I’ve just finished reading Simon Hughes excellent 2009 book ‘And god Created Cricket’, which has been sitting on my “to read” pile for months. Towards the end he writes about SKY Television’s exclusive deal for Test cricket in England and, as is so often the case, this set off a loosely coupled train of thought.
It was cricket that first influenced me to get satellite television when back in the early 1990s SKY offered live Tests from England overseas tours. In some ways it was a hard decision to subscribe, much as I loved cricket I loathed Rupert Murdoch and so much of what he stood for. Some of that loathing was rational and based in political difference, some was an undeniably emotional gut reaction – on the shelf behind me there are various pieces of memorabilia from the 1986 Wapping dispute that I inherited from my late father.
Wapping is interesting nearly 25 years on. Yes, industrial law helped Murdoch as it weakened the power of the workforce and their supporters but in reality it was technology that did most to ensure the victory over the print unions and their subsequent downward spiral. Technology was rendering the hard earned skills of the craftsmen obsolescent. Although some of the print-workers (and their leaders) recognised that change was coming they had no idea of the Technological Tsunami of electronic media that was soon to engulf them. Rupert Murdoch probably didn’t realise either but what he did recognise was the benefit of deploying the “right” technology at the “right” time. It didn’t need be leading edge but it did allow control to be wrested from interested parties.
A similar use of technology to wrest control applies to the rise of SKY. When Murdoch lost out on a licence for satellite broadcasting to the UK he just exploited the fact that satellite transmissions ignore national boundaries. There wasn’t a lot that the interested parties could do and although both SKY and BSB came close to financial collapse BSkyB dominates UK satellite television today and there is concern about Murdoch gaining full control.
Strange then that Murdoch, who has predicted (or been fortuitous in) how technology changes power balances cannot see the writing on the wall when it comes to newspapers on the web. News International titles are going behind pay walls which is ignoring the realities of technology change and technology driven social change. People read newspapers for two reasons; to obtain news and to be entertained. The news seeking is self-explanatory but the entertained element is many faceted. It might be humour, it might be comment and analysis (I would argue press analysis and opinion are entertainment not news).
The explosive growth in portable media devices, several generations of “text speakers”, a click mentality and massively available free choice work against the pay wall. I am old fashioned, I like newspapers, I read the comments and analyses but I get my news from rolling TV News channels and the web. Friends of a similar age are often similar in approach. Some think they’ve moved forward because they download their newspapers to iPads or similar but really they are traditional consumers. The younger generations probably don’t buy newspapers not because they dislike printed matter but because the information product doesn’t suit. If I’d grown up with feeds, alerts, twitter messages etc. I can’t believe I would read The Times on a regular basis. I wouldn’t read The Sun (or any other tabloid) either, I can get better humour, better scandal and better bigotry for free with a couple of mouse clicks or as a stream on my mobile. It seems to me that pay walls will be most effective in generating revenue from that part of the population least likely to use the web (and declining in number) and will be ineffective with the younger and more desirable audience.
Could it be that this time, technology (even if its not new) will yet again defeat the interested party – but this time its Murdoch?
So I’ve finally committed to sharing my ramblings with the world. Whether anybody wants to read them, or cares about my opinions only time will tell. My expectations are not that high – the blog title might give you a clue. Because I’ve always believed that if you are going to do things you have to commit, I’m also tweeting from today at twitter.com/nohandsclapping or click on the icon at the top.
Its going to take a few days to get all this organised properly but unless you start nothing ever happens so bear with me.