two solitudes: Alan Sawyer's views on the media industry

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"Hold, precisely, IBM conceives some": computerized translation versus human translation

I finally got a proper translation of the April 19th La Presse interview I posted a while back. The original La Presse article can be read at:

http://www.cyberpresse.ca/article/20060419/CPACTUEL/604190852&
SearchID=73242270000285&ms=1145662011128

This came from IBM's translation department. It follows immediately below. Below that, I've got the translation provided by Google's 'Translate this page' function. It is VERY funny! One thing is clear... if this is state-of-the-art computerized translation (and I'm not saying that it is), we've still got a l-o-n-g way to go. And... the human translator spotted and corrected a misspelling of my name at one point in the article... the software translator, of course, missed that.

The thing I find interesting about interviews is that when I see a quote I usually find myself thinking "is that what I said?" or "is that what I meant?". When my spoken comments are translated from my original English into French and then back into English I have even less idea whether what I see in the translation resembles what I said or intended.


Professional translation

The advertisers are unanimous: Their TV ads are no longer being seen by enough people and the target audience is too broad, especially for young consumers. An expert in new media technologies, consultant Alan Sawyer from IBM Canada, visited Montreal to give them some pointers on how to adapt. He kindly gave us a few minutes of his time.

The record companies fell victim to it, with online music sharing. Neighbourhood libraries were the next to crumble, powerless against the likes of Amazon.com, which can deliver even the most obscure title to your door in just a few days. And very soon, the television networks will suffer the same fate.

We’re talking about the dreaded “generation gap”, a phenomenon that Alan Sawyer, media consultant at IBM Canada, came to warn about at a recent day-long conference on advertising and television organized by the magazine Infopresse.

According to Mr. Sawyer, the television audience is now divided into three groups that are drifting further and further apart. First, there are the "Massive Passives", the oldest of the groups, content to sit comfortably on their livingroom sofa soaking up shows on the tube.

Then there are the "Gadgeters", led by young professionals, who satisfy their craving equally through the TV and the computer, skipping over commercials with their personal video recorders.


The threat of the "Kool Kids"

But, according to Mr. Sawyer, it’s the next—third—generation that poses the biggest threat to the TV networks: The "Kool Kids", little fish in the big pond of new technologies, who combine content consumption with social interaction on increasingly portable devices. They have complete control over everything they watch, including advertising.

"Right now, this generation has no money, whereas the "Massive Passives" are rolling in it,” stated Mr. Sawyer. “But TV industry views the older group as nothing more than a steady source of income. On the other hand, the young pups represent a source of future income—which will start flooding in by 2012.“

According to Mr. Sawyer, in 2012, traditional TV will be toppled as the media of choice for advertisers, leading to decreased revenues, smaller budgets for shows, and eventually, the end of television as we know it.


This is fine to say, but what can we do about it?

"TV bosses need to embrace new technologies rather than resist them,” stated Mr. Sawyer, citing an IBM survey of media executives, which reveals a great deal of fear about the advent of video on the Internet.


Going digital isn’t enough

Television networks have absolutely no choice—not only do they need to start investing in digital programming, but also in digital assets management systems.

"Amazon.com succeeded because of its massive catalogue and its absence of inventory. The same goes for video: There’s a lot of content out there that isn’t broadcast, because there’s not enough demand, and therefore not enough related advertising revenue. But there are still people who want to access it, and it can be delivered in a profitable way over the Internet," explains Mr. Sawyer.

But making shows digital and slapping them on a Web site isn’t enough. The content needs to be indexed and catalogued efficiently, using innovative search engines—like the one IBM is designing right now.

Inspired by Google and the like, Big Blue is currently developing MARVEL, a multimedia search engine which automatically becomes “smarter” every time it’s used.

"Searching for entire 30-minute shows doesn’t cut it anymore. Web users want to be able to search the content of the shows," explains Mr. Sawyer.

Investing in risk

"Take risks," he concluded to his audience of television executives, including the head of Radio‑Canada, Sylvain Lafrance, and Pierre Karl Péladeau of Quebecor. “Invest in tests, start by making a few shows available on the Internet."

Of course, placing content on the Web raises all sorts of issues, both contractual (you need the broadcasting rights) and union-related (you need to pay the artists). Mr. Sawyer thinks this is why broadcasters that produce a lot of their own content, such as Radio-Canada, are in a perfect position to jump on the Internet bandwagon. But no matter how complex it may seem, the major networks have no choice but to follow suit.

"Otherwise, small companies will jump at the opportunity in their place, a lesson IBM learned the hard way," remarked Mr. Sawyer wryly, alluding to the dark years at his company, when young upstarts swooped in on the personal computing market that IBM itself had created.



Computerized translation

The advertising executives get along for saying that their televised advertisements are not seen enough any more and too largely targeted, especially to the young consumers. An expert in new technologies of the media, the consultant Alan Sawyer of IBM Canada, came to Montreal to explain to them how to adapt. One profited from it for him to speak.The houses of discs fell inside, with the exchange of music on Internet. The bookshops of district followed them, with the competition of Amazon.com which delivers in a few days to your door most obscure of the works. And very soon, they will be the chains of TV which will sink there.This chasm, it is that of the “pit générationnel” of which Alan Sawyer, consulting near the industry of the media at IBM Canada, came to announce the arrival at the time one day from conferences on publicity and the television, organized recently by the Infopresse magazine.

According to him, the public of the television broadcasts is divided today into three groups which move away more and more from/to each other. Initially the “passive solid masses”, oldest among all, which remain sitted on their armchair to be made offer the programs on the good old woman TV of the living room.Then, the “gadgeteux ones” (gadgetiers), young professionals at the head, who consume separately equalizes the TV and the computer to reach video contents, and jump the advertisements with their personal numerical recorder.

The threat of “Kool Kids”

But it is the following generation, the third, which threatens more the owners of television, according to Mr. Sawyer: “Kool Kids”, small fish in the bubbling water of new technologies, which interfere consumption contents and the social interaction on increasingly mobile apparatuses. They have complete control on all that they look at, publicity included.“For the moment, this generation does not have money, while the passive solid masses have some enormously”, Mr. Sawyer notes. But the latter get for televisions only one “maintenance of the incomes”. The small new ones, them, are “incomes to be cultivated” for later. And harvest will be done as of the year of grace 2012. This year, the TV traditional will lose its domination in the media of choice of the advertising advertisers, according to Mr. Sawyer. From there will rise from the falls of incomes, the reduction in the budgets to produce emissions, and of wire out of needle, the end of the TV such as one knows it.

Very well all that, but what necessary is to make?

“The owners of the TV must embark in new technologies rather than to resist to them”, says Mr. Sayer, by quoting a survey of IBM near leaders of the media, which show much fear in front of the arrival of the video on Internet.

To digitize is not enough

The chains of TV must absolutely invest in the digitalization of their programs, but also of the adapted systems of “management of the numerical assets” (digital assets management). “Amazon.com succeeded thanks to its gigantic catalogue and its absence of stocks. With the video, it is similar: many contents are not televised because there is not enough request, and thus not enough of associated advertising incomes. But there are nevertheless people who want y to have access, and one can deliver in a profitable way with Internet to them”, explains Mr. Sawyer. But to digitize of the emissions and the “garrocher” on a Web site is not enough. It is necessary to index, to catalogue the contents efficiently, by using innovating systems of research. Hold, precisely, IBM conceives some.Like Google and others, “Big Blue” currently develops Marvel, a system of research in the video contents able to polish itself automatically as it is used. “That is not enough to seek half an hour emissions. The Net surfers must be able to seek inside the contents of the emissions”, explains Mr. Sawyer.

To invest in the risk

“Take risks”, it concluded in front of its audience from professionals from the TV, among which one counted the owner of Radio-Canada, Sylvain Lafrance, like Pierre Karl Péladeau de Quebecor. “It is necessary to invest in tests, by putting some programs on the Web to start.”Of course, to put contents on the Web poses problems of a contractual nature (it is necessary to have the rights of diffusion) and trade-union (the artists should be remunerated). This is why Mr. Sawyer thinks that the diffusers which produce much with the intern, like Radio-Canada, are particularly well placed to launch out in the turn of the Web. But whatever the complexity, the large diffusers do not have the choice to act.“If not, from small companies will come to benefit from the change in their place. IBM is well placed for the knowledge”, is ironical Mr. Sawyer, in allusion to the dark years of its company, which was made prick by small young people the market of the personal computing that it had however created.

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