The Future of Broadcasting
in Serbia

February 22, 2013 • Specialist Journalism • by

Terrestrially broadcasted radio and television have not disappeared yet, and the timing of such an event is uncertain. However, the movement in that direction is gaining momentum. Traditional broadcasting will be increasingly less widespread in the future while it is being transformed into virtual communication. Although we have been living in McLuhan’s ‘global village’ for quite some time, witnessing the increasingly free movement of people and ideas, the image of each country still partially depends on how it is being perceived and remembered by foreign users of the electronic media. In fact, the activities of the media, both the mass and digital media, not only provide their users with “a view of the world,” but also reflect the image of the users themselves.

At the same time, revenue from advertising is migrating from the field of broadcasting to the Internet, which has resulted in ‘chaos’, because commercial broadcasters have increasingly less revenue and therefore less of a reason to exist. In the age of globalization, Serbia cannot avoid this scenario, which will also be shown. The closure of commercial broadcasters and the transformation of radio and television into digital platforms requires an analysis of its potential downsides and/or benefits. Therefore, the chaos scenario is not a prophecy of doom, but a call to focus on the future of the mediated communication practices of today’s man. Both radio and television are converging with digital cameras and footage taken by citizens, essentially making the traditional broadcast mediums increasingly digital and interactive. The term ‘broadcasting’ has been used for decades, since the beginning of the transfer of sound via electromagnetic waves during the nineteen-twenties. Given that only a part of the spectrum of electromagnetic waves is suitable for transmission of sound and picture, and thereby constitutes a “limited natural resource,” broadcasting has been more under the control of the state than the press since its inception. In cyberspace, which is home to the largest network of them all – the Internet – no one has ever feared a shortage of resources necessary for the media. Of course, terrestrially broadcast radio and television have not disappeared yet, and the timing of such an event is uncertain.

On the one hand, the speed of change is dictated by technological advancements, i.e. the introduction of the digital transmission of radio and television signals using computer networks and the Internet Protocol (IP). On the other hand, the implementation of computer networks has caused a wide range of social changes that lead towards the creation of an information or networked society. In such a community, a centralized mass media will not exist, nor will a mass audience. In fact, the audience – the users of the media – are creating smaller groups based on shared interests which freely use both the old (mass) media and the new (digital) media for the purpose of consuming information, entertainment and (self-)education. Both of these changes are gradually taking place in Serbia; 3.2 million Serbian citizens above the age of 16 actively use the Internet, which constitutes 52 percent of the Serbian population (Mediascope Europe, 2012). A research conducted by CeSid shows that sources of information used by Serbian citizens of all ages are as follows, on average: television (69 percent), newspapers (8.5 percent), friends and acquaintances (7.9 percent), the Internet (7.4 percent), radio (4.3 percent) (CeSid, 2009). Due to the diversification that is evident today, communicologists call media users “the cross media audience.” They consider this to be only the first phase towards its complete atomization down to the level of audience = the single individual. For this reason, the term broadcasting is increasingly less used. Radio and television which serve increasingly smaller, targeted audiences are doing narrowcasting i.e. the “narrow broadcasting” of their programs.

The penetration of the Internet around the world is reaching its final stages, bridging the digital divide that used to exist between countries. In Serbia, more than half of all households own a computer (55.2 percent), while 47.5 percent of them have access to the Internet (38 percent has broadband access to the Internet) (Statistics Agency of the Republic of Serbia, 2012). The World Wide Web, the Web 2.0 in its present phase, has caused consequences that are detrimental to all mass media outlets, including broadcasters. “Zeros and ones are to blame. You see, the ‘digital revolution’ is much more than an attractive headline in a magazine. It is an ongoing revolution that has brought revolutionary changes, tens of millions of victims and a completely new way of life” – says the creator of the phrase the chaos scenario, Bob Garfield. Old, analog mass media is converging with digital devices because that is what users desire. The radio is being increasingly found on the Internet in the form of Webcasting (or Podcasting, derived supposedly from its usage via iPods), which allows users to listen to tens of thousands of stations from many countries. Television is also now using computer networks and the Internet Protocol Television (IPTV). Programs are now available not only on television screens as before, but on computer monitors, mobile phone displays, tablet computers etc. For this reason, European Union documents now label radio and television programs as “media-like products.” Traditional broadcasting is still available, but it will be increasingly less widespread in the future while it is being transformed into virtual communication.

There are several other axioms related to this subject which have taken deep root due to the all-pervasive usage of the Internet. They are in fact, spontaneous expectations of generations that have grown up with it, the so-called digital natives, the ones who have achieved the strongest identification with it. Their expectations from the Internet are now universally accepted as global myths. First, that the freedom of sending and receiving ones and zeros is a given right and that it is subservient only to the choice of the users. It must not (and cannot) be limited. Second, that all content on social networks should be free, i.e. that the requirement for payment of services is unjustified and that it is permissible to circumvent it. And third, which is of most importance for this document, the digital natives believe that services offered on the Internet must not be interrupted or burdened by additional content, i.e. advertising. “We should have in mind that the users of the media have never cared much about advertisements, as the data has shown for decades […] and now a whole generation has come to the scene that believes it to be its birthright to receive free online content without being interrupted by advertisements,” says Bob Garfield. More clearly, this means that users of the digital media usually do not want to receive banners or pop-up ads. Those who send such content not only disregard the users’ freedom of choice, but will sooner or later face banner blockers or spam filters intended to eliminate the unwanted content.

After all, when was the last time any of us clicked on a banner accompanying the content that we were looking for? With regard to broadcasting via television, there are TiVo devices and digital video recorders that can skip or erase the remaining advertisements. Households which own Blue Ray players can order and receive audio-visual content from foreign companies that Serbians have never heard of before – such as Netflix or Hulu. In the European Union there are 251 producers of video-on-demand services. In a word, this is how the post-advertising age and listeneconomics (the economy of listening or discussing) have appeared. Because of this, marketing concepts and ways of creating advertising messages are going to change. They will be increasingly less distributed via broadcasting because they must look more like information, and less like persuasion. These changes are already threatening advertisers. Why did we place so much emphasis on advertising while presenting the changes in the information and communication technology and society at large? The answer is well known and simple. In all countries, advertising was the most important and vital business foundation for appearance, sudden expansion and attainment of the ‘saturation point’ of commercial broadcasters. Thanks to the sale of advertising space, the audience had the impression that the delivery of other content was free. However, this form of revenue for broadcasters is diminishing, and the loss of advertising cannot be (immediately) alleviated by launching additional online activities. Experts believe that diversification towards new, digital platforms can replace somewhere between one fifth and one third of the revenue.

If the audience begins satisfying its need for information using only Web 2.0, the advertisers – in their words – will not see any interest in paying advertisements aired on traditional radio and television. If this happens, the complete broadcasting system and business concept will become bankrupt and disappear. This is the chaos scenario we are talking about. According to Bob Garfield, “The first element of this scenario, as was already mentioned, creates a death spiral because the fragmented audience becomes disinterested and the exodus of capital begins, resulting in reduced quality of content – which exacerbates the reaction of the audience and consequently leads to loss of advertisers. These steps then repeat in an infinite loop. The refugees – the audience and advertisers – move to the Internet.” Mediascope research confirms that the online audience is large and very active, but that an increasing trend of watching traditional media via the Internet, exists. There are an increasing number of users who, while watching TV in the evening hours, consume content on the Internet at the same time (36 percent of the total number of Internet users, according to Mediascope). Apart from this, 77 percent of users watch TV programs on the Internet, while 80 percent and 95 percent of users listen and read news on the Internet, respectively (Mediascope Europe, 2012). According to the same research, the Internet is also used in Serbia to access the traditional media: 95 percent of Internet users read news online, 80 percent of them listens to radio in the same way, while 77 percent of them watch television online. An increasing number of people use several media forms at the same time – they surf the Internet, read the press and watch television programs. The future of communication, enabled by the implementation of new information and communication technologies, has also begun in Serbia. As we have already said, and hopefully managed to prove, this future will no longer need broadcasting in the form of a number of electronic mass media outlets. This should be taken into account and accepted as one of the important starting points for the formulation of new media policy, so that future changes would not be chaotic but instead directed towards a rational choice that is adapted to our needs.

Article translated from the original Serbian “Primena „haos scenarija“ na radiodifuziju u Srbiji”

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