What the Russian Meteorite tells us about the future of TV

Can Glass break Rock?

Can Glass break Rock?

One of the most striking features of the stories about the Russian meteorite was the volume and quality of videos capturing its blazing arc across the sky. You would have thought that half of the autos in the small town where the meteorite crashed had cameras mounted on their dashboards. And you would have been correct.

Because drivers in Russia don’t have a lot of faith in the ability of their court system to correctly assess who is at fault in an auto accident, many have mounted small cameras in their cars to record a few minutes of video into a buffer, which can be saved in the event of a crash — a persuasive bit of evidence in court.  And as a result, video of car crashes is a popular subject on the Russian versions of YouTube. See here, for example, for some highlights.

You rarely see auto crash videos in the U.S., because they happen suddenly, before anyone can turn on a camera. The ones you do see are often from cameras mounted on police cars, similar to those in Russia.

But Google seems close to changing all of that, and in a way that may transform what we now know as commercial TV.

Watch the video embedded in this PopSci article on Google’s hush-hush meeting with developers recently in New York. The session was to show selected developers the latest iteration of Google Glass, the eyeglasses the Web search giant has been crafting that allow users to overlay info from the Web onto the real world.

Up to now, the glasses have seemed intriguing, but not revolutionary. Curious about what it costs to live in a ritzy neighborhood in northern New Jersey? If you’re wearing the glasses, just ask Google to overlay data from Zillow or Trulia or some other Web-based real estate firm onto your vision and you can see what houses have sold for recently, as you look at them. Thinking about stopping at a new ethnic restaurant while running errands? Ask Google to call up Yelp reviews and display them right in your vision. Intriguing, yes, but not that more advanced than what I can already get from a smartphone.

But as this latest video makes clear, Google is far more ambitious. Now the glasses have voice control, and the ability to record video and stream it live to friends. Just tell it to “Start recording” and a small image of what is being captured shows up in one corner of the glasses. Tell it to “Start Hangout” and it begins streaming the video live, allowing up to 9 friends to join in a Google Hangout video chat session, texting their reactions to what you’re seeing. And Hangouts have a URL, which anyone in the world can access.

In other words, anyone wearing Google Glass becomes a TV producer, streaming live whatever they are seeing, and anyone in the world with Web access can watch. That’s a big step up from dashboard-mounted video cameras in a small town in Russia.

Just a few months ago, Twitter was being touted as a revolutionary tool for journalists because it allowed them to monitor what was happening with the “Arab Spring” protests in Egypt and elsewhere. Imagine if even a fraction of those protestors had been wearing Google Glass. When protestors outside the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago chanted “the whole world is watching” before the cameras of the national TV networks, they were right. Until the cameras went away.

But what if anyone, anywhere could show everyone else what was happening? Not just protests — walking tours, traffic jams, nightclub performances, crime scenes, plus the more mundane examples of classes, lectures, museum visits or local sports. YouTube today seems bottomless, but it would be dwarfed by the Google Glass output.

Would commercial TV as well? If the print media’s experience with the Web is any guide, today’s broadcasters should be wary.

When Web news and information sites first launched, they were touted as better replacements for stodgy print media — allowing the use of text, photos, video, interactive graphics and interaction with readers at a lower production cost, all ad supported of course, just like their predecessors in print. But what has slowly been dawning on Web journalists is that they are not the only folks out there who are talented writers, photographers or videographers. There are thousands of people who are passionate about something and willing to produce content about it, for free. As a result, the volume of quality content has increased exponentially and as a result, commercial news and information Web sites producing original content have never been able to attract enough readers to charge the same advertising rates as print media.

Is the same fate in store for the TV industry? There have been many articles recently touting the success of web-only commercial video. Google itself is funding 96 start-up channels via YouTube, and NetFlix was in the spotlight for its release of a second season of House of Cards, it’s Internet-only dramatic series.

But TV producers have always appreciated the power of “live,” for viewers to sit forward in their chairs to experience “being there.” That’s what Google Glass offers. Tens of thousands of live streams, on any topic imaginable. Yeah, some folks never get beyond the first dozen channels on their cable box, but lots more will find niche programming that will take them away from commercial TV.

And that is not good news for traditional producers counting on large audiences to cover large production costs.

But can Google pull off the Glass revolution?

Six years ago, there was no iPhone. Now, many of us would say our smartphone is our most valuable possession. No, Google doesn’t have Apple’s track record with launching consumer gadgets, but they have billions of dollars to invest and if this latest video demonstration is any indication, they’re figuring out a great feature set. My bet is that Glass will have some early hurdles, but eventually will win wide acceptance.

So in six years, when the next meteorite hits, don’t flip over to CNN. Click here to watch it live.

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