Two-way Radio: Audience Participation and Editorial Control in the Future
Authors: Lars Nyre & Marko Ala-Fossi
This book deals with the promise of digital radio. In the 2000s, we see clear tendencies towards a participatory turn in broadcast media, and this is often praised as one the greatest improvements brought along by the digitalization of mass media. Broadcasters now commonly use SMS-messaging, interactive websites and talent shows to involve audiences more strongly in the editorial process (Jenkins 2008; Enli 2007).
However, this turn towards direct audience participation involves a tension between the (free) participation by audience members, and the increased level of registration and control by broadcasters. Participants leave rich trails of information that can be used and misused by those controlling it.
This book systematically interrogates digital technologies; for example, their potential for strengthening community radio (chapter 9), and the potential of podcasting to make radio non-linear (chapter 11). This chapter analyses the role of audience registration in all the prevalent platforms for radio media around 2010. It gives a brief historical account of the traditional anonymity of analogue radio and shows how the era of’non-registration is coming to an end. We discuss central features of the new techniques of participation afforded by digital media from the perspective of broadcasters and Internet service providers, and it also discusses the accompanying terms of registration and access. In part I, we introduce these features in a historical context and catalogue the available options in 2009. In part II, we present a detailed inventory of participation and registration features in three media platforms that will be central in the future: digital broadcasting, broadband Internet and mobile telecommunication networks. We conclude that there is a systematic correlation between increasing room for participation by audiences and increasing level of detail in registration by providers.
Part I: Goodbye to anonymity
While radio was previously a one-way medium, spreading its messages indiscriminately to a great number of individuals, it is increasingly becoming a two-way medium, staying in close connection with its individual users on new technological platforms. It is important to remember that this emerging two-way communication implies technical registration of all communicators. For example, there is no way to send an e-mail without also sending a signal that can be traced back to the computer and the person who sent it. The implication is that the user is always dependent on the decisions of broadcasters and providers, and under their editorial control.
The story really begins with analogue broadcasting in the 1920s. On this platform it was impossible to register who was listening to sound broadcasts and, consequently, providers could not require payment from their users. The absolute anonymity of the listener was in a sense an anomaly, a communicative side effect of the broadcasting infrastructure. The financial problem was solved by introducing license-fees and advertising, and the idea of an anonymous audience was accepted as integral to the analogue broadcasting platform. On the institutional level, it also resulted in the development of audience research that monitored the current trends of public interest, rooting editorial policies in statistical contact with the national audience.
It is interesting to note that analogue broadcasting contained a great unintended freedom for citizens in that they could listen freely to whatever they wanted. You cannot subscribe to a political newspaper without the paper, your mailman and even your neighbours knowing about it, but you can listen to a political broadcast without revealing your political orientation to anyone. This was demonstrated well in Norway during World War II when the German invasion forces prohibited radio listening and confiscated receivers on a national scale. Despite their efforts, they were unable to stop the illegal listening to Allied radio services and the London programmes became a vital source of information for Norwegians (Dahl 1999).
In addition to providing absolute anonymity for the audience, traditional broadcasting has another striking feature: it does not encourage audience participation. Since the listeners had no means of staying in direct contact with the providers, it was no wonder that the editorial content was created without their contribution. The manifesto of public service broadcasting has been to inform, educate and entertain the dispersed public. The institution is based on an ideology of the professional journalist and editor who create high-quality content for the general public. Jauert and Lowe (2005) promote the ‘Enlightenment Mission’ of traditional broadcasting as a primary value for the future.
However, there is a complication which Jauert and Lowe are the first to point out. In the twenty-first century, we are at a turning point regarding the role of the audiences in their media behaviour. It is abundantly clear that audiences want to contribute to public communication and media debate. There are thousands and millions of people who regularly express themselves on the Internet. Facebook and YouTube demonstrate the range of techniques for participation that people can engage in. Audiences everywhere can write, film, record, speak, edit, design, manipulate and publish their material in a myriad of ways on a myriad of digital platforms.
There is also increased mobilization. Handheld devices like mobile phones, radio receivers, mp3-players, palm computers and lap-tops are well suited to accommodate new types of audience participation. The devices are intimately associated with flesh-and-blood individuals and are typically off-limits to most other persons (Bull 2000; Ling 2004; Katz and Aakhus 2002).
But most digital media do not afford the luxury of anonymous media consumption. There is a give-and-take logic at play in this relationship; the users get access to far more diverse services than before, but in addition, their behaviour while using the platform is registered in great detail by the providers. Providers can disclose the user’s geographical location by geo-positioning systems; his social network from hacking Into his address hook on the mobile phone; the content of his work life from logging his computer movements, and so on. It seems clear that digital media contrast starkly with analogue broadcasting when it comes to both registration and participation features (Fernback and Papacharissi 2007).
Techniques of participation
Our comparative analysis consists of pointing out the relevant features of participation for the many different platforms of media communication. We will analyze the techniques of participation in broadcast media on a continuum, from very active participation to completely private consumption behaviour. We believe that the act of speaking is the most potent means of public participation (Tolson 2006) and all platforms will be evaluated according to their affordance of public speaking by audience members. The list is not comprehensive but points to the most relevant techniques in our context.
Direct publishing by the citizen
1. The users produce their own speech and audiovisual material and publish it without prior agreement with the providers of the service, for example, by uploading a home video on YouTube. This is the most active form of participation in our scheme.
Participation in an editorial setting
2. The users seek out geographical locations to speak with the editors, based on GPS-location services in combination with a broadcast programme. This is a very active form of participation, but still quite rare in the 2000s.
3. The users speak or sing on air, either live or on a recording made by producers or the users themselves. This is a traditional form of participation which is completely controlled by the editorial unit.
4. The users write messages that are displayed on the TV screen or read out loud on the air. This is under greater control of editorial units than live verbal performances since they can very easily be edited.
Private media consumption
5. The users can create personalised playlists, for example, in Media Player, and control the type of music they want to hear. The same is the case for LPs and 78 rpms picked out from a personal record collection.
6. The listeners can access background information on the Internet; e.g. about a radio personality. This gives added value to the music or radio experience.
7. The users can time-shift the programmes on advanced radio and television tuners; e.g. TIVO. This makes it easier to incorporate media consumption in their domestic life rather than strictly live programming.
8. The users can change stations at their leisure, from a menu of options. Again, this is a way of controlling what they hear, but it is less comprehensive than playlists since users cannot choose what the station contains but can only tune in or out.
9. The users can switch the equipment on and off, and this is the basic privilege that secures individual freedom for the users, as long as the registration procedures are also shut off.
In addition to these direct forms of participation with the medium, there are also back door channels which rely on other media used in parallel. Subscribers receive invoices in the mail, and audience members can write letters of complaint or praise and send them in the post; or can call the switchboard and voice their opinions; and send e-mails or post messages to forums. This study does not put great weight on these back door channels because they don’t affect the programme content directly.
Terms of registration set by providers
Audience control is at the heart of the modern media industry (Beniger 1991). There have been subscription newspapers for hundreds of years, license fees for radio and television since the 1920s and subscription cable TV since the 1940s. On the Internet, there are credit card payments through banking systems like PayPal, Ogone or the like. Indeed, since credit cards are linked to a person’s name, they can be used to discover other information, such as postal address, phone number, etc. Moreover, registration can occur through the very device that the person is being charged for using and the telephone system is a good example of this. Providers can charge users for the duration of use or the amounts of data transferred, and register the temporal characteristics of the users’ habits.
We will analyze new media platforms according to the list of registration procedures below. Notice again that the list is not exhaustive although it includes the most typical forms of control (see also Ala-Fossi 2005a; 2005b; Ala-Fossi, Lax et al., 2007).
1. The provider can shut off the user’s access (due to non-payment or censorship).
2. The provider can record the individual’s location at any given time.
3. The provider can record the individual’s long-term media consumption history on a given platform or service.
4. The provider can identify and track the terminal and user through the phone number, and record all conversations.
5. The provider can identify and track the terminal and user through the IP-number of computers and record all traffic.
6. The provider can require username and password in order to allow the user access a site or service.
7. The provider can require a subscription scheme with codes that are changed regularly and sent out on e-mail, etc.
The empirical material for this account was generated by a comparative technology review inspired by medium theory (Meyrowitz 1994), and by systematic media histories such as those of Briggs and Burke (2004) and Winston (2005). We analyze the available techniques of participation and terms of registration in a series of nine digital media platforms, and we compare them in order to evaluate which platforms afford the best balance between participation and registration. For a detailed discussion of this approach to media studies, see Nyre (2008), and Nyre and Ala-Fossi (2008).
The dominant speech functionality in digital broadcasting is journalism, that is, editorialized speech. Over the years, a very strong culture of content production has developed in radio and television, with professional norms for speech in various genres such as sports broadcasts, talk shows, documentaries and news. This eloquence gives broadcasting a very comfortable communicative presence for audiences. If you were ever to sit back and just receive, broadcasting would be your medium of choice because of the sheer aesthetic allure of its sounds (Crisell 1994; Hendy 2000).
In having such an important function, broadcast journalism rises above the communication that ordinary citizens can effect between themselves. Journalists work in a well-defined profession with trade unions and interest organizations; they possess complex expressive skills involving writing, camera work, styles of speaking and moving around, editing, checking sources, complying with ethical guidelines, etc. (Murdock 2005). It seems that digital broadcasting will continue to support this traditional, professional regime and not affect anything resembling a radical change in broadcasting institutions such as the BBC.
1. Terrestrial universal access radio
Digital audio broadcasting (DAB) was the first operational digital radio platform and was launched in the UK in the late 1990s (Lax, Shaw, et al. 2008). It was not only designed for delivering sound, and in practice could include any sort of data like text and pictures – even video clips or web pages. One transmitter is able to broadcast several programmes at the same time on the same frequency, but this requires that programme services or channels are combined in a multiplex. DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting) is an audiovisual update of the DAB system. It provides similarly good mobile reception, combined with new audio and video encoding standards, which makes it more versatile and efficient.
Regarding the techniques of participation among listeners, current DAB and DMB radio only allow three of the private consumption techniques: time-shifting the programme on advanced tuners, changing stations on a menu, and switching on and off. This is because the signal stream only goes one way, with no return-channel for the listener. This feature also implies that there are no terms of access set by editorial units and providers. They cannot register the listeners in any way beyond registering the purchase of the listening equipment and collecting license fees from equipment owners.
Both these standards are based on the traditional broadcasting paradigm: it gives the listener free access to all services and content, and it also allows the listener to remain anonymous. This is why terrestrial DMB services in South Korea are financed only by advertising and the operators are allowed to simulcast their existing analogue terrestrial television and radio services. If this kind of anonymous digital reception were to dominate in the future, there would not really be any change in the radio medium from the perspective of our analysis.
We will mention two more digital terrestrial platforms with universal access that share the characteristics described above. DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) also follows the traditional broadcast paradigm. It was developed to provide near-FM quality sound on AM and it also has capacity to broadcast additional data and text. In addition, it is designed to use the existing channel allocations. IBOC (In-Band, On Channel) or HD radio has a similar kind of approach. It uses the so-called sidebands on both sides of the analogue signal for the digital signal. This makes it possible to broadcast simultaneously a standard analogue signal plus one near CD-quality digital signal, and a small amount of additional data (Ala-Fossi and Stavitsky 2003: 67). In both cases, broadcasters can keep their own transmitters and networks and continue operations on frequencies that are well known to the listeners, instead of having to regain their positions on a single frequency network (like DAB multiplexes).
2. Terrestrial subscription radio
The pan-European Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) project was launched in 1991 based on experiences with DAB (Lax, Shaw, et al, 2008). The latest branch of this family of standards is a special system for handheld devices called DVB-H. It primarily broadcasts programmes to everyone in the same way as traditional broadcasting but the user can also download on-demand type audio content that is not a strictly live transmission. In other words DVB-H allows the user to handle data packages at his leisure and this is a substantial difference from DAB.
Regarding the issue of registration, it is important to notice that DVB-H was designed to provide an IP-based platform for public communication. The IP-based system of DVB-H makes it possible to locate and register users and charge them for different services, which gives more possibilities for commercial use than DAB. This is why mobile phone manufacturers like Nokia, as well as telecom operators, are now pushing DVB-H to be the dominant standard for mobile digital broadcasting.
Channels can be broadcast free to air or they can be encrypted and available only via subscription. For example, the Nokia N77 supports such subscription channels and offers a limited degree of user management of such services. Subscription services can be available for fixed periods of time or for a particular event. DVB-H also supports interactive services like voting and participating in quizzes or surveys. Since DVB-H can be embedded in mobile phones, audience members can use the cellular connection to send information back to the service provider. This introduces a level of two-way interactivity that has not traditionally been available on radio and TV (except for the ‘red button that satellite and cable TV can provide, and which also uses a telephone feedback loop). With widespread adoption, these DVB-H services have great potential (Blandford 2007).
Regarding the balance of participation and registration, DVB-H only offers private consumption techniques of participation for citizens, although these are highly versatile. Listeners can purchase on-demand services which are actively selected; they can change stations on a menu (depending on the offer in their region); they can time-shift the broadcast programmes on advanced tuners, and they can turn their equipment on and off.
Along with these rich consumer opportunities, there is a much tighter control from the providers; or they at least have the technical possibility to exert it. The editorial units and providers control the listeners access by subscription codes that are changed regularly, and sent out on e-mail, etc. They can instantly shut off the user’s access (due to non-payment or censorship); and they can record the (approximate) location of the listener’s device at any given time based on the network characteristics of the IP-number. Again, it is clear that the increase in versatility for users is paid for with greater detail of registration by providers.
3. Satellite subscription radio
Geo-stationary satellites have a very high data capacity, at least downstream. Satellite radio can cover large areas like continents, and offer hundreds of options simultaneously to potentially millions of people. Satellite radio has been relatively successful in the USA, mostly because of its uninterrupted and crystal clear coast-to-coast coverage, with a variety of channels with little or no advertising. The market for satellite reception devices really only exists in the USA, where there are dozens of different models available. The satellite radio receiver resembles the TV receiver in many regards. There may be a recording functionality, programme pause and resume, and a graphical display of available services.
An important difference is that there is no dish and the reception is therefore mobile. Especially for the car, there are devices with GPS functionality and radio reception, in addition to an mp3-player.
The techniques of participation for citizens are the same as for DVB-H and its relatives, except that it is not possible to download programmes and listen on-demand (this can only be done if the station also has an Internet service). The user can change stations on a menu; time-shift the programmes on advanced tuners, and turn the receiver on and off, and these are all types of participation that we call techniques for private consumption. On the other end of the platform, the editorial providers control the audiences access by tying subscription to codes that are renewed regularly on e-mail or in the post, and therefore they can shut off the user’s access (due to non-payment or censorship). They can also identify the location of the device to a lesser or greater degree based on the density of the transmission stations (for example, on the level of city or suburb).
The registration of listeners depends on what type of reception technology the provider chooses to adopt. The listeners are still technically anonymous because there is no return signal from the receiver to the satellite. Registration can only come about by using a subscription system alongside an encrypted signal beamed from the satellite. By subscribing to Sirius, for example, you get a code that opens your receiver for the Sirius signal. Notice that the registration process is not internal to the platform as with broadband Internet and mobile telephony; it has to go via the post, telephone or e-mail.
The speech functionalities of broadband Internet are not very well developed compared to its graphical functionality. Indeed, the Internet was for decades a writerly medium and writing, photographs and graphical designs were the primary means of communication (Gauntlett 2000). The Internet is still largely organized so that users have to access a website or software in order to launch sound content. All types of sound are somehow secondary qualities of the Internet; at least they were so until the mid-2000s (Johnson, 1997). But now the Internet increasingly harbours live speech with or without video, some of which resemble broadcasting (YouTube) and others which resemble phone conversations (Skype). In the future, it seems that broadband Internet will provide a series of platforms that combine audiovisual communication with global reach and interactivity; and this combination has great utility as well as novel aesthetic qualities (see Leandros 2006).
The participation techniques involved can be categorized according to three perceptual foci, and these are central to all platforms described for broadband Internet (Johnson 1997). Firstly, there is participation with mouse and keyboard where users browse, select, store and organize all kinds of information that is displayed on the screen. Secondly, there is participation in writing with users producing all kinds of texts on e-mail, chat groups, personal HTML-programmed sites, public arenas like www.bbb.co.uk, and so on. And thirdly, there is participation in speech/music. The user can record sound and publish it on websites, or send voice messages and engage in live conversation in MSN Messenger, Skype software and other audiovisual services. YouTube became a popular example of this in 2006-2007 and it is crucial to the participatory perspective of this chapter.
The terms of registration seem quite liberal. When sending messages over the Internet, many people enjoy a sense of anonymity by acting under pseudonyms and nicknames. Since there is no obvious way to associate these nicknames with a real world identity, users can create fictional identities and life stories for themselves on dating websites, political activist websites and newsgroups. But, despite this appearance of anonymity, it is easy for webmasters to identify the IP-addresses of computers, store information about their geographical location and trace the content of the hard drives. The provider of broadband access can easily shut off the connection to a specific IP-address, for example, if the user does not pay the bill on time. A determined party such a government prosecutor, a plaintiff in a lawsuit or a determined stalker may be able to identify almost any individuals PC, especially if they are assisted by the records of the Internet Service Provider that assigned the IP address in the first place.
4. Web radio
Internet radio, i.e. live streaming on the Internet, was first introduced in 1993 (Priestman 2002). Earlier users had to first download the sound file and then listen to it, but the stream player made it possible to listen to the sound while receiving it and, in this way, it recreates the ‘liveness’ of broadcasting on a completely different platform. The reception is not very mobile since it typically occurs on a stationary or portable computer. Wireless broadband reception is about to improve the mobility of Internet radio.
Web streaming does not introduce any improvement in the conditions for active public participation, but it lowers the threshold for establishing new editorial outlets, and opens new avenues for public participation in speech and music. This can include student radio stations (Coyle 2000) or more experimental communication (Nyre 2006; Delys and Foley 2006). Web radio services can be launched for small groups scattered all over the world without large initial investments. It has become the main delivery system for thousands of web-only radio operators and an important supplementary platform for practically all radio broadcasters. An editorial unit can target Internet services to a selected region using IP-addresses because it includes national co-ordinates. This ‘directionality’ gives Internet radio providers a great level of control – if they have reason to make use of it. BBC was contemplating shutting out foreigners from their domestic programme on the web and would have blocked all IP-addresses not originating in the UK.
Regarding the techniques of listening, users can do more than listen blindly to the sounds – they can also browse the website and operate the media player according to a host of functionalities that can be customized to their needs. The user can navigate the global menu of radio stations and music jukeboxes that are on offer. There is also the possibility to use the website actively for personal information needs, not just to read about programmes and stations, but to check the weather, the traffic situation and other practical information that is peripheral to the stations audio service. Regarding the terms of access set by editorial units and providers, web radio allows as much anonymity as the Internel can give. As already suggested, the location ol the computer can be identified and activities on the computer can be monitored, as would be the case for any other activity on the Internet. Web radio is the Internet’s equivalent to analogue radio.
Podcasting is distinctly different from web radio because it communicates exclusively in the form of pre-recorded programme packets. There’ is no live speech and no immediate actuality to the journalism that can be made, but there is a lot of speaking from celebrity hosts, news journalists and experts of many kinds (Berry 2006). Podcasting combines the mp3-format with RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, and it is often listened to on music players. Earlier, a user had to search and download every audio file separately to his computer and transfer the files into the portable player, but from 2005 podcasting made it possible for users to subscribe to audio content. Whenever a website publishes new material through the RSS feed, the listener’s software client automatically downloads it (Levy 2006). Typically, the user will transfer the files to his mobile mp3 -player and listen while roaming around his geographical environment. This comes as a further contrast to web radio, which is more strictly bound to the more stationary setting of the computer.
Podcasting provides a series of private consumption techniques for citizens. It allows users to create a personalised series of subscription feeds from a range of providers, and since the programmes are downloaded automatically, the user automatically owns a hard copy of each programme. In the same way as web radio, the user can browse and read background information on the Internet while listening to the programme. It is worth noting that the podcast listener can easily become a podcaster. The software for publishing podcasts is just as easily available as streaming audio software, and this raises the opportunity for the media user to also be a content provider. This is a reflection of the Internet’s great potential for symmetrical communication, but notice again that all these opportunities come at a cost. The technical (and editorial) providers can identify the user-terminal and all the data traffic on the terminal by the IP-number, and the people who publish podcasts through an ordinary broadband connection are therefore always monitored and potentially censored by their Internet service provider.
6. Music file-sharing
Like podcasting, music file-sharing deals with already recorded material and cannot communicate in real time. Among music lovers, players like iTunes, RealPlayer and Windows Media Player are the natural way of listening to music, with everyone finding and filing their favourites by the use of music software (Alderman 2001; Jones 2002). Music file cabinets give easy access to recorded music and it can be stored on the wearable iPod Nano just as well as on the stationary PC. The skilful user can find a certain track in five seconds maximum, and music collectors can stockpile as much as 20,000-30,000 songs in their file cabinet (Sterne 2006).
The piracy issue is only one dimension of the freedom of action that users have on a file-sharing platform, which is quite unlike web radio and podcasting. The music-lover can publish music files at will, without the prior agreement of the editors of the site or the musicians. The music will be downloaded and enjoyed by countless users who can write recommendations to each other to accompany the music files, for example, using the chat function in TorrentSpy. Users can create personalised play lists; they can access background information about artists and music, and they can purchase on-demand services that one actively selects in the Internet marketplace. There are so many providers of music and video files on the Internet that listeners are never dependent on one provider in order to get a certain type of music, which is again very different from Internet radio. If you want to listen to BBC Radio One there is only one provider.
The terms of registration set by editorial units and providers are more precise than those of web radio. First, there is the standard registration of the computer by the IP-number. In addition, it is not uncommon for file-sharing sites to require usernames and passwords, so that the content is restricted to a select group of people (Hacker 2000). Secure sites can retaliate against abuse or non-payment by instantly shutting off the music lover’s access. File-sharing sites can log the user’s individual preferences as they aggregate over time, and offer custom-made menus of music based on this information. Amazon.com has done this with their book sales for many years. It is difficult for the consumer to know that all the preferences they disclose will not be exploited for sinister purposes.
7. Social networking sites
In recent years, various audiovisual Internet services have added weight to the phenomenon of personalised media’. For example, music sites like www.pandora.com and www.last.fm allow users to tailor their automated musical output to their own genre tastes. Such personalisation is constructed by having huge numbers of songs available and offering ways of sifting through and cherry-picking favourites, all of which are stored in the provider’s database.
But there are more potent examples of public participation on the Internet, and social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are among the most prominent. Here, people can cultivate a personal profile with contacts, an archive of pictures, videos and texts, plus all kinds of ad-hoc or regular contact with other members of the site. The distinctive feature of these sites is that the feedback and responses from other users are important for all the content producers. For example, the popularity of videos on YouTube is measured not only in the number of hits and views, but also with a rating system that all users can score the videos by. There is a strong element of trust and credibility (and the lack thereof) between the users, and the editorial unit of traditional broadcasting is almost entirely bypassed. Twitter is the latest in a series of such social networking sites, and it is special in that it only allows 140 characters (like an SMS message), and can be hooked up to your mobile phone so that you can ‘twitter’ directly to the Internet site.
The differences between social networking sites and analogue broadcasting are so great that the two platforms are almost incomparable. The most notable differences are that the user can become his own editorial unit and publish audiovisual content at will, and that the user can write messages that are displayed on the screen, and organize and co-ordinate his network on his personal profile page. It almost goes without saying that the user can also create various types of personalised playlists based on the content accessed on such sites, and also read background information on the general Internet, and potentially buy commodities based on this multi-platform engagement.
As always, this great affordance of public communication comes at a cost. The terms of access set by editorial units and providers override all the interfaces for the users. This is brutally demonstrated by the fact that the webmaster can instantly remove any part of the content uploaded by the user, and also shut down his access to his personal profile or give the user a penalty quarantine period; since after all, the provider controls the usernames and passwords for the user profiles. It goes almost without saying that the provider can keep track of the user’s entire media consumption history on their site, and can also identify the broadband subscriber through the ISP and track the location of the terminal by the IP-number of the computer.
Mobile telecom networks
The mobile phone has traditionally been a medium for personal contact more than journalistic content, and at first glance it may not seem to share many features with traditional broadcasting. People essentially use the mobile phone as an extension of their social lives.
Anybody and everybody can speak on the phone. It is a private realm of communication where slang, codes, jive, lingo, accents, and dialects of all kinds are cultivated (Ling 2004). What made GSM more successful than other systems was that it was designed to bring mobile telephony to all people, instead of only business people (Manninen 2002: 298-302).
Mobile phone systems consist of a grid of transmission stations and reflectors, which create an overlapping pattern of access zones so that, in practice, the user can roam about freely and without caring about where he is. The provider registers the geographical information along with the time of any calls made. If necessary, the location of the phone equipment (and by extension the user) can be traced in detail, and the provider can also register all the numbers he or she has called. Notice however that users are well aware of these registration features, and can use pre-paid cards and dispose of phones regularly if they really want to stay anonymous (Gow 2005). Twitter must be mentioned again because it combines broadband Internet with SMS-messaging, and as such, allows providers two ways to track the activities of the users.
In contrast to broadcasting, the platform for telephony did not traditionally contain its own editorial institutions. But increasingly traditional journalistic content can be accessed through, for example, FM-equipment embedded in the mobile phone, and WAP and 3G services that present text information on the display screen. Notice that there are of course a host of services that channels mobile phone use into broadcasting, such as phone-ins on radio and various forms o) SMS messaging to television shows (Enli 2007; I lill 2003; Siapera 2004), Il seems that the mobile phone still mainly functions as a feedback loop for the other platforms discussed in this chapter. Nevertheless, there is potential for editorial innovation when it comes to public services for mobile telecom platforms (Rheingold 2002).
8. 3G mobile audio and video
The Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) can deliver audiovisual signals besides telephone calls and text messages, and opens up the telephone to all kinds of miniaturized radio and television services. The mobile phone, however, has a small screen and the audio must be heard through headphones, restricting its perceptual richness. Nevertheless, 3( iPhones make broadcast sound practicable within the mobile network itself, and not just via I’M or DAB transmission (Farnsworth and Austin 2005; Lillie 2005). 3G mobile television is typically referred to as a ‘unicast’ service, as there is a dedicated signal stream to every single user. The problem with 3G-based Mobile TV services is that the network in a given location has a fixed capacity and only a limited number of individual connections are sustainable at any one time. This is not currently a problem but if the popularity of mobile TV were to increase, there would be a potential bottleneck here (Blandford 2007). Web radio also has limitations due to the principle of dedicated signal streams.
It is no surprise that web radio is present on UMTS. In March 2005, the UK-based radio broadcaster Virgin Radio launched its live radio services on the Internet for its 3G mobile phone users. Podcasting is also implemented on UMTS, and the Nokia Podcasting application allows for downloading podcasts with the N-series devices. Users can choose between Wireless LAN or a package data plan. An increasing number of phones have WLAN support as standard equipment (for example Nokia N91 or N95), which makes it possible to avoid the expensive data transfer via 3G network and not lose out on the functionalities.
When it comes to the balance of registration and participation, it is worth noting that 3G phone users can access all the Internet services analyzed above, including web radio, file-sharing, podcasting and social networking sites. In combination with the camera, microphone and video function which most phones have installed, this allows users to be mobile content providers and to publish their preferred stories about whatever social situation they choose, ranging from the work setting to deeply private settings. In addition, future 3G phones will in all likelihood be equipped with digital broadcasting receivers, particularly DVB-H. This adds to the FM and Internet-only services that are already available. At the end of this impressive list of bundled services, it must be mentioned that most mobile phones have good music players where users can create play lists and organize on-demand listening.
We have already discussed the registration features of the mobile phone, and here we will only add that the provider can shut off the user’s access (due to non-payment or censorship); keep records of the individual’s entire media consumption history on his device; and record all audio/video feeds to and from the user’s device regardless of whether it is private or public. Again, the great range of techniques for participation cannot come about without an increasing range of control techniques among providers.
9. Location-based audio and video
What we call location-based services can, for example, be a mobile phone with facilities for satellite communication. Many mobile phones are equipped not just with GSM telephony and 3G broadband, but also have GPS satellite functionality, e.g. for in-car navigation. GPS is an American positioning system and there is also a European system called Galileo, and in the future there will be Russian and Chinese satellite communication systems. (GPS and Galileo are fully compatible so navigators can use data from both satellite systems). Each system requires several satellites that transmit their own positioning data. The device on the ground receives data simultaneously from several satellites, and thereby triangulates the position to the degree of metres and in three dimensions. Notice that the terms of access set by the providers are just as extensive as for the 3G phone (see above). The question is whether the new functionalities are worth the price of registration.
Regarding the techniques for public participation by citizens, the location-based platform is definitely the most versatile and powerful. The handheld device can contain all the platforms previously discussed (for example, FM, DAB and broadband Internet sites on 3G) and, furthermore, the location-information can be exploited for various purposes.
Until now, location-specific prototypes or experiments have mainly dealt with annotation of text messages to a certain place. Among the many interesting experiments in this field are the Geonotes project (Persson et al. 2002) and the Stick-E Note architecture (Pascoe 1997). There are also journalistic location services like www.everyblock.com, which presents news, current affairs and cultural events related to precise locations in American cities. However, there is still little or no sound communication available in these set-ups. At present, mainly museums and zoological gardens make use of such designs to present information about artworks or caged animals, typically on handheld devices that the spectator carries around with him/her in the building. Such localised information is not really public since only paying visitors have access to it.
One opportunity is to mount transmitters for wireless broadband (or Bluetooth) in public spaces and link this up with GPS positioning. The device will not only tell you your location, it can also disclose this location to the providers of the service and, by extension, may potentially be used for editorial purposes. While satellite radio sends the same signal to all locations, the GPS-driven service can have different signals to all locations, and this increases the potential for journalistic and participatory innovation.
Location-specific communication based on GPS-positioning and wireless broadband can be restricted to just a small area in the urban environment (one square kilometre, for example). Everybody who passes through the area can get access to the programme, and when they move beyond the outer perimeter, the programme is shut off. Providers can do this by combining the GPS-positioning system with a data transfer system. Alternatively, the cells and location information of the normal GSM network can be used to triangulate the position of the users, and this takes place to a level of accuracy of hundreds of metres.
The chapter has demonstrated the strong connection between increased participation among audiences and increased registration of their personal information by providers. All the platforms that have really extensive participation allowance also have really extensive control features for the providers. At the heart of this connection is something that sounds like a law: two-way communication in digital media requires personal registration of all communicators.
The way that most governments deal with this type of dilemma is by practicing ‘technology neutrality’ in regard to future broadcasting platforms. In the USA, in particular, the idea is that the market should decide for itself which technologies are best suited for broadcasting and other branches. But there is a potential problem about practicing technology neutrality. What if market selection does not favour public interest? The market winners may not possess the system with the best balance of registration and participation features. History is full of examples of good solutions that are ignored by the market. For example, in the early 1930s, the board of RCA wilfully ignored the FM-transmission system, delaying the introduction of a superb sound quality system and more channels in the USA for several decades (Douglas 1999: 256-267). Unless governments impose regulations towards specific solutions, the strongest business interest will prevail in the end. In the European context, it is therefore interesting that in 2007 the European Commissioner for Information Society and Media stated that the industry should agree on one single standard, and that it should be the DVB-H family of standards. Viviane Reding also suggested that if the industry and member states failed to agree on one standard, she would be forced to intervene with regulatory measures (Reding 2007).
Our comparison is not technology-neutral, but our conclusion is nevertheless ambivalent. We do not think that DVB-H is the better platform since it has extensive registration without extensive public participation. None of the next generation platforms lacks registration with rich participation opportunities; they are good at either one or the other. The better platform, regarding registration, would be a terrestrial universal access radio system like DAB, since it secures absolute anonymity for users. But the downside is, of course, that it does not provide any new interfaces for participation. The better platform regarding participation would be the location-aware type (on 3G phone networks), but it gives the provider such an extensive overview of the users’ personal activities that it threatens their right to privacy. It seems that the citizen cannot have it both ways: they have to choose either unregistered access or wide-ranging participation opportunities.
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