Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Book Review: Screen Future

Brian David Johnson is a fellow Intellite, though he works in group pretty distant from mine, we both have future-forecasting type roles.

At a meeting he held up at Pax, he gave me a copy of his book, Screen Future, and I just got done reading it on a flight this evening.

The book is a look at ways in which TV (and to a degree, screen-hosted entertainment overall) is being shaped by technology and the shift to the Internet.

While it's got numerous flaws, the book does deliver in painting some pictures of future usages and the possible directions different players may opt to take.

First, the negatives:
  • The book has numerous typos, grammatical, and technical/terminology errors. I'm not sure who proofed it, but being an Intel Press book I'd expect them to do a better job especially on the latter of these.
  • There are places where Brian opts to "go deep" on how something might work, but stays at a high level powerpoint-ish description that hand-waves around a lot of the how, and so it's not clear these pieces actually add any value. (i.e. Just saying "assume this all works" is no less valuable than the approach of "you'd have to have Box A talk to Box B using a protocol - assume that just works".
  • While some of the book talks about business models and business issues, the book is way too limited in this respect. Also, it doesn't talk about issues around intellectual property rights and how they will have impact (e.g. DMCA's impact on innovation).
Now that said, the positives:
  • Brian has lined up some REALLY good interviews with folks in the book, from around the globe. Henry Jenkins, Stephen Conroy (Australian Senator revamping their broadband and broadcast policies), Amy Reinhard (Director of Strategic Planning at Paramount), and numerous others. Some of the riffing these folks do around the topic are alone worth the price of admission.*
  • The book has a global perspective - and is not just US-only like other views on the entertainment business tend to be
  • Despite my complaint about the under-served business discussion, the book does attempt to cross technical, business, and cultural boundaries, not just treating it as a technical subject.
* On a note about the different views: I found it funny that the otherwise awesome discussion with Reinhard kind of concluded that they had no idea how this would play out and how users might use some of this stuff; it was a nice contrast to the Conroy interview, in which he said when faced with the same problem, that they just went to Korea and studied how they've done it because they are years ahead of the western world. I thought this was a nice little example of how US folk tend to assume that we are leading here, rather than being humble enough to assume that maybe others are ahead.

So, some minor flaws, but good thought provoking read on the future of television.

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