Not so many years ago, recent enough that many of us can remember, television programming was controlled by a very small group of wealthy and influential people who owned and operated the three big television networks, ABC, NBC and CBS. In those days, a relatively small amount of media was produced by very few people for the consumption of a mass audience. With only so many broadcasting hours in a day, there were very few programming slots available. Television was anything but democratic. It was very limited. The only viewpoints expressed were those of the head honchos at the big studios. These elite network executives decided which programs would be produced and which would not. Production equipment was extremely costly, cameras were gigantic and operating the equipment required a crew with a high degree of training and expertise. The idea of making television at home was unimaginable in that day.
There is an audience for every program, no matter how small the niche.
Before long, over-the-air broadcast had expanded with more channels, and soon cable came on the scene. Cable TV, and subsequently satellite, gave viewers a far wider range of entertainment options, and exposure to more broad and varied points of view. But, even then production of television was primarily done by a relatively small community of paid professionals in Southern California. In the 1990s we experienced the desktop revolution, where camcorders came into the mainstream and digitizers and capture cards allowed early adopters who were willing to crack open their computer cases to install new hardware to edit video on their home PCs. Camcorder technology advanced rapidly during this time, with manufacturers introducing new formats that recorded increasingly higher quality images from camcorders that became smaller in size year after year. With the introduction of the DV recording format and IEEE 1394 FireWire technology, the ability to shoot and edit “broadcast quality” video, albeit in standard definition, became affordable enough that most anyone could make media at home on their computer. Distribution however, was still limited to hard-copy handoffs, delivered on VHS tape, or on DVD. There had to be a better way. Enter the world wide web.
Today, broadcast television is a dinosaur that may be teetering on the brink of extinction. The new video king is online. From DVR recorders, to on-demand services like Netflix, which let viewers watch what they want, when they want, to video distribution portals like Vimeo, the web has literally opened the way for anyone with a cell phone, webcam or camcorder and an Internet connection to be a broadcaster. YouTube estimates that 100 hours of video are uploaded to its site every minute. According to its published statistics, more than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month, and more than 6 billion hours of content are watched monthly — almost an hour for every human on earth. We have come a long way in the democratization of television since those early days of the big three broadcasters.
Now, video is ubiquitous. Access to high definition production equipment is no longer a hindrance to producing media. Consumer hobbyists and professional broadcasters often own and use the same equipment. History is happening right now. You are part of it. We are writing a new chapter in the history of visual communication. Even consumers can shoot and edit at HD resolutions up to 4k. Distribution to a global audience is available to anyone online. Today, everyone is a journalist. A documentarian. An entertainer. An educator. An activist. There is an audience for every program, no matter how small the niche. As producers of media in 2014, we have the opportunity to reach an audience larger than those early television executives could have imagined. The question is, what will we do with this opportunity? So, inform, instruct, inspire, entertain. Join the global conversation. The world is waiting to see what you’ve got.
Matthew York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.