The Ice Story
There is an old expression that says, “necessity is the mother of invention”.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Necessity does not drive invention. Rather, new inventions come along and mess up everyone’s life. They would, for the most part, prefer that they went away entirely.
This is true not only in broadcasting, but in everything.
Ice was once a fantastic business.
If you are old enough to remember, your grandmother or great grandmother had an ice box. This stood in the kitchen, and once a week the ice man came and delivered a block of ice. That was what kept the food cold and fresh.
Ice was harvested in gigantic ice ponds that were scattered across New England. In the wintertime, ice was harvested from those ponds and stored in heavily insulated ice houses. A good ice house could keep its ice in tact through the summer.
Ice was such a good business, and the science of insulation so sophisticated, that by the middle of the 19th Century, clipper ships delivered ice from New England all the way to India. One can imagine how the crowds swarmed the docks in Calcutta when an ice ship arrived.
If your father had an ice delivery route in Manhattan, you were almost certainly set for life. The ice business was a secure trade. Ice, after all, had been around since the Roman Emperors brought fresh snow down from the Appenines into Rome in the summertime to cool them. And by the mid 19th Century, the ice industry was massive. There were delivery routes, ice tongs, ice ponds for harvesting, ice houses for storage, technologies to cut the ice… it was massive.
Then, in 1876, Jacob Perkins, an American living in London, invented refrigeration.
In a moment, in a stroke, the ice industry was over.
The much sought after delivery routes, the seemingly invaluable ice ponds, the chain of delivery… all over, in a flash.
A new technology had rendered the entire industry… an entire world, obsolete. And all the crying and complaining and whimpering did not a bit of good. It was over. Ice was dead.
Technology is merciless.
When a new technology comes along, one either adapts or dies. And death is both swift and certain.
Darwin wrote that the neither strength nor intelligence are the best traits for survival, it is the ability to adapt to change.
Kodak was once the industry leader in photography. Say Kodak and you as much as said photography. But when digital cameras came along, Kodak was arrogant. “We are film” they said in Rochester.
Kodak could have owned digital photography. They were there first, had the market position and had they moved quickly could easily have adapted early. But they did not. They were too comfortable to see what a new technology was about to do to them. It destroyed them. Tell someone you have just bought a Kodak camera and watch their eyes.
The web, and in particular, video on the web are about to do to a whole range of industries what digital images did to Kodak.
The arrival of the Internet, and particularly video over the Interent is the equivalent of Jacob Perkins’ invention of refrigeration: a fantastic new technology that in a stroke wipes out whole businesses, some of them seemingly rock solid. They are not.
What is the value of a local TV station or a transmitter when infinite amounts of video can be delivered online direct to homes for almost no cost?
What is the value of a printed newspaper when the same information can be delievered to every home in the world instantaly online at no cost?
Once that newspaper is online, what differentiates it, if anything, from a television station? If online can carry video, how can your former ‘newspaper’ only be in text when the medium can do so much more? (Do you see a lot of text-only TV channels?)
The entire world of media is about to change due to a new and very destructive technology. Those who adapt will survive, but they will evolve into something very different from what they are now. Those who fail to adapt will die. Like the invention of refrigeration, the Interent means the end of what was once a very old and established business.
And what you have seen until now is only the tip of the iceberg… so to speak.