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Televisionaries Confront the Cyberspaced at U.N. TV Forum.

Even though the official title was "TV@Globe: Adding Values in the Digital Era," the main theme at the fifth annual United Nations World Television Forum became the "Digital Divide." In fact, the Digital Divide wasn't even on the agenda. It was U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan who set the tone of the debate with an introductory speech about the "divide."

Video Age, the official publication at the Forum, had gotten wind of Annan's plans and thus was able to anticipate the presentation with a front cover headline in its November/ December 2000 issue: "Divided Over the Digital Divide."

Sponsored by Italy's public broadcaster, RAI, in association with its commercial counterpart Mediaset and the World Broadcasting Unions, the event was held at the U.N.'s New York headquarters. The two-day Forum attracted some 1,200 participants from 70 countries -- a 37 percent increase from last year. There were 15 sessions with 78 panelists including BBC's Greg Dyke, Eutelsat's Giuliano Berretta and TGRT's Ahmet Mucahid Oren.

In his keynote address, Annan pointed out that "the paradox in our own age of globalization is that it seems as if knowledge is not being globalized. Indeed, the knowledge gap between the North and the South is getting wider and wider... There are 1.5 billion TV sets and 2.5 billion radios in the world... Whereas only 5 percent of people have access to the Internet. So radio and television are the advance guard of the knowledge revolution.... Connecting the poor to the Internet will hardly improve their lives if they cannot even read or write.... Bridging the digital divide is not going to be easy.... That is why I have asked my newly appointed special representative on information and communication technologies, Costa Rican former president Jose Figueres, to work with me on the establishment of a United Nations Digital Task Force... I realize that this is a television forum and not a cyberspace forum. But in the developed world, the two industries are rapidly merging into one. Television is clearly one of t he big players in the new multimedia landscape."

During his introductory remarks, RAI's president Roberto Zaccaria wondered whether the "model of development and the [best] tool for content distribution ... [will be] television or computer?" He continued: "In 2003, there will be 1.8 billion TV sets in the world. The number of television sets will be four times greater than the number of Internet connections in the Western world, and nearly 10 times greater than in the rest of the world."

However, in private discussions among participants it was pointed out that in the future the best "tool for content distribution" will be neither a PC nor a TV set but simply a screen which will be connected to a set-top box. This box will incorporate an analog-to-digital converter, a personal recorder (hard disk) and a conditional access card to view pay-TV services either as a subscriber or a la carte. The unit will allow interactivity with the Internet return via telephone or cable TV lines.

Mediaset's chairman Fedele Confalonieri focused on the Digital Divide, stating in a taped presentation (the U.N. could not get the live satellite feed from Italy) that "the U.N. is the ideal place to discuss the ethical and social dimensions of media that are typically subject to the logic of the market." But then Confalonieri made a case for the TV set as the "tool for content" of choice: "I believe that television can do a great deal to promote the spread of the Internet to a mass audience. First, TV can produce programs that are easy to understand.... Second, television can provide quality content....And, as can be seen ... the best of the Internet comes from television.... Generalist television will continue to be the principal focus for users."

Exploring the "added value" in the digital era, some of the panelists discussed the Internet and its potential. However, some of the most interesting statements came from the audience or during informal chats among the delegates.

One of the challenges presented by the Internet is whether or not it will replace the traditional TV networks. Curiously, the Internet's networking strength will be driven by its opposite: the need to fulfill localism.

Another theme was triggered by a statement made some time ago by AOL-Time Warner's Steve Case: "Over the next five years, it is believed that the future of this medium [Internet] will be determined more by policy choices than by technology choices." Indeed, in Europe, regulators strive to differentiate between Internet TV and digital TV, since the Internet cannot be closely controlled but broadcast TV is strictly regulated. In addition, the Internet's challenges are ones that broadcasters never faced before. In the past it was easy because broadcasters controlled the whole process, but now they have to contend with ISPs, broadband and transport.

During the "Digital Visionaries" session, an audience member posed the unanswered question of whether "content is king, distribution is king or access is king," an indication that with the Internet, all three elements are equally important.

The business model was something close to the panelists' hearts. They noted that "the economy of consumption, not the economy of production, will drive the dotcom business" and, similarly, that "horizontal integration is driven by technology," with the AOLTime Warner merger given as an example. On the other hand, vertical integration is the type proposed for the merger between Viacom and CBS.
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Publication:Video Age International
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Words:911
Previous Article:U.S. Ad Spending Reports.
Next Article:Forum Highlights.
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