internet technologies is still far from
giving rise to any kind of established new forms of communication or
information media. Indeed, there are, for the moment, surprisingly few
initiatives in the area, and those available see the idea of
cyber-television in different ways. The four examples here examined - the
activist FreeSpeech TV, the artistic TV-Art.Net, the commercial start-up
CanalWeb and Microsoft's receiver-based WebTV - can be considered as
representative of the main current directions of Internet-television
convergence. Between them, they illustrate the different technological,
aesthetic and ideological tendencies evolving to date. Technologically,
cyber-television is conceived either as Internet-based, like the
FreeSpeech, TV-Art.Net and CanalWeb projects, or as television-based like
WebTV. The Internet-based conception, be it used for independent or
commercial purposes, is articulated against the continuous commercial
"flow" of broadcast television, advocating pluralism and diversity as well
as reclaiming personal time from the collective temporal and spatial nature
of TV. Here, the experience of vast archives, so easy to constitute on the
Internet, and 24hour on-demand access plays a much more important role than
the possibility of liveness through narrowcasting. For the "indys" however
such ideas are part of a counter-cultural rhetoric of empowerment whereas
for the commercial CanalWeb they constitute a marketing strategy of
numerous diverse personalized niche products, which perhaps explains its
lead in the exploitation of the live dimension of streaming over the Net.
The television-based concept of cyber-television, on the contrary, depends
on and composes with the familiar, established collective nature of this
"flow" both as aesthetic and economic structure and thus focuses on
creating web content relevant to television programming.

Internet-based concepts of cyber-television can then be seen as
attempts to adapt or expand the concept of television to the different new
possibilities of the Internet paradigm while the television-based ideas of
convergence seem to seek to push the limits of our solidly established
television paradigm so as to incorporate today's "new communication media"
within its familiar climate. Though both approaches present most
interesting aesthetic and ideological aspects, it is the author's opinion
that the latter conception risks limiting the development of
cyber-television to the multinational corporate interest arrested model of
broadcast television rather than exploring the numerous different
alternatives which cyberspace seems to offer.

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