David Docherty on a year in which digital technology made huge advances with podcasting, VoD, PVRs and mobile TV - helped by the rise and rise of the citizen reporter.
David Docherty on a year in which digital technology made huge advances with podcasting, VoD, PVRs and mobile TV - helped by the rise and rise of the citizen reporter.

It has been a year of energy, experimentation and confusion, but the direction and depth of the digital revolution have never been clearer. There was talk in 2005 about Dotcom 2 - the resurgence of City and Wall Street speculation in internet stocks such as Google and Party Gaming - and Internet 2, integrated broadband and wireless solutions that will give consumers and businesses access to always-on, high-capacity bandwidth wherever they are.

But 2005 was really just the year when big media and big money caught up with internet reality - capped by News Corp's acquisition of MySpace.com.

For content creators - both professional and amateur - the year benefited enormously from Kryder's Law, which states that hard-drive storage will double in efficiency every year. Throughout 2005, the disruptive technologies underlying Video iPods, VoD, PVRs, console hard drives, and remote digital lockers, gave testimony to the power of Kryder's law to create cheap, mass storage for the masses with as yet uncharted impact on the economics of advertising and content distribution.

The enormous success of the iPod was cemented, celebrated and romanticised, with an Ofcom report talking about "the iPod generation", and "podcasting" being named word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary. What had been a geeky technology became mass market within a matter of months. With Chris Moyles and the Virgin breakfast shows topping the iPod charts, the potential for the medium became transparent. And with the video iPod holding 150 hours of video, that transparent potential exists for TV. NBC, ABC and Disney are already offering content to both iPods and Sony's PSP handheld device.

It still surprises me that people think that Apple had anything to do with podcasting. It didn't. It was created and developed by iPod enthusiasts who spotted the potential and pursued their enthusiasm and redefined what was already a Zeitgeist-forming device. This formed another strand of this phase of the digital revolution - the rise and rise of citizen's media. Back in 2000, when the dotcom crash happened, gleeful Luddites were proclaiming that it was just another Citizen's Band radio that rose and fell but told us something important about the way that audiences wanted to be broadcasters.

The 7/7 tube station pictures brought home the power of citizen broadcasters, but other aspects of the trend continued to power forward. There are now 22 million blogs tracked by Technorati, the blog search engine, more than double that of this time last year. And blogs began to turn into video blogs (vlogs), recently anointed by the New York Times as "new media's new favorite medium". The important point from the perspective of mainstream content creators is that ultra-niche programming can reach a large and diverse audience, bypassing traditional distribution channels and reaching into the blogosphere at low cost.

The year's biggest content websites - and the most extraordinary financial results - came in another form of social networking - poker playing. Party Gaming floated in the summer, was valued at over£5bn and entered the FTSE 100 - demonstrating that understanding the power of the internet to bring people together is as important as knowing how to create content for mass audiences.

A third strand to the year was the increasing intensity of the rights fight. Who owns what for how long became the heart of the battle between producers and broadcasters (and the new intermediaries, such as Apple). The increasing bitterness of the struggle (and the need for a clear Ofcom ruling) is the consequence of earlier trends in hard-drive efficiency and on-demand distribution, either through closed networks such as NTL's recently launched VoD service, BT's IPTV service, also announced in 2005, and broadband TV providers such as the BBC, which began to offer first-run TV shows and experimented with its own media player.

The BBC showed, almost by accident, the problematic relationship between free-to-air broadcasters and on-demand services. Its Beethoven season generated 1.4 million downloads, causing palpitations in the classical music industry, for which such figures were astronomical and potentially lethal, and the BBC was forced to compromise on a similar service for this Christmas' Bach fest. The BBC's commitment to its media player and its ability to market on-demand TV will be one of the features of next year.

Mobile TV is tiptoeing into the light, with a slew of content deals between operators and content providers such as HBO, Fox, MTV, and the Champions League, and reality shows and the various Idols deriving significant revenue from mobile. Our phones are trying to be an interactive TV handset, a dating chat device, a news camera, a casino and an EPG. It is too early to tell what will work - will it be TV on mobile or (more likely) dedicated video for mobile? But with more phones than people in the UK, everyone will continue to experiment to find out.

An older digital technology suddenly found its feet in 2005, with DAB doubling in sales and heading for the 3 million mark, demonstrating that digital can penetrate even into the analogue heart of BBC Radio 4.

The year began with the tsunami once again showing the ability of the web to reflect and shape our understanding of global events and is ending with waves of change that will become even bigger next year. Can't wait.



Sky+ is responsible for the popularisation of the PVR in the UK, allowing viewers to take control of what they want to watch and tailoring the content to individual preferences. The new Sky+160 box, with more storage space, is to launch next year along with the satellite group's high definition service.


MyBBCPlayer, in development and expected to launch next year, will be a piece of software that allows users to search for programmes, initially from a seven-day archive of BBC programmes. It will also play live streams from the corporation's channels. The intention is that other broadcasters will make their content available on the player as it takes off.

IPTV (Internet protocol television)

IPTV delivers TV into homes over a broadband connection. The line connects to a standalone box sitting on top of a normal television. Homechoice has been delivering IPTV services since 2000 but next autumn BT will enter the arena with its new set-top box which will enable viewers to switch between Freeview and video downloads. Sky has also bought Easynet and will enter the market in some shape and form in the new year.

Mobile TV

There are two main methods of delivering TV to mobiles. The services currently up and running are mainly 3G-based, delivering content over the existing mobile network. These include those operated by Orange and the 19-channel service by Vodafone and BSkyB. The others are DVB-H based services, which actually deliver TV broadcasts to handsets. O2, Arqiva and Nokia are currently holding trials in Oxford and are trying to persuade Ofcom to officially license spectrum for the service. The question is which will prevail as market leader?


Telewest was the first UK broadcaster to launch a high definition service this month. TVDrive is an HD-ready PVR that allows users to access HD content via the group's TV-on-demand service, Teleport. But the switch to HD television is set to gather real momentum next year when Sky launches its platform in the spring. And if Sky can broker a deal with the BBC and ITV to air the football World Cup in high def on its platform, expect a run on HD-ready televisions.