YouTube or Boob Tube?

Don’t bury old media yet

You probably saw the headlines quoting NPR chief, Vivian Schiller, saying that internet radio will replace broadcast radio within 5-10 years.

Almost everyone outside our business already thinks all mass media is basically dead and waiting to be buried thanks to headlines like that one and the popularity of social media.

But Charles Kenny, a development economist with the World Bank, argues that television is not only not dying, it’s actually the “wave of the future,” based on its impact in the developing world, which contains most of the world’s population.

I first saw the article about Kenny’s study in FAST COMPANY magazine and the part I hadn’t ever spent much time thinking about is not the quantitative impact of TV spreading throughout China and India, but the qualitative influence TV content is having on these countries.

Kenny says TV has become a revolutionary force for good wherever it spreads.

He has data showing that the introduction of TV in a society leads to increases in literacy, school enrollment, birth control and women’s rights, and a marked decrease in drug use and corruption.

And while it may take years, or even decades, before broadband internet makes YouTube and Hulu available in some of these countries in the less-developed world, it’s just not shocking anymore to see monks in the tiniest villages in Nepal watching the World Cup on a community TV fed by a satellite dish.

Meanwhile, Radio, combined with mobile phones is the best technology throughout Africa, India and China. It’s already making a major impact. As Kenny says, “I’d say all three technologies — TV, Radio, Mobiles — have had a bigger impact on developing countries than the Internet to date.

It’s important to remember that, especially now, and especially here, with everyone all a-Twitter about Facebook and YouTube.

We, in traditional mass media, still have a huge role to play, and will for the forseeable future.