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All information current as of 19:09:41 Pacific Time, Monday, 21 February 2005.

The Internet Challenge to Television

   by Bruce M. Owen

    Harvard University Press
    15 December, 2001


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Editorial description(s):

From Kirkus Reviews
An instructive, if misnamed, volume on emerging technology in the fields of television, telephony, and computers. Owens, an economist, tends to approach his subjects with the issue of cost-effectiveness foremost. He treats his material methodically from both historical and prognostic points of view, covering radio as a precursor to television and making predictions on the success of high-definition television (HDTV). In the case of telephones and televisions, there is a further division into analog and digital subsets, and with television additional stratification between broadcast and cable media. Much of this discussion is quite helpful, and Owen certainly renders the technical jargon far more clearly than a typical owner's manual for a product does. For instance, he offers an instructive discussion on the origins of the word ``broadcast,'' employing a comparison with ``narrowcast'' to underscore the importance of bandwidth to predigital and non-computer-based forms of communication. Similarly, Owens makes strong use of charts and diagrams to elucidate his contentions. His political stance, on those rare occasions when it can be discerned at all, is innocuously laissez-faire, criticizing both monopolies and government-sponsored protection of the industry. However, the study eventually sinks under the weight of too much material crammed into too slim a volume: confusion inevitably results, despite the helpful glossary. More importantly, the issue of convergence between television and the Internetthe very phenomenon that the book's title suggests is centralcomes late in the discussion and is given short shrift. Owen seems somewhat behind the curve, predicting that television/computer convergence is further off than it may actually be, though his points about the requirements for higher computer speeds and greater memory capacity are well taken. Despite its future-oriented hype, more useful as a historical text than a handbook for the 21st century. (53 line illustrations) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the

Book Info
An instructive volume on emerging technology in the fields of television, telephony, and computers. Owens, an economist, tends to approach his subjects with the issue of cost-effectiveness foremost. Softcover.

Card catalog description
After a half-century of glacial creep, television technology has begun to change at the same dizzying pace as computer software. What this will mean - for television, for computers, and for the popular culture where these video media reign supreme - is the subject of this timely book. Noted communications economist Bruce M. Owen supplies the essential background: a grasp of the economic history of the television industry and of the effects of technology and government regulation on its organization. He also explores recent developments associated with the growth of the Internet. With this history as a basis, his book allows readers to peer into the future - at the likely effects of television and the Internet on each other, for instance, and at the possibility of a convergence of the TV set, computer, and telephone. --This text refers to the

Reader review(s):

Speaking from ignorance..., July 17, 1999
Bruce M. Owen makes too many assumptions and doesn't do enough research in this book. Owen's focus is the future, but he speaks about the Internet as a group of technologies that will not change in the future, that are somehow stuck in time and will never improve.

He doesn't understand the technology (like Packet Switching, the very breakthrough that made TCP/IP and thus the Internet possible). Throughout the first part of the book, he claims that the Internet doesn't have the ability to transmit high quality video. We might not have the bandwidth now, but why is this _never_ going to be possible? The technology is there, just not there for everybody yet. He cites "Moore's Law," but does he think for some reason that the Internet is immune to this Law and that it won't continue to improve?

Owen also doesn't understand the history and development of the Internet, especially not the idea of open standards. As chaotic as the Internet is, it works because groups have already gotten together and handled many of the standards issues or came up with the technologies to deal with the incompatabilities. He even asserts that it might be to the Internet's advantage if "Silicon Valley" (as if they own the Internet) invites some regulators in to help with standards issues. Anyone who knows how the Net works knows that such ideas are not only improbably, they're impossible. The Internet is not a singular, private entitiy like a TV network.

Indeed, Owen seems to have a large bias against the Internet for some unknown reason. He believes that the Internet is an elite audience and makes every attempt to minimize the number of people participating. He even asserts, with no facts to back it up, that the number of households buying computers is "leveling off."

Owen hasn't done his homework. This is a work that turns out to simply a platform for the author to try to back up his biases, including not only an anti-Internet bias but an strong anti-Regulation bias. If you are looking for clear insight into the history and growth of media, get a good survey textbook; Owen's book will simply muddy the waters more for you...

barely relevant argument, no foresight, not very useful, September 7, 1999
Owen's book -- as he stressed when I saw him speak at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. -- makes a very limited argument. It tries to answer the following questions: "Will the Internet ever develop to challenge television's predominance?" His answer is a weak "No."

I completely agree with the previous reviewer, particularly in his examination of Owen's technical failures. Owen hedges, and his argument is weak. The book ultimately flops because of its limited scope: it primarily analyzes the Internet as a medium for entertainment - not for electronic commerce, or other potential purposes.

The only feasible excuse for Owen's lapses is one he mentioned at the lecture in Washington; the Harvard University Press has not gone to a wholly electronic printing process, so manuscripts must be submitted early. In other words, he finished the book long ago, without the advantage of perspective we have had in the recent years of rapid Internet deployment. Still, I am no apologist: his economist's prose is turbid, and his conclusions sadly myopic. The book's title is misleading - it should more appropriately be, "Why Television Will Remain Relevant."

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