Casting About on the Net: What's the Difference Between Broad, Web, and Narrow Cast Anyway?


by Raphael DiLuzio

Raphael is a Tenured Associate Professor, Design Science / Fine Art at the University of Southern Maine. He is Director of the (CI)2 Lab - a Collaboration for Creative Intelligence and Innovation. Raphael works with Dirigo on high profile projects.

It was not all that long ago that the Town Crier was the major means of civil communication, in a time when many people could neither read nor write. The crier would stand in the center of the town or city and vocally broadcast the pronouncements of the court as well as make free public announcements. They were one of the original types of broadcast media. And they represent an excellent example of broadcast as one-to-many medium.

Broadcast media, such as television and radio, are one-to-many communication tools, in which the one does not mean a single individual. Broadcast is generally a network or syndicate: a collection of people gathering and creating content. It does rely on some means of technology for distribution of the information freely in the moment, which can be recorded or repeated, to a broad distribution of the public; hence the broad in broadcast. Newspaper, although a print medium, is similar but relies on public literacy, and in general its means of distribution is not free (though there are free presses).

What makes broadcast culturally important is that in essence, and in theory, it is free. Information, or content, can be created and distributed through the technologies used for radio and television. The cost of these technologies poses a problem. Because the technologies used are indeed expensive, the cost of creation, transmission, distribution, and reception of the information by the audience must be addressed. Generally, the cost is covered through advertising revenue, public donations, or government and corporate sponsorship.

Except for true public broadcast (radio and TV), the influence of that sponsorship creates bias, and what we see can become influenced or skewed by the source of the funding and support. The source can also control what we get to see; the networks offer a limited selection of goods, and we either consume them or they drop them and change them. The channels of distribution, quite literally, are channels or stations (such as the big three: ABC, CBS, and NBC). They offer fixed permanent content that is set into a timed schedule for us to see or hear.

Web cast is limited to one medium, a new media, which is the Internet and in theory is a many-to-many communication tool. Since its inception it quickly rose to become a fast and inexpensive means of content creation and distribution. Although it is labeled a many-to-many medium, this is not exactly true. Think about this, some one person or again a collection is behind creating the content. If it is a blog, tweet or video-blog than it is more of a Broadcast medium or one-to-many medium then even radio or television as one individual is solely creating the content for distribution.

So why label Web cast as many-to-many? Unlike radio and television, when the Web (Web 1.0) first came into being there were no networks, syndicates, or corporate groups. The landscape was chaotic and wild, much like the mythic old West. Any one person could gain access and do what they wanted. The information created is not time-sensitive, in that it can always be accessed asynchronously (always-on). Then, provided there were sufficient numbers taking notice of this always-on information or content, and they in turn told others, interest would swell like a great wave and bring that one person's ideas or content to the world.

This is the viral theory of information dissemination on the Internet or in new media. It is not a hierarchical (top-down) organization like broadcast media, where there are a limited number of channels that control content and build the audience, but more of a heterarchy, or bottom-up organization. This concept of heterarchical organization and the viral spread of interest is where the many-to-many in Web cast media originates. It is from a populist interest in something that we call it such. A Network is not deciding what we should watch, see, and hear; we are making the decisions, sharing and informing others of our choices, to prompt them to visit places we all agree are of interest. Thus the many-to-many, wherein the many is the audience determining what will become more popular in the moment. Tweets are a prime example of how trends shift and change rapidly as people follow them.

In the beginning, and at least for now, what we read, hear, and watch is by choice, not by dictation. We log on and go where we want, following trends, trailing other people's suggestions, or just discovering things in random searches. Initially Web 1.0 was dependent upon literacy, as the majority of information was text-based, but this has quickly changed. With the advent of Web 2.0 the nature of the Internet has become significantly more multi-media, with interaction between the viewer and the materials—or whoever is on the other end: there can be real-time interaction with Web 2.0 between two individuals or groups of individuals.

The problem that has long plagued Broadcast media is now endemic to the Web itself, as Web 2.0 requires more band width, increased speed, and greater infrastructure; to create, transmit, and receive it has become more costly. These costs have to be covered and not just by us, the consumer, as these costs far outweigh our contribution. Soon, networks and syndicates, subsidized by heavy advertisement dollars, may dominate this new medium as well.

Narrowcast is quite different from Broadcast and Web cast. First and foremost, it is a subset of both Broadcast and Web cast. The theory behind Narrowcast is that a few like-minded people are gathering around like-minded ideas or content and sharing like-minded comments or entertainment—akin perhaps to sitting around a cozy and comfortable campfire in the old West.

Satellite radio and cable television were the first kinds of Narrowcast media. Within these media, the tools use technologies for transmission referred to as Multicast, while the business model is Narrowcast. Each has a list or menu of offerings, and people of like-minded interests subscribe and watch or listen to the same things. You can stay within an area of general interest that you and your fellow audience members choose.

Narrowcast content on the Web is more powerful. The combination of multimedia and interactivity that Web 2.0 offers makes it not only a place for people of like-minded interests to gather but a forum where they can dynamically interact, share content, and exchange and expand upon ideas and opinions in real-time.

The myth that the Web is many-to-many, as pointed out earlier, is a limited one. Most Web sites follow more of a Broadcast model, as anyone with access can view a site. It is how that site becomes popular that makes it many-to-many,or a true Web cast. When you are required to subscribe or logon to view a site, it shifts to a Narrowcast model where the user elects to join another like-minded or select group. In many of these instances there is a site-moderator who can be an individual or a group—one who has ultimate control of content. Push technologies, such as text messages, are a powerful part of the Narrowcast model, distributing notifications and information to subscribers.

From a marketing standpoint Narrowcast content is perhaps the most lucrative and important. Narrowcast is a business model whether it is used for profit or not. It has a high degree of potential profit and influence by drawing like minds together. When used for entertainment content it is relatively benign but with information it can gain great influence. Narrowcast content is perhaps one of the single most powerful aspects of the Internet.

Connect with Dirigo Design & Development and Connect with Your Customers and Prospects

Casting to reach your target markets through the Internet requires creativity, innovation, and oftentimes leveraging the timing of new media inventions. As an experienced Internet marketing organization, Dirigo deploys various casting practices like those noted above to help our clients locate their customers and prospective customers. If your business seeks higher revenues, call us at 207-347-7360. We're here to help you connect with your customers and grow your organization.

Principal Author: Raphael DiLuzio, Professor, University Southern Maine
Raphael works with Dirigo on various projects.
Date of Publication: 02/13/2011
Last Modified: 02/13/2011


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