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TV's iPod moment?

Watching the Defectives

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Column Last month, the British television industry belatedly joined in a ritual that has been performed by a variety of industries over the past decade. Pointing manically at the rising tide of digital technology, it shook itself awake, and demanded a little more panic.

The occasion was the annual Edinburgh International Television Festival. The figure who did most to rouse the assembled producers and executives from their slumbers was Vint Cerf, Vice President of Google and Chair of ICANN.

TV, Cerf announced, was reaching its "iPod moment", where viewers would become increasingly active in finding and downloading content, and exercise far greater discretion over how and when to view it. What hit the music industry around 2002-04 was about to hit the television industry.

There is an interesting choreography that all such wake-up calls share. They begin by building a sense of panic, often with the use of striking pieces of data.

“In Japan you can already download an hour's worth of video in 16 seconds” Cerf informed his increasingly nervous audience.

The implication is always this - that if you don’t start panicking now, then you’re going to have to start really panicking at some point in the future. So let's opt for productive panic now, rather than unproductive panic later on.

The next step is to share the surprising secret of how to deal with this unnerving situation: don’t panic. Contrary to the impression he was no doubt giving, Cerf reassured his audience that this iPod moment was an opportunity and not a threat.

The comparison to the music industry is perfect for those seeking to orchestrate this emotional conjuring trick, not least because it involves that ubiquitous zeitgeist technology, the iPod.

Lets not forget that everything from political parties to libraries to marketing companies are having to confront the 'iPod generation' or experiencing their 'iPod moment'. This is perhaps the most symbolically over-loaded technology since the Model T Ford.

But how meaningful is this analogy to the music industry and this iPod metaphor?

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