The Convergence of the Web and Television:
Current Technological Situation and its Future
Department of Telecommunications
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Submitted to Presentation Review
Communication Technology and Policy Division
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
The Convergence of the Web and Television:
Current Technological Situation and its Future
This paper attempts to conceptualize the convergence of the World Wide Web and
television broadcasting. For this purpose, the paper explains the possibilities
for convergence using McQuail's four patterns of information traffic and Hoffman
and Novak's media topology. Then the study compares three current forms of
convergence such as "WebTV," "Intercast," and "Webcasting," focusing on
comparing the technological advantages and disadvantages of each technology.
Using Cherry's "liberties of action" concept, the last part of the paper
discusses the future of Web broadcasting.
The Convergence of the Web and Television:
Current Technological Situation and its Future
Since the advent of the World Wide Web on the Internet, technological
developments in both hardware and software have made it possible to deliver
television broadcasting via the Web as well as the Web via television
broadcasting. This clearly indicates the possibility of "convergence" of the
Web and television. This phenomenon is reflected in new buzzwords such as
"WebTV," "Intercast," and "Webcasting." Because there are currently several
types of convergence, this paper will use "Web broadcasting" as a generic term
Web broadcasting is one of the most desired new communication technologies
in media history. By making both audio and video that is accessible to everyone
on the Internet, each individual's Internet connection can virtually become a
separate channel. This means that Web broadcasting could be the most
personalized program service imagined thus far. However, Web broadcasting
cannot yet achieve full-blown service in the near future because some
technological problems and other factors still exist which will significantly
affect its future direction.
The main purpose of this paper is to try to conceptualize the convergence
of the Web and television broadcasting. For this purpose, the paper first
introduces McQuail's four patterns of information traffic and Hoffman and
Novak's media typology, and applies them to the Web. It then surveys the
current state of Web broadcasting technologies, focusing on comparing
technological advantages and disadvantages of the three convergence technologies
present in the market right now. The last part of the paper discusses the
future of Web broadcasting using Cherry's typology "liberties of action"
II. Conceptual mapping for the Internet and the Web
As new communication technologies have emerged in our society, they have
attracted the attention of many communication scholars who have also tried to
explain the nature of these new media in their theoretical frameworks.
Rogers (1986) is one of the first communication scholars who attempted to
figure out the characteristics of new communication technologies. He suggests
three characteristics of new media which distinguish them from existing mass
media: interactivity, de-massification, and asynchronousness. Though his
explanation is made before the wide diffusion of the Internet, it gives us
important implications for the Internet. It is clear that the Internet is
believed to possess all three of the characteristics of new media.
At almost the same time, McQuail (1987) also attempts to conceptualize new
media. He uses two main features of communication flow for his framework. One
feature is the storage of information, and the other is the access, or use of
information. From these two features, he categorizes communication flow into
four patterns: allocution, conversation, consultation, and registration.
Figure 1: Four Patterns of Information Traffic
Control of time & choice of subject: Central
Control of time & choice of subject: Individual
Source: D. McQuail, Mass communication theory: An introduction (2nd
(Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1987).
First, according to McQuail, "allocution" means the simultaneous
transmission of a centrally constituted "offer" of information intended for
immediate attention, according to a centrally determined time scheme. Second,
"conversation" is the exchange between individuals of information already
available to them, according to a mutually convenient time scheme. Third,
"consultation" means the selective consultation by individual participants of a
central store of information at times determined by each individual. Fourth,
"registration" means the collection in a central store of information, available
to, or about, individual participants, according to a centrally determined
choice of subject and time.
Though McQuail does not apply his typology to the Internet, his model of
four modes of communication can be applied to Internet communication. He claims
that the potential of new media is to increase the possibilities for
consultation, conversation, and registration modes of information traffic. In
this sense, he claims that the Internet would be the most suitable communication
media because it has the most promising capacities.
The existing broadcasting system only follows the allocution mode of
information flow. The broadcast station has the power to decide what kinds of
programs (information) to offer and when the programs will be sent to the mass
audience, while the audience has no choice but to watch them without any control
over the contents or time of the programs.
In contrast, the Internet can be interpreted as weakest in the allocution
mode and was thus considered the most inappropriate medium for mass
communication when the Internet first came into being. Though the Internet can
carry information to many people at the same time, it is difficult for the
Internet to deliver information as widely as existing broadcasting does, mainly
due to the Internet's architecture. Basically, the Internet is designed to
perform point-to-point data transmission. This places the Internet at a
disadvantage for functioning as a mass delivery medium when it has to transmit
information to multi-points, especially simultaneously. However, this
disadvantage is being overcome by MBone technology, which enables the Internet
to deliver the same data to wide end-users simultaneously.
Accordingly, at first glance, the Internet has more of the characteristics
of the other three modes than the allocution mode. The conversation mode is
possible for the Internet when we think about its on-line chatting service.
Furthermore, e-mail and Usenet services can be understood as this mode when we
think about the fact that they are used as personal communication channels at
the individual's own convenience.
The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) service of the Internet would be best
suited for consultation mode. Usually, the FTP service is used when educational
or research institutions, highly centralized organizations, post their files
(data) on their main computers and the users access and download them through
The registration mode is difficult to discover among Internet services; as
McQuail explains, this mode is rarely found in public communication. He states
that the registration pattern is a long-established element in many
organizations for record-keeping, control, and surveillance. However, this mode
can be interpreted, not as a specific service, but as a characteristic of
Internet communication itself. Whenever one uses any Internet services, it is
almost impossible for one's Internet usage history not to be traced. This
characteristic of Internet communication is an example of "central recording by
computer of all uses of information media connected to a system."
Introduced to the Internet community in 1991, the Web would become the most
interesting of the many services available through the Internet. According to
Hoffman and Novak (1995), the Web represents the "universe of network-accessible
information, an embodiment of human knowledge in hypertext and multimedia form."
They especially emphasize that the Web is the first example of a hypermedia
computer-mediated environment that makes it possible for users on the Internet
to search, retrieve, browse, and add information to the environment at will.
Their explanation implies that the Web has the potential of being used as all
four of the patterns of information traffic McQuail categorizes.
In this context, Hoffman and Novak (1995) actually attempt to make a
perceptual map of 35 media types ranging from traditional mass media such as
radio, TV, and newspapers, to various Internet services including e-mail,
Usenet, and the Web. They use the multi-dimensional scaling method to find
similarities and differences among media used in our society. With regard to
the Web, their media typology reveals an important fact about its
characteristics as a medium. According to their results, the Web with video is
positioned in the middle of all 35 forms of media, which means that the Web
includes most of the typical characteristics of all communication media
available to us until now.
Figure 1: Media Typology Based upon Objective Characteristics
Source: Hoffman, D. L. & Novak, T. P. (1995). Marketing in hypermedia
computer-mediated environments: Conceptual foundations.
III. Liberties of action
As soon as the Web appeared in the Internet, it became a juncture for the
convergence between the Internet and broadcasting. Because of its potential
impact on the future of human communication modes, Web broadcasting requires the
special attention of communication scholars. Cunningham and Finn (1996) argue
that to comprehend various forms of convergence is the main challenge which
established media theory faces. In this sense, Cherry's "liberties of action"
concept can help us understand convergence and predict its future.
Sawhney (1996) develops the "metaphor" approach as a useful explanatory
tool for predicting the future of a new system or technology in our society. He
argues that this approach is especially strong when the situation is very
uncertain, and also claims that the influence of metaphors can be best
understood through the concept of "liberties of action."
Cherry (1977) utilizes this concept to explain the impact of new
communication technologies in our society. He claims that each technology
offers freedom of movement along a certain dimension. The concept is not
restricted to movements in a physical sense but includes all capabilities that
extend human control over our environment. Thus, the concept implies that each
innovative technology in our society adds a new dimension of freedom for people.
Though he does not explicitly define the term, he suggests liberties of action
as a tool for forecasting technological change.
Sawhney (1996) further argues that a metaphor based on an old technology
has the greatest impact on the emerging technology when they both have similar
liberties of action. However, according to him, there are limits to the
influence of metaphor on the development of a new technology. He defines these
limits as "zone of influence." The zone of influence is a "function of the
relationship between the two technologies -- old and new -- that form the basis
The central position of the Web in Hoffman and Novak's perceptual map
research implies that, so far, the Web provides the most liberties of action
available now. This means that the Web can provide not only as personal
communication channels like e-mail, but also mass delivery channels like
television or newspaper. The real technological advantage of Web broadcasting
comes from the fact that it can deliver programs to a wide variety of audiences
and cater to each individual's need using the interactivity of the Web at the
same time. Thus, it is natural that Web broadcasting appeared as soon as the
technologies required for convergence became available. Web broadcasting will
be the first unique communication mode to cover all four of the information flow
patterns which McQuail (1987) suggests.
IV. Web broadcasting technologies
Why has Web broadcasting emerged as a sudden phenomenon, and, at the same
time, become such a flourishing service right now? This question can be
answered both in technological and economic aspects.
First, the Internet has been developed as basically a "template"
technology. The importance of a template technology lies in its openness to
real usage. A template technology allows for application in many directions.
The personal computer (PC) is a good example: the real use of the PC is not
decided by the physical specification of the PC, but by what kind of application
programs are used on it. The same is true with the Internet, but there is a big
difference between the PC and the Internet. While the PC is a "stand-alone"
platform, the Internet is an "interconnected" platform. This implies that the
Internet can add interactivity to its liberties of action.
Actually, the early history of the Internet shows that it incorporates
every innovative service imagined. Basically, the Internet can be understood as
a channel that carries data from one point to another. Thus, the data carried
constitutes several services. So, the Internet system itself is meaningless to
general users. Users only enjoy the specific services that Internet
communication brings. This technological characteristic greatly raises the
number of possible services the Internet can provide. Accordingly, this fact
enabled innovative amateurs of the early Internet days to introduce the new
Internet services that we enjoy today. As Douglas (1986) shows, just as in
radio, where the impact of early amateurs on the future direction of the radio
business was great, some creative Internet users were quick to realize the
potential of the open platform of the Internet. They first introduced voice
transmission over the Internet and then video transmission later. This provided
the basic starting point for the Internet to become a broadcasting medium. They
were the first ones to realize the possible liberties of action and to bring
them to the Internet.
Ever since the Internet's potential as a broadcasting medium was
discovered, the pace of technological development has been fast enough to exceed
some experts' predictions. One of the two main reasons is the fact that the
Internet has been developed exclusively as digital technology -- the winner in
the world of communication technology. This means we have far more advanced
data transmission capability now than when analog was the dominant technology.
Both radio and television broadcasting use spectrum, based on the analog
technology. In contrast, the Internet was exclusively developed for
communication between computers, meaning digital technology. Digital technology
gives the Internet much more flexibility and many more advantages than analog
technology. This is why Gilder (1992) is so confident in his prediction of the
advent of the "teleputer."
Second, today's most sophisticated providers of video contents --
broadcasters, film makers, and advertisers -- want to use the Internet as an
additional outlet for their contents in order to reach to a wide variety of
target audiences. They believe that there exists a great potential demand from
television audiences for more sophisticated interactive services. Traditional
broadcasting organizations especially want to maximize their revenue through
participating in these new business opportunities. With vast resources at their
fingertips, such as experience in producing contents and in dealing with
audiences, they want to expand their market through Web broadcasting.
Therefore, they have given much effort to developing new Internet services. For
example, the Sony Station has begun to offer online Jeopardy and Wheel of
Fortune. All these services using the Internet's interactivity are not
possible through the existing broadcasting system. Content providers like Sony
want to increase their existing program value by adding new formats and delivery
Web broadcasting came into being because both the technological and
economical situation met. When we think of the ways two technologies, A and B,
meet with each other, there are three possibilities: a mere combination of A and
B, A incorporating B, and B incorporating A. These relationships can be applied
to the way the Web and television broadcasting meet. As a natural consequence
of this logic, all three ways of convergence between the Web and television
In one relationship, neither the Web nor television technology dominates,
such as in "WebTV." In another, broadcasting can incorporate Web technology
into its own technology. Intel's "Intercast" technology is based on this
relationship. In a third relationship, the Web incorporates broadcasting
technology into its own technology. Recent attempts to broadcast through the
Web, widely called "Webcasting," represent this relationship.
1. WebTV - Mere combination of the Web and TV
The company named WebTV Network pioneered the combination of the Web and
television broadcasting. Their idea was to show the Web on the existing TV
screen without a PC. Thus, they devised a WebTV set-top box which enables a
television set to display Web and e-mail services using existing telephone lines
and modems in their set-top box.
However, WebTV is a mere combination of the Web and television
technologies. Even though the two technologies are combined, technologically
WebTV is a "toggle" combination. Users can enjoy only one technology at a
time, TV or the Web. The two technologies are just coexisting in WebTV and
cannot affect each other's operation.
WebTV has several advantages. First, it does not need a PC to show the
Web, so it is cost-effective. Second, Web surfing can be a user-friendly
service, according to the WebTV Network, because it provides specially designed
Web services to its subscribers.
On the other hand, WebTV has disadvantages. First, because the Web and
e-mail services are shown on existing television sets, the quality of television
screens causes eyestrain problems with text information. Second, because WebTV
does not use a PC, there are limitations for some Web services like file
downloading, which is only possible on a PC. Third, WebTV requires subscription
to the WebTV Network with $20 per month subscription fee.
2. Intercast - the Web through TV
Another convergence of the Web and television broadcasting occurs when
television broadcasting delivers Web information. The giant computer chip
maker, Intel developed Intercast technology that uses Vertical Blanking Interval
(VBI), a dead television signal zone which separates each television channel
using 6 Mhz, enabling broadcasters to deliver Web contents they have prepared
for their audience. Before the advent of Intercast, VBI had been used for
closed-captioning, teletext, and clock-setting signals for VCRs. Intercast
allows Web pages to be transmitted as part of the standard television signals
from broadcasters and cable networks. The HTML document data is inserted into
VBI. Users of Intercast have to install an additional card in their PCs in
order to receive VBI signals for Intercasting and can watch the television
programs with Web pages the broadcasters deliver on their computer monitors.
There are several advantages of Intercast technology. First, because the
Intercast reception card processes television and VBI signals separately,
viewers can enjoy TV programs and Web contents simultaneously on the same
computer monitors. Second, using VBI signals, broadcasters can deliver Web
contents much faster -- at a maximum speed of about 100 kbps -- than WebTV
set-top boxes which use ordinary telephone lines and 33.3 kbps speed modems.
Third, Web contents delivered through VBI are saved on the users' hard disk.
Once downloaded, the Web contents can be retrieved almost instantaneously with
the click of a mouse. Fourth, right now all Intercast services are free because
broadcasters want to raise ratings with Intercast services.
However, Intercast has a serious problem with interactivity. Because
Intercast signals are delivered in addition to television signals, Intercast
requires users to have additional Internet access, usually subscribing to an
Internet service provider, in order to enjoy the interactivity of the Web.
3. Webcasting - TV through the Web
The third type of convergence is the incorporation of broadcasting into the
Web. Though there exists no fixed term for this type of convergence, it is most
frequently refered to as "Webcasting." From a technological point of view, the
advent of Webcasting began with the coming of "streaming" technology in the mid
1990s and with its incorporation into the Web. ProgressiveNetwork (now
RealNetwork) introduced Real Audio, the first streaming technology for audio, in
April 1994. Before that time, users had to wait for an entire file to be
transferred before using networked multimedia content. However, streaming
technologies let users hear and see the information as it arrives, without
having to wait.
Webcasting can be considered to have more liberties of action than the two
other types of convergence, WebTV and Intercast. First, Webcasting can use the
interactivity of the Web. It provides either "24 hour" streaming or "on-demand"
streaming services. While 24 hour streaming is like TV broadcasting, on-demand
streaming is similar to a VCR. 24 hour streaming is the same as live broadcast,
except the signal goes out over the Internet instead of the air. When a user
clicks on the stream, he or she is taken to a live broadcast program which can
be seen with a traditional television set simultaneously. In the case of
on-demand streaming, the on-demand files are also always available to users, but
they do not start streaming (playing) until the user clicks on them. In
addition, when the user clicks, he or she can go to specified points in the
streaming, similar to hitting the fast forward and rewind buttons on a VCR.
Second, Webcasting has the potential to be a "World Wide Television" service.
Because Webcasting uses the Internet as a delivery vehicle, there are virtually
no geographical boundaries to Webcasting service. Third, Webcasting can make
the most of the Web because it is a seamless convergence between the Web and
broadcasting. For example, Webcasting can be used as an electronic shopping
service combining the interactivity of the Web and live television broadcasting.
However, Webcasting has two disadvantages right now. First, because Webcasting
depends entirely on the Internet, the current slow speed of the Internet is a
critical drawback to Webcasting service. Due to the slow speed of the telephone
lines which most users use as their Internet access, Webcasting only delivers
small, jerky television pictures. The picture quality in Webcasting cannot
match WebTV and Intercast, which display the maximum television picture quality.
In order to solve the slow speed problem, several technologies -- including
cable modems, wireless modems, satellite delivery, and faster line services such
as ISDN or ADSL -- are now competing for the final solution.
The second major disadvantage of Webcasting is that it has no established
standard. This could be a critical problem for full-fledged Webcasting service.
Rosen et al. (1988) cite the advantage of setting a standard as the acceleration
of the diffusion of technological products. They claim that standards reduce
risks for market entrants by negating the prospect of product obsolescence,
reducing further research and development costs, reducing the risks for
consumers of ending up with an orphaned product, and increasing competitiveness
in international markets.
Their explanation can be applied to the current Webcasting situation. If
the industry cannot reach a standard for Web broadcasting, this could become a
major barrier to the rapid diffusion of Web broadcasting. Webcasters may be
reluctant to invest full-scale without the confidence that their choice of Web
broadcasting systems will not be an orphan in the market. Users will also
hesitate to buy any Web broadcasting software and/or hardware systems. Though
currently most streaming software is freeware which can be obtained through the
software developers' Web sites, users of streaming technology do not like the
fact that they must download new streaming software whenever they find a new
type of streaming. The current situation fails to create a de facto standard
for Web broadcasting. The early history of television (Udelson, 1982) and the
recent HDTV standard-setting process show that industry standards are not easy
V. Future of Web broadcasting
Many experts have made predictions about the future of Web broadcasting.
However, nobody can tell the future with confidence due to the following
First, the technological environment of Web broadcasting is changing so
fast that it is almost impossible to tell the direction of future technology.
New convergence technologies are still being developed and are likely to appear
in the market. If a new one proves to be superior to those already existing, it
can easily dominate the Web broadcasting market.
Special attention should be given to HDTV. On April 3, 1997, the FCC
allocated spectrums for the Advanced Television (Lieberman, 1997). The first
Advanced Television sets will be on the market by the end of 1998. Some
Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) Standards are compatible with
computers. Therefore, it is inevitable that Advanced Television has great
potential effects on the future direction of Web broadcasting.
Second, the role of content providers for Web broadcasting is not clear right
now. Their influence on the future course of Web broadcasting development is
great if we consider that most giant program providers want to participate in
this new business. Microsoft's recent buying of WebTV Network, the WebTV
service provider, shows this trend clearly. Companies from various backgrounds
have just started to invest huge amounts of money in the potential of Web
At present, all possibilities are open for Web broadcasting technologies.
However, the chances are that the technology which can give the most liberties
of action will have better opportunities to lead the future of Web broadcasting.
In addition, the competing convergence technologies may exist together without
disappearing in the market, each due to its own technological advantages.
Based on the discussion of technological strength and weakness, Webcasting
is more likely than WebTV and Intercasting to be the leading convergence
technology in the future. Webcasting can provide live and/or video-on-demand
services, reach a vast area of the world instantly through the Internet, and
also provide seamless interactive service only possible in Webcasting. In
addition, because streaming technologies and methods of enhancing the Internet
transmission speed are just at their initial stages, there is a great
possibility that there will be technological breakthroughs in Webcasting
technology. Right now, the field is open for all streaming technologies and
Internet transmission modes to prevail in the future Webcasting era.
If the technological problems of Webcasting are overcome and it becomes a
full-blown service, this means the advent of a new medium which promises the
most liberties of action. Though barriers such as language, national
governments' restrictions on foreign programs, or limitations on international
transactions like electronic pay-per-view payments still exist, Webcasting has
the potential to be widely used around the world in the near future.
However, a more important factor that will determine the future of Web
broadcasting is the users of Web broadcasting. Rogers (1983) emphasizes the
importance of "implementation" instead of mere "adoption" of new innovation.
This is also true with Web broadcasting; its future will largely depend on how
people see, adopt, and use Web broadcasting technologies.
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