Tuesday, November 16th, 1999
Peter Jennings finishes up a report on troubled youth and says "there’s much more on our website at abcnews.com." Sure enough, there is a lot more there-research, charts, interviews, a heck of a lot of work-but is anyone reading it? Have you ever shut off your television and raced to your PC to get the story behind the story?
Same thing with cnn.com-they get lots of hits from people surfing for headlines (as an alternative to TV), but when it comes to the in-depth material (huge chunks of material, for example, related to CNN’s epic The Cold War documentary series), who’s actually clicking through and enjoying that content?
A few students writing term papers, maybe. But the truth is, this rich mine of information-the work of untold numbers of information-age web drones-is going unappreciated, mostly because it’s not yet the habit to get in-depth information that way.
There are few long-form shows on PBS these days that don’t have a little animated cursor graphic at a couple of key moments encouraging us to hit www.pbs.org for more on, say, that night’s Nova topic. Again, lots of research, lots of work. And maybe the payoff is down the road when our viewing habits change.
But so far, has that happened at your house?
Notice the little "WebTV Interactive" logos placed by Microsoft at the beginning of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune lately? They’re the cue for the few who have WebTV or one or two other little-used systems to click and get thiswell, stuff at the bottom of the screen. A chance to play along with the show you’re watching (what, you don’t play along now?)
The same evil Microsoft behemoth will soon be plopping a flashing ‘I’ (for "interactive content") icon in the middle of commercials in the assumption that you’ll be so intrigued by that bouncing Ford Explorer that you’ll want to immediately go through a little interactive program that will let you know the Ford dealer nearest you-and maybe even let them know you’re looking for them. (Gee, maybe they’ll call you.)
There are a surprising number of people out there-many of them make their livings here in Atlanta-scratching their heads, fumbling with their mice, and inventing some form of the future. These strange hybrids, these synergies, these connections between old media and new are what huge media megacompanies are investing millions in-in the hopes that they’ll be more and better ways to make money-chiefly by bringing some mutant form of advertising before your eyeballs.
There’s nothing new about this-the first Media Rare I wrote talked about an ancient (late seventies) experiment in interactive TV in my home town. It sure seems-on paper-that the worlds of television, the web, and print media should converge. But some of these early attempts smack of Frankenstein gone wrong-and there are times I worry about the legions of new media "content developers" who may find themselves on the streets as the failed early experiments slam into corporate bottom lines.
For me, I embrace television. And the internet. And newspapers. But separately, for now, thanks.