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The Rust Of Broadcasting

A friend of mine who works in the post-industrial design space told me once of a meeting he was called to with a terrestrial network television broadcaster. He does lots of interesting work with lots of interesting people, in a range of digital and postdigital fields. But he was really kind of antsy about this meeting. He said to me: "Television? Broadcasting? That’s, like aerials and shit. Pylons and towers. Huge fucking chunks of rusting metal." The strong implication was that he felt he was being drafted into a meeting about manual farming machinery. Having an iPhone meant that he really shouldn’t have to know about things like oxen and ploughshares.

All this was in pursuit of a conversation about television, specifically British terrestrial tv and "common culture" (which is ten million people watching DOCTOR WHO and talking about it the next day, put reductively), and why I want to write some. Why, in essence, I want to traffic with the likes of great rusting broadcast towers.

And I said to him, "I want to do some television before it, as we know it now, goes away. If only just to try it and feel what it’s like."

(Which is, I’ll allow, like taking a writing holiday in Portmeiron because Noel Coward wrote there, or working on a Smith-Corona because it has mythic resonance. But, you know, it might be instructive to sit in Dennis Potter’s chair for a while. Just as I once sat at a desk Arthur Conan Doyle once wrote at.)

But here’s a thing about the rust of broadcasting. Something Russell Davies, who works in what he calls the post-digital space, said a while back:

We have broken your business, now we want your machines.

What Russell and his crew at Really Interesting Group have done is wrangle deals with newspaper printers. Whose business, in an emergent post-industrial age, is certainly a bit broken. Huge fucking machines designed only to print newspapers, in a time when newspaper publishers are printing fewer newspapers. RIG set up Newspaper Club, that allows people to print their own short-run newspapers using these big lonely machines that are not running the volume they used to but still need to pay for themselves.

Sometimes, I look up at these rusting aerials and towers, in a time when TV comes to an increasing number of people through a ground cable or a phone line, and wonder how long it’ll be until that business breaks completely — and, more importantly, how long until someone comes for the machines and makes them a deal.

Published in knock john


  1. Do you realize how broken it is? I’m sure you do — you’ve seen the posts on 4GM by John Rogers.

    But I just had my own little epiphanies by encountering the 21st century I can’t yet have.

    Yesterday and today I was at an Apple Store. At one point, I tried the iPhone. They had a new slew of demo apps on it. One was for The Weather Channel. I use that channel a lot — for, you know, weather. Well, the damned app on the iPhone would *give* me that local weather report I wait for at the 8-minutes mark *without* needing the damned channel. That was my first, “WTF would I want *cable* now?” moment. (Yes, the iPhone has Yahoo Weather in it — but this is still *The Weather Channel*, OK?)

    The second one came today when I tried out the 27″ iMac. I needed HD video snaps for a post I have in the works and my crap PC can barely do classic YouTube 240×320 now (thanks, MS Updates!)! I called up YouTube, watched some vids in HD for my post. Then I went to Hulu (which I can’t do at all at home). Pulled up an episode of the classic Steed/Peel Avengers. Put it in 480p and FULL SCREEN. Jaysus! Doing that, I then asked, “Why would I even want a *TV* with this?” It was really revelatory. I also called up Shark Tank (you now it over there as Dragon’s Den, I think). Again 480p — and since this is new, it went entire widescreen (unlike Avengers) — and really, why the hell would I want the ton of crap ads and smarmy interstitials of broadcast/cable TV?

    Damned if I know how they’ll make any more big money as they have after others down the line come to the same conclusions I have.

  2. UK TV is in a period of massive transition at the moment, like every other fucking thing in this world. But it’s still both massively rewarding and crushingly frustrating to work in it. So good luck. You’ll have fun.

  3. Ben Ben

    Speaking as someone not native to the uk, whenever i’m over there i massively enjoy your programming. Maybe its the novelty of something new but probably not. Belgian tv is so massively shit i just don’t have the word to describe it.
    I stopped watching tv except for the news and that was almost as bad. 30 minutes of pure speculation on the last serial killer, not even new information just bad reporting. Three minutes of foreign news.

    I’ve got “animal planet” now. At least its fun to watch animals eat things. If there was a show where the assholes of the world got fed to tigers i would not leave the house anymore.

  4. I’m not at all sold on the idea of broadcasting being dead or even in fear of being dead. One of the distinct advantages of the broadcast industries is its unique one way multicast with no upper limit to the receivers within the coverage area. Both wired and most current wireless technologies require a certain amount of bi-directional bandwidth for each individual user. This leads to the other unique feature of terrestrial broadcast, the ad-based revenue / free-to-user model. All other mass media formats are based on some end user subscription fee, either for bandwidth or equipment sales or rental.

    To boot, the US is in the process of adopting a handheld broadcast standard (MP/H) that is IP based and may radically change the way you view those rusting towers.

  5. Kristian Kristian

    Where I live, the Television companies have found a way to continue to have an income in the Internet age – they have persuaded the government to put a tax of approx. $400 a year on Internet connections, and give the money to the television companies.

    I’m not going to name the country – it’s too shameful, but you can easily google it ;-)

  6. Anonymous Anonymous

    Please don’t name it Rustcasting

  7. Anastasius Anastasius

    Peel off the paint and pour water over it. Let’s see it rust faster.

  8. kstop kstop

    People are more likely to come for the spectrum allocation and junk the machines.

  9. JT JT

    Rustcasting. That is definitely the new phrase.

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