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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 May 2006, 04:00 GMT 05:00 UK
Talkin' bout a media revolution
This week, the BBC, Reuters and US think tank The Media Center host a two-day conference exploring the impact of technology and the internet on the media and on society. The BBC's Director of Global News, Richard Sambrook, looks at how big brands are coping with the digital revolution.

Rolling Stones in concert
In the 1960s, bands like the Rolling Stones led a musical revolution
If Web 2.0 is the new rock 'n' roll, who are the one-hit wonders and who will still be playing to packed stadiums in 40 years' time?

The comparison isn't quite as ridiculous as it may appear. Forty years ago, music was leading a social revolution, disrupting the establishment and empowering a new generation.

Today's web technology and social media, known as Web 2.0, or the second wave of the internet, are leading a similar challenge and the long-term effects are likely to be greater.

Once again we are divided into those who get it and those who don't. There is hyperventilating on the blog barricades about the end of the old order and the birth of the new counter-culture, information anarchy.

The question of trust is paramount in an age where news is everywhere
Alfred Hermida

But, just as in the music revolution, it is often the most creative and the most challenging who are negotiating major commercial deals which will secure their future.

Much of the media coverage has, of course, been about the effects on the media, such as citizen journalism, and sites like Bebo, YouTube and Flickr.

But the impact of this revolution in digital information is being felt across all professions from education, to health, to law, finance, and more.

The trust factor

There is a social restructuring under way with more power, and responsibility, flowing towards the individual and away from major companies, institutions and professionals.

Rupert Murdoch
Murdoch has talked of a shift in power from the established elite
As individuals now have the information to challenge what once they accepted at face value it raises big issues, not least, who do you trust?

In the new world of free information and choice, trust becomes a key factor determining which sites and companies succeed and which do not.

Major corporations have recognised the wave of change and are now positioning themselves, as best they can, to ride it.

Rupert Murdoch in March noted how "power is moving away from the old elite" towards the consumers and, having bought one of the most successful social networking websites, MySpace, pledged to put it at the heart of his operations.

Reuters CEO Tom Glocer said earlier this year: "Our industry is facing a profound challenge from home-created content.

"If we create the right crossroads, provide the consumers with the appropriate tools... we can harness what otherwise from the outside would look like a punk revolution."

And last week the BBC's Director General Mark Thompson unveiled his creative vision, recognising that technology is creating "seismic shifts in public expectations, lifestyles and behaviours" and outlined his plans to take the corporation into the on-demand age.

Corporate beasts

The reaction to these announcements is predictably mixed. Some commentators welcome them as an indication of great services in development by strong organisations.

Others do not see the need for established media to move into this new ground.

BBC News Interactive journalist
News organisations like the BBC are adapting to the digital world
Competitors worry about the big beasts of the corporate media world crowding out others, and perhaps inhibiting innovation.

In the world of blogs these announcements are variously greeted as the death throes of media dinosaurs, ludicrously late to the technology game the enthusiasts have been playing for a decade, or sinister and threatening as the big multi-nationals take over the playground.

This is a false debate taking place in a media bubble. The truth is more straightforward.

We are at a moment of opportunity and change. Technology, in gestation for 10 years through the first wave of digital, is about to bring to the heart of people's lives a degree of choice and control which is still hard to grasp.

That in turn is changing the assumptions and behaviour of the public, from how they consume media to their expectations of public services and politicians. They will determine the future.

Public choice

At such a moment we badly need the creativity, innovation and challenge of the digital rebels. But we also need the experience, resources, standards, accountability and reach of big trusted brands.

The two can, and will, work together. Both will learn from each other.

Just as rock 'n' roll was brought to the mainstream by the music companies, the benefits of the digital revolution will flow through big business too.

It will not always be a happy marriage and not all will succeed. Some familiar brands will disappear and new powerful ones will emerge.

Those who can embrace innovation, respond to challenge and partner them with the strengths of a major organisation will be the most successful.

But it will not be a success determined in the boardrooms or by the technical geeks.

It will be determined by the public making choices about what they value and who they trust. They may have some surprises in store for all of us.

The We Media global forum is taking place in London from 3 to 4 May. It brings together major media companies with developers and bloggers from around the world.

Your thoughts and comments:

The discussion assumes the web world we know will continue. I believe right now we are in a brief wonderful period of unfettered access to material and methods: an enlightenment. But it is a very, very brief period. The sudden burst of technology was driven by engineers doing what they saw was possible - no one told them to do anything different. But businessmen pay the salaries and tell engineers what to do. Now they realise what is happening they demand control, of content by Digital Rights Management so it can be viewed when and where they say, with the payment they choose, control of methods so new material belongs to them, control of communications, of web pages.

If I were a businessman who owned content I would have every engineer I could afford working out how to make very small charges (micropayments) for every web page you viewed, every email you sent, every video you played. I'd make sure nothing that wasn't clearly owned by someone was viewable, doable, shareable at all. I'd make sure my engineers worked with Microsoft's, and Murdoch's, and every other major player who shared the same interest: making money from this free-for all. Micropayments need control. Control needs ownership, protection, prohibition. Enjoy it while it lasts; it won't be here for long.
Stephen Woodruff, University of Glasgow, Scotland

No doubt technology advancement is perfect, real essence of media is public trust, honest and impartial. What are achievements of media, some times reporting & analysis appears little contaminated, or influenced.
Syed Hasan Turab, Milwaukee USA

I welcome the decline of big news organizations which have always dictated what is "news" with no dispute or discussion allowed. But trust is still an issue and there is a lot of spin and self-interest out there. RSS feeds and podcasts are two things which look good for the consumer to be able to select information among all the chatter and junk.
Jeremy, Atlanta, Georgia

Social change from the internet is inevitable. When I was at school in the 80s, we were told that one day we will be able to work, shop and do our everyday living from home - this was considered science-fiction. However, terrorism, bird flu, rising oil-prices, street crime and an aging population will soon contribute to make the net even more central to our lives and make 80's science fiction, 21st century science fact.
Richard Melton, Spain

I think digital technologies will never be a problem because they cannot overcome completely any existing method, it simply complements them. There are plenty people in the world to cover all different types of products and business. For instance, I might prefer to read news online, listen to online radio stations, but doesn't mean I will stop buying newspapers or stereos for my house. The market is vast and there are people who prefer "old fashion" methods to achieve whatever they want and that should always be a priority in as well. Digital might make it easier and more interactive, however it is a different approach it is not yet available world wide neither to people from all backgrounds.
Kell, UK

There is no doubt that that the online world has now directly influenced our physical world and the power of sites such as Google, eBay, and Amazon is testament to this. Technology has always been a tool for both good and bad. I have always however been amused and bemused by blogs. They are self indulgent rantings of people who need to occasionally turn off their computers and get a life. The rise of blogs is synonymous with reality TV, and lifestyle/decorating shows. We shall soon drown in a see of opinionated self important tripe. The more that is produced the less you want to care. When people had to actually bother to find a soap box and go outside to make a comment there was perhaps some reason to stop and listen. Words are cheep now and some bored office worker sitting at a computer living in some fantasy land is not my opinion a new wave or revolution.
Trevor Baker, England


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