Saturday, March 8, 2008

My inner data geek rejoices

Was I the only one excited about the news that the SMPA now has fantastic new researching abilities?

This new system, SnapStream, purports to have 10,000 hours of storage space for TV broadcasts. If you've ever attempted content-analysis research, you know how cool this is. The biggest reason media generalizations exist is because getting the data to back up assertions like "GWTV shows aerobics videos more than the news" is time-consuming and expensive. If you missed a broadcast of something, it used to be gone forever, which made it hard to back up any ideas about content beyond "last week's episode of I Love Lucy was pretty funny." And content analysis still needs a researcher to consume all of this media. But having the ability to store it -- rewatching to double-check your data, seeing the news report you missed when you were stuck on the Metro on Tuesday night -- makes me happy on behalf of anyone doing media research. My sophomore year, we had to do a content-analysis project, and several of my classmates expressed frustration with trying to analyze current TV programming. Even people who lived off-campus and had Tivo had too much data to handle.

However, I'm a little annoyed that the Hatchet story (and headline) only reference SnapStream's Tivo-like abilities. The story already contains two quotes from professors comparing the new system to Tivo; if I didn't know better, I'd accuse the SMPA of buying this so professors could save their favorite episodes of 30 Rock:
Roxanne Russell, studio manager for SMPA said, "It's basically a big Tivo with multiple users, giving each user the ability to record directly onto his computer. It ends the bottleneck on recording."


"We call it 'Tivo on steroids'" said Janet Kolodzy, chair of Emerson's journalism department.

Using the same analogy four times within one story is just lazy writing, however apt the comparison may be. According to Tivo's website, you can store up to 300 hours of TV on Tivo. SnapStream has 10,000 hours' worth of space. Even split within a department rather than a household, that's still a giant leap forward in terms of memory. Calling this technology a "glorified Tivo" makes it seem like GW is once again spending money frivolously, when in fact, this program sounds pretty cool. Tivo is for entertainment, not serious researching needs, and treating this new program like a pedestrian enterprise only demeans media research as a whole.

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