As a 30-year veteran of the commercial and broadcast industry, I was taught that quality of the image and sound was paramount to a successful media project. Artifacts like noise, distortion, bad edits, loss of sync, colour phase shifts, and drop-outs were all unforgivable technological sins. So, like most folks working hard to succeed in their industry, I endeavoured to deliver technological solutions that cured these sins.
After an additional decade working in the IT world, and being exposed to the advent of social media, citizen journalism, YouTube, selfies, surveillance camera news footage, camera smartphones, and live streaming media, it may be time to rethink my position pertaining to the fundamental and absolute requirement for quality pictures and sounds. It just does not seem to matter anymore. So, I am facing a question of my unyielding faith in the technological superiority of the image and sound.
Marshall McLuhan is revered for saying, “the medium is the message”. I might argue that this phrase supports my point and lifelong perspective, that the medium influences, changes, enhances, degrades, or plays largely into the message itself. Now, obviously, I am bias with my background aimed at quality media from my career serving the needs of broadcasters, post production houses, sports broadcasters, and corporate communicators. Others might argue successfully that quality is irrelevant these days when social media video and audio dominate as the core sources of knowledge, information, and news today. Perhaps my time has come and gone?
Yes, I still cringe at obvious lip-sync errors, corporate interviews shot on iPhones, audio-visual set-ups with hundreds of viewers gawking at a single 40-inch TV display squinting their collective eyes to view the screen, and, the poorly lit or unlit talent. To me, it dramatically takes away from the message. But, is that how everyone else sees it? Or, is it just me? Am I a media dinosaur?
Maybe we are all now immune to poor quality media since it bombards us all everyday? Maybe we have all become a society of it is “good enough”? Is the content that much better or worse off if the media’s technological flaws influence the presentation of the content?
In the past, I have always answered “yes”, picture and sound quality is vital to the delivery of a message. As Canadians, we still watch nearly 1,400 hours of broadcast television per annum. After 20, 30, or 40 years of viewership, that is equal to 28,000, 42,000, or 56,000 hours respectively. They say that if you do anything for more than 10,000 hours, then you are an absolute expert at that task. So, we are all expert TV viewers. Now let’s compound matters and add Netflix and other over-the-top delivery solutions to the mix. We Canadians also view hundreds of hours of social media every year on our phones, tablets, and computers. We endure a tsunami of media every day as it washes over us and drowns us regardless of the quality of the signal.
Instinctively I have always known that the storytelling is the essence of broadcasting. But, what elements and values of the storytelling are lost due to crappy media quality?
As a fan of media, I have followed the great modern day thinkers on the topic like Malcolm Gladwell, Andrew Keen, and David Weinberger. Keen (The Cult of the Amateur: How today’s internet is killing our culture) and Weinberger (Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder) debate these issues regularly to sell their books. You can find their enjoyable videos debates on YouTube. They are fun debates, and these two experts share their points of view well. So, if you have a cup of coffee and half an hour to kill, tune in and watch.
Gladwell once wrote, “You think it matters to the kids whether they’re learning to play on a Steinway or a normal piano?” So, maybe learning is simply learning, and being entertained is just defined by if you are actually entertained or not, and, capturing news and information does not matter on the delivery vehicle anymore? Maybe the technical quality of the medium is irrelevant to the message.
Was McLuhan wrong? God forbid.