Although the Internet is a democratizing force, television is still the most influential form of media and citizens ought to have more control over its programming, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said on Sunday.
Gore, long an advocate of the information superhighway and now the owner of a U.S.-based current affairs TV channel that shows user-generated programs, also said the Internet is not yet technologically capable of replicating television’s power.
“Most of what’s happening in the encounter between television and the Internet has been the Internet cannibalizing television,” Gore told an annual gathering of British TV executives in Scotland.
“What is needed is to reverse the flow and find ways to use the Internet to give individuals access to the public forum, which is television,” he said.
Gore, who lost the 2000 U.S. presidential election to George W. Bush, framed his argument around the need for citizens to rejoin the democratic process and to be given the ability to challenge inaccurate remarks made by politicians, especially in the TV ads that dominate election campaigns.
Internet advertising has soared in recent years, but TV retains the lion’s share of the spending.
At the same time, since Gore’s Current TV channel launched a year ago, user-generated video has exploded in popularity across the Internet with sites such as YouTube already streaming 100 million video clips a day.
Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes and rival sites also sell popular programs originally shown on TV, including “24” and “Survivor” for download.
Despite the rampant popularity of such services, they remain inferior to television when it comes to their ability to reach mass audiences, said Gore, who advises Google Inc. and serves on Apple’s board of directors.
“The Internet is based on packet switching, which is part of its strength. Messages are broken into multiple pathways and recombined at a destination computer,” he said.
“That strength becomes a weakness when the television signal is introduced because the density of bits of information in a half-hour television program is equal to 18 months of a robust email exchange.
“You can stream that, forward it, store it, time-shift it, you can do lots of things, but you cannot broadcast in real time to millions of people over the Internet,” Gore said. “Packet switching will not allow it.
“The Internet is now creeping into the television domain, but it’s still not creating the change that many anticipate will come.”
About 30 percent of Current’s programs, most of which are short-form news items, and even some of its commercials are viewer-generated. The channel reaches about 20 million homes, and Gore has said he hopes it will reach 50 million by 2010.