UK Webcast Shows Value of New Approaches to Media

Published October 1, 2007

A professionally produced, live streaming video program in the United Kingdom may be an indicator of the future of media in the Internet age.

“18 Doughty Street,” a news and public affairs site that streams Webcasts 24 hours a day, including five hours of live video each evening at 7 p.m. (2 p.m. Eastern U.S. time), completes its first year online in October. The site, which operates from a London studio at the eponymous address, is the brainchild of British Internet entrepreneur Stephan Shakespeare, founder of YouGov, a UK-based Internet-based market research and opinion poll company.

The site’s growth and ability to match or exceed broadcast outlets in quality of issue coverage and guests point to the Internet’s potential in providing alternative media outlets.

Many activists argue media diversity is shrinking amid consolidation of television stations and newspapers. Over the past year, activists have called for greater government restrictions on media consolidation while dismissing free-market analysts who say the Internet provides a strong alternative competitor to broadcast outlets.

Professional Quality

“18 Doughty Street” went live on October 10, 2006. It combines professional-quality video with daily long-form programming for five hours a night, which is then archived and made available for on-demand viewing at any time. The site broadcasts from a five-floor, five-bedroom house about two miles from Parliament.

The site’s politically conservative founders seek to counter what they see as the BBC’s liberal bias in news reporting, analogous to Fox News’ positioning against CNN in the United States, says Edward B. Driscoll Jr., a U.S.-based freelance journalist who covers media, technology, the Internet, and financial markets and has written about the site.

Leading members of Parliament regularly appear on the Webcast. Perhaps the biggest catch so far has been Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Easy to Replicate

Driscoll sees no reason the model can’t be transplanted to this side of the Atlantic. “To the best of my knowledge, there’s no real ‘secret sauce’ to ’18 Doughty’s’ technology,” he said. “So, I would say a U.S. equivalent will occur as soon as a Web site finds an investor willing to put in the money to add long-form video to a site.

“Basically, the Doughty Street model consists of a couple of television sets with the requisite Johnny Carson-style couches, backdrop, and a desk for the interviewer,” Driscoll continued. “The difference is that it’s streamed live via Windows Media Player rather than cable or a satellite feed.”

The model is especially suited to narrow interests, which media critics often say the economies of scale required for broadcasting cannot address. For example, a slot on BSkyB, the direct broadcast satellite network that services UK residents, would have cost “18 Doughty Street” £1 million ($2 million), says Driscoll. The Web provides a vehicle for widescale distribution without the cost of cable or satellite.

It’s a model that can work for a variety of content, Driscoll says. “There’s no reason why it has to be politically oriented,” he noted. “Why not a live music show from a jazz nightclub looking to promote itself nationally over the Web? Or interviews with celebrities? Or movie reviews? Or pre-recorded shows with a combination of in-studio footage and ‘out in the field’ video?”

‘Citizen Journalists’

“18 Doughty Street” invites registered site members to become “citizen journalists.” The process requires an application and approval from the site producers, and those selected are given a camcorder and allowed to file reports and create video blog entries.

Given the current state of Internet tracking, it is difficult to measure how big an audience “18 Doughty Street” reaches. The show has made an impact in the blogosphere and continues to grow and add features, suggesting a continued cash flow.

It also benefits from its ability to air vigorous debate, something difficult for the BBC and other broadcasters because UK broadcasters still operate under a fairness doctrine-type rule that requires them to give equal time to all points of view.

Steven Titch ([email protected]) is senior fellow for IT and telecom policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of IT&T News.

For more information …

“18 Doughty Street,”

Edward B. Driscoll, Jr., “18 Doughty Street Puts All The Pieces Together,” TechCentralStation, April 30, 2007: