Picture this: cablecasting live from your office. All you need is a camcorder and a new kind of cable box.
In 1976 one gallery in uptown Manhattan and one downtown started cable-casting their own programs. But they did not have to taxi their tapes to the cable office. Instead, they broadcast them from their own offices. At that time every other home and office on the cable could only receive programs. These galleries could send them. They could even transmit live. Gallery hosts, for example, could solicit instant viewer response to their productions and take phone calls “on the air.”
Techies of the time called sending a signal into the cable “injection.” Sending a live signal was “live injection.” These galleries, therefore, were two of only a few existing “Live Injection Points,” LIPs for short.
Interested in their potential, Manhattan Cable established a service for the promulgation of these LIPs. A company wag soon dubbed this, of course, LIP Service. Known as the LIP Services Director, this man was proud to give LIP service and get paid for it. He envisioned LIPs all over Manhattan talking to one another through the cable.
Seventeen years later, things haven’t changed much.
We may soon see the advent of 500 channels of cable programming, but we still have very few live injection points. We have grown so accustomed to consuming TV, we rarely imagine using it as a means of two-way public communication.
Someday, they say, every home will have a videophone, but that’s a different animal. Phones deliver two-way messages that are more or less private. People use them for talking one-to-one. Conference calls go a step further, but they link only several-to-several. That means each member of a small group can send and receive messages to and from each other member. The LIP on a cable system, however, sends messages to a far greater audience. The producer sends the signal out to everyone on the cable, not just to a select group.
This means the LIP can link one-to-many: the producer to the audience. This is standard broadcasting, in the style of your local TV station, with, say your living room as the studio. Yet, with multiple LIPs we could see shows from a great number of videographers–even makers of live programs.
This in turn could mean greater service, not to mass markets, but to those mid-sized groups with common concerns known as communities of interest.
When LIPs go live they make a bigger impact. If, for example, the host of a live show invites phone calls, the LIP links many-to-many.
That show becomes a vortex where anyone on the cable can speak with everyone on the cable. What if every business, church and club were a Live Injection Point? These could all meet with their members, sell their products and entertain their audiences live, through the wire. What if the office of every videographer were a Live Injection Point? You could produce a program today and cablecast it from your office tonight; or you could simply bring your camera and talent into your office, hit the “live injection” button on your cable box and cue talent.
Would viewers see programs more pertinent to their needs, values and goals? Would television lose some of its Hollywood and New York fantasy gloss? Would it come to serve as a public utility as much as an entertainment medium? Would it start looking more like your friends, family, co-workers?
Would that endanger the nation? Some worry that such special interest programming will further polarize the various groups that already splinter society. On the other hand, could the very fact of regular people using television promote a video discourse more intelligent–and therefore more deeply unifying–than the present consumerist dream?
Really, it could go either way. The technology alone will not dictate the path. But we can have the technology soon–if we want to give it more than lip service.
Do we want it? A question that gives one pause.
Stephen Muratore is Videomaker‘s Editor in Chief.