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Web vs. television: It comes down to emotion

TV vs Internet September 10, 1997
Web posted at: 9:22 p.m. EDT (0122 GMT)

An essay by Correspondent Garrick Utley

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Several decades ago, in 1963 to be exact, the half-hour, evening, network television news was broadcast for the first time.

In preparation for this epochal event, one of the producers in charge sent a memo to his staff saying, "You may all be journalists, but remember, the highest power of television is to transmit experience."

Two months later the assassination of John F. Kennedy proved how right he was, as a nation mourned in front of a television screen.

And now with the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, millions around the world shared in the grief and the emotion of the event as seen on television.

But if this was the "highest power" of the televised moving image, what is the power of the Internet?

Use of the Internet soared as people looked for the specific information they wanted. Even the British royal family had a Web site.

And you could see the queen's speech about Diana's death, although the picture, streamed video, was shaky.

What we saw are the strengths and the limitations of the online medium. It cannot yet give the same visual and, therefore, emotional experience as television.

But does it provide a new and different experience?

Dr. John Pavlik of The Center for New Media at Columbia University thinks so. "The basic information will be online; a lot of the texture which puts it into context will come from television."

There was no better example of that than the television ratings and Internet usage on Saturday. During the televised procession to Westminster Abbey, and the funeral itself, the number of people using CNN's interactive news page, for example, declined sharply.

The minute the funeral ended, the search for information on the CNN site went back up.

If the Internet is the place people increasingly will get the information they want, when they want it, what does this mean for television?

Television shows emotion, something the Internet lacks, says Robert Maxwell, the director of research for HBO. "I can see emotion on someone's face, I can see someone crying, I can see their eyes, and I can't do that on the Internet."

"I think it is a major competitive advantage" for the future of television, Maxwell said.

And television will continue to push that advantage, aiming more than ever at the heart and the gut, rather than the head.

Not because that is its highest power, but because, in the increasing competition for people's attention, it is, as we have seen in Diana's death, its most effective one.

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