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Media needs its architects

At the Edinburgh International TV Festival last month, Google executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, told delegates to “ignore Lord Sugar” and bring more engineers, more science, into the TV industry. This was essential, he argued, if they wanted to break the pattern of UK innovating things that would be scaled up into global businesses elsewhere.

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Public notebook

TV vs. social media

Image: Augmenting some TVs

Which is best: TV or social media?

Effectively that was the question put to me ?morning by someone writing a paper on how social is changing the media lanscape. They were being usefully provocative rather than asking a silly question, putting me on the spot, and I rather enjoyed it.

Thing is, there’s not an either / or, is there? As The Economist put it in its recent report on TV, social media doesn’t necessarily stop people watching TV:

Even the technological futurists found it hard to imagine the explosion of websites, social networking and mobile phones that was to come. Yet these things have not displaced television. Rather, they have squeezed around it

Look at Japan, a country that leads many technological trends. Last year Tokyo residents spent an average of 60 minutes a day at home consuming media on the internet or a mobile phone, up from just six minutes in 2000. But they also spent more time in front of the television: an average of 216 minutes, up from 206 minutes. Among young women, the group that advertisers most want to reach, television-watching went up more steeply. Admittedly their attention was not always fixed on the box. Many teenage girls send text messages on their mobile phones while watching television. ?In Japan we like to do two things at the same time,? explains Ritsuya Oku of Dentsu, an advertising agency.

Social media makes a lot of TV better to watch, as you can watch it with friends and interesting strangers. Take the leaders’ debates in the UK election, any major reality show or the World Cup. All of these things have been live TV experiences I have enjoyed more, turned up for more or less because I knew there would be interesting conversation,?cathartic release with that genre known in my house as “shouty telly” (Apprentice: “What are they doing? Idiots!”, X-Factor: “What are they doing? Have they no shame! Leaders debates in the election: “What are they saying/doing? Idiots!/Have they no shame!).

Social media, our web, settles over our lives like a layer. It augments, adds to our experiences rather pushing them out of the way.

The questions in the interview yesterday, and the trajectory of debates in the media industry generally are about displacement, replacement, of broadcast or channel formats. Social media is more about the super-charging of how we have conversations with one another than a new kind of mass media. It’s coming from a different direction altogether.

Remember what Kevin Kelly said about the web: it disrupts and then it absorbs what it touches. It becomes the medium, the industry, assimilating it rather than doing away with it.

* * Sometimes we even create in the gaps. At half-time in the first England match in the World Cup, moments after Robert Green had mishandled the ball and let in a USA goal, my son and his godfather were re-enacting the dreadful moment in the garden. It was hilarious. I asked them to do it again, took a video and emailed it?to my Posterous. Posterous published it immediately and posted it to my YouTube, Twitter and Facebook and it entered the conversation stream around the game, eventually notching up more than 25,000 views, 500 Likes on Facebook and hundreds of Tweets. If you missed it the first time, here it is…