Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Modest Proposal: Content Credits to Offset New Broadcast Charge

I find it difficult to reconcile all of the actual media consumption that I observe around me with the Government’s mooted new Universal Broadcasting Charge intended to support large scale state-sponsored broadcasters.

Consider this domestic snapshot from last Saturday. My son glued to his iPod watching a succession of home-made Lego stop-motion animations on YouTube (this week’s novelty for his six-year old attention). At the same time my daughter was watching some Studio Ghibli movies in the original Japanese (even though she cannot read the subtitles yet). I was catching up on some 5by5 podcasts while doing housework. This mélange of professional, semi-pro and wholly user-generated content is typical of the mix of media consumed by the people formally known as the audience. Welcome to the 21st century mediascape.

So the existing Irish TV licence is an anachronism given the ever-increasing convergence and democratisation of media. Therefore something is obviously going to change. But is it appropriate to levy a flat charge for all media consumption for the benefit of specific actors within the mediascape. I foresee robust debate about where the proceeds of such a broadcasting charge are to be distributed.

Reading between the lines of recent Irish Times’ commentary about the proposed charge, I see them already angling for some portion of the resultant subvention fund. I think they want to broaden the state’s framing of what a broadcaster is within the terms of the relevant legislation. If some of those monies are indeed passed on to The Irish Times, then how much should go to Journal.ie, to Politics.ie, or to Broadsheet.ie? And you can just keep on adding names to that list…

But wait, aren’t we all broadcasters now? I broadcast hundreds of tweets, status updates and Instagrams each year. Not to forgot the occasional essay on this blog. A lot of people I know are equally as active as content producers, each broadcasting to their own web audiences. At present we do not receive any state support for our myriad broadcasting activities. Surely we are just as deserving as the Joe Duffys and the Pat Kennys? Who will right this injustice?

Here is a mischievous idea; why not also offset any new broadcasting charges with a system of ‘Content Credits’? Then those who merely graze and consume content* without broadcasting and contributing back into the mediascape would pay the full amount. While net contributors would have their charges reduced in line with their broadcasting activities. I can imagine a sliding scale: maybe a tweet would be worth one cent per thousand followers, while a blog post would earn a one-euro credit per thousand words per hundred impressions. Or, if that kind of approach allowed people to easily spam the system, perhaps the credits could be calculated as a multiplier of people’s Klout score or some similar metric.

Would you be happy to blog your way to a reduced broadcast charge?

* Lets call them “Content Spongers”. (It is almost too much fun not to resist the urge to spin the rhetoric around.) Think of all the One-Percenters sponging on the system who only consume content and contribute nothing back to the Internets.