Information Technology & Communications (How could IT and Communications be used to create a common
Prepared for the Armenia Diaspora Conference
Yerevan, September 22-23, 1999
A. Preamble and Objectives
The objective of this paper is to identify how recent technological advances, i.e., information technology and satellite broadcast technology could best be utilized to promote a common information field among Armenians, as well as facilitate effective communication and common thinking between Armenians in the Homeland and those in the Diaspora. Both the information technology – that is the Internet with its various derivatives – as well as the worldwide satellite TV broadcast technology have been identified as two available, affordable, and popular means of communication that would best help establishing effective Armenia/Diaspora communication in the immediate and foreseeable future.
In this paper, we will be advocating the inception of a master Armenian worldwide satellite broadcast TV station (for instance ABC – Armenian Broadcasting Corporation). We will further search for means to address the Internet audience requirements in the Diaspora as well as the Internet access issues of those in Armenia. Among other Internet ideas, an Armenian portal (e.g., www.motherland.co.am) would probably effectively serve as an individual forum for the exchange of communication between the Homeland and Diaspora. These activities are expected to be of world-class caliber, as resources required are either available or would have to be made available. The purpose of these activities would be defined as making Armenian news, entertainment, and information abundant, accessible, interesting, and affordable to virtually every Armenian across the globe. Many natural derivatives of these two venues, such as convergence/video streaming on the Web, and connectivity centers, also could be conceived. It will further be advocated in this paper as to how modern day techniques in marketing and management could be utilized to make these otherwise costly communication efforts worthwhile in terms of `ratings’ or `hits’, and thus would be sustainable activities.
It is our belief and prerogative that a Diasporan’s level of Armenian identity, i.e., Armenianness (Haygaganoutyoun) and his/her high level of interest in issues concerning Armenians are highly correlated with each other. The more a Diasporan feels Armenian, the higher his level of interest will be in issues of national dimension, and conversely, the more interest created in the psyche of a Diasporan vis-Ո-vis Armenian issues, the more attached he will be to his Armenianness. And higher levels of interest would naturally translate into the desirable effect of higher levels of involvement – whether they come across as investing in Armenia, visiting the Homeland as tourists, sponsoring events, or otherwise. Accordingly, communication vehicles are but an effective tool to prop up the Disporans’ Armenianness and interest in Armenian issues, and achieve the internal PR work that keeps the Armenian heart humming – not only in cases of dire needs (such as earthquakes and military feuds), but more so in everyday life.
Moreover, historically the quality of information flowing between Armenia and the Diaspora has left much to desire – thus the urgent need for improvement. And information is a key ingredient in amalgamating unity between the Homeland and Diaspora. It is not difficult to argue that the higher the quality of information, the stronger the link of unity. By the same token, the poorer the quality, the easier it will be for others to misinform the public, and the more difficult it will be for us to focus on our national priorities. It is worth pointing out that our existing systems of communication, while worthy of high marks for their valiant efforts to fill the informational needs, are archaic and cannot adequately serve the purpose – thus things have to improve.
C. What Makes It Tick
It is a recognized fact that normal differences exist between the communication and informational needs/interests of Armenians of the Homeland (hereafter referred to as Hayasdanahays) and those of the Armenian Diaspora (herewith called Diasporans). Moreover, there are significant differences among the communication needs and interests of various Diasporan entities, such as Armenians of North America, vs. European Armenians, vs. Armenians of the Middle East, and so on. These characteristic differences are the natural effects of varying developmental processes these sub-groups have undergone, as they are influenced by the environment, as well as the economic and political ecosystems they’ve thrived in for many decades now. For instance, access to the Internet and the virtues it brings are but a foregone conclusion to an American-Armenian, whereas elsewhere Armenians might not have the same freedom of access. The reverse might be true when applied to accessing satellite TV broadcasts and assessing its virtues or the value it may provide.
We also recognize that there’s another segmentation of the audience in Armenia and the Diaspora – that of youth vs. people of older age. This is a key factor with a separate set of taste preferences, styles of delivery, communication venues (TV vs. Internet), etc. Thus, the communication vehicles chosen by us need to be sharp, yet have a common denominator so that it covers a wider range of the Armenian worldwide audience.
In light of this situation, we face the challenge of defining the common denominator of informational needs and interests that will develop and pool enough of an incentive for the average Diasporan or Hayasdanahay, irrespective of their age group or country of residence, to access the pan-Armenian communication vehicles and venues that are herewith proposed. The fundamental marketing concept of AIDA – grabbing Attention, gaining Interest, creating Desire, and getting Action may certainly prove to be an effective tool in this regard.
The overall environment in which the Diasporan strives as a world-citizen is very inclement for him/her to nurture a high and sustainable level of interest in Armenian issues, and this situation has been deteriorating further over the past several decades. The challenges of creating a decent level of interest about Armenian topics (defined by frequency and intensity) among Diasporans, and to some extent Hayasdanahays, are many including the daily hectic life, the abundance of non-Armenian media, the language barriers, and the high barrier to accessing Armenian popular media (TV, radio, papers, plausible websites). This has resulted in Armenian issues becoming the domain and privilege of a few. Our challenge is to make that interest a popular one, easily catered, and sustainable. To achieve this stated objective, we propose the following key drivers of interest that we believe shape the informational needs of the average Armenian. Agreeing on the definition of these `needs’ will eventually help design the vehicles of communication required to generate and sustain high levels of interest. This is like designing a product to meet specific needs, rather than trying to modify needs to accommodate existing products.
Accordingly, we have identified and short-listed the following areas as the – common denominator – set of drivers of interest for the average Diasporan that might help in creating `one-size-fit-all’ communication solutions across the globe – potentially with minor, yet effective alterations if at all feasible. Thus, these drivers are identified through topics, news and issues that:
Enhance the fact that Hayasdanahays and Diasporans belong to a single nation/heritage,
as well as pride in it, e.g:
o 1700th Christianity celebrations;
o Armenia’s and Armenians’ achievements in music, sports, etc.
Address the Armenians’ political aspirations
Elaborate on the Homeland’s development as a world class country and nation, e.g.:
o Armenia’s technological advances, universities, economic development, etc.
o Armenia’s membership in European organizations, regional groups, etc.
Elaborate on various Diasporan entities e.g.:
o The daily life of Lebanese-Armenians, Iranian-Armenians would be of interest for US-Armenians, Argentinean-Armenians, and vice versa;
o Peeking into concerns of similar scope, well-being of Armenian schools in the Diaspora, lobbying local governments, political representation in host countries, etc, would have pan-Diasporan interest as well as would interest the average Hayasdanahay.
Have Armenian entertainment value, e.g.:
o Armenian feature films, video clips;
o Armenian artistic and cultural performances, classic, pop, etc.
Granted that a leadership role has not been taken in the domain of effective communication between Armenia and the Diaspora in over 80 years of Armenia’s recent existence. This was due to political and material reasons. It is evident that the bulk of the efforts thus far attempted by Armenia (both Soviet and independent) have only addressed the interests and political aspirations of certain sub-strates of the Diaspora, and never the Diaspora en masse. The reverse has been true as well, where political and marginal considerations have hampered introducing the bulk of the Diaspora to Hayasdanahays – just the way it is, without any censoring or spin. Moreover, the vehicles used thus far also have been very traditional in nature, in the form of newspapers or periodical publications, radio broadcasts, educational and cultural exchanges with certain entities, Spurki Hed Gabi Gomideh activities, etc. These activities have been only marginally channeled and distributed in the Diaspora.
All of the above, though in many instances not user-friendly in nature due to fundamental content and style preferences, have contributed toward creating some minimal level of comfort for the otherwise post-Genocide disoriented and disenfranchised world-citizen Diasporan, and helped in preserving his/her Armenianness. Nonetheless, most of these vehicles have now been rendered obsolete by technology, lost audience, and/or are economically infeasible to pursue further.
The very recent efforts of the nascent independent Republic of Armenia seem to be steps in the right direction. The recent establishing of the C1 Armenian satellite broadcast channel from Yerevan, though with many imperfections, has tried to fill in a fundamental void, and the hundreds of Armenian websites operating out of Armenia and elsewhere have together put up a showcase of Armenian news, entertainment, and information that have mostly satisfied the technologically savvier audience. The drawback of both these efforts has been the fact that they have neither been user friendly, or readily accessible to larger segments of the existing and potential audience.
E. Worldwide Satellite TV Broadcast
I. Current State of Affairs
The Worldwide Satellite technology would allow any Armenian dwelling, wherever located globally, to have access to Armenian TV programming. As mentioned above, Armenia has recently launched on worldwide satellite TV broadcast effort, through its C1 Armenian channel. This measure, though a commendable undertaking, leaves some room for improvement.
C1 currently uses the Hot Bird 5 satellite (aka 13 Degrees East), that is part of the Eutelsat European satellite system. Hot Bird, compared to many dozens of its competitors, is a very popular satellite TV distribution network in Europe and the Middle East, and it is fortunate for Diasporans that C1 uses this venue for transmission. (Hot Bird being popular means many people would also conveniently get access to a flurry of other Hot Bird TV stations with a single satellite dish in their dwelling).
Other positive features of C1 on Hot Bird are the fact that it uses the `Ku-band’ of transmission – as opposed to the alternative C-band – and uses Digital technology allowing for better quality picture. Current geographical coverage of C1 via Hot Bird 5 includes all of Europe, the CIS, and the Middle East. It is unfortunate that no Armenian TV beams are currently sent to other countries with significant Armenian population, e.g., North & South Americas, Australia.
A Diasporan would need to invest on average US $250 in order to acquire a personal Digital Receiver for Hot Bird, as well as an LNB (Low Noise Block Converter) and a dish. Shared reception of signals would come in cheaper in blocks of apartments, or by establishing a Cable terminal for reception and cable distribution to subscribers.
We propose and encourage a single `official’ Armenian Satellite TV effort meeting world-class – that is Western – standards, broadcasting out of Yerevan. This would imply propping up C1, or starting anew. Furthermore, we believe the following characteristics would help garner significant interest and broader support in this satellite TV effort, both at home and in the Diaspora:
1. Make the satellite TV content fulfilling in news, entertainment and information. This would surely mean addressing the key drivers of interest identified on Pages 2-3 above, and/or conducting market research to identify themes such as the appropriate frequency of the news broadcasts, the movies played back, the language(s) used, etc.
2. Consider providing live coverage of events – such as April 24 commemorations in Armenia and elsewhere, May 28, Armenia’s National Assembly deliberations, US and other Congress deliberations on topics of Armenian interest, sports events, elections to name a few – would come in handy.
3. Render the content of this TV programming as unifying as possible. Avoid issues of divisive or polemical nature and present matters in a factual and impartial fashion, especially on topics of national and political nature. All news and information, specifically those on financial and economic topics, need be grounded and reliable.
4. Introduce interactive and live programming to encourage instantaneous and spontaneous participation of the audience, especially that of a younger age. Consider raffles, prizes, and other various techniques to instigate live participation and immediate active interest in the audience.
5. If need be and if feasible, consider varying content in different territories, a la CNN and Cartoon Network.
6. Consider dubbing the broadcast in different languages, as well as simultaneous alternative language translation options, etc.
7. Consider 18-24 hours of programming per day.
8. Continue using state-of-the-art transmission via Ku-Band Digital signals, and rely on popular Satellites, e.g. Hot Bird for Europe and the Middle East, etc. Keep pace with new developments in satellite transmission technology.
9. Expand coverage to North and South Americas on popular satellites. Specifically in North American markets, consider partnering with effective distribution outlets, possibly through cable TV companies, to cater to areas of higher Armenian population in the USA and Canada.
10. Consider generating appropriate advertising revenue as part of the funding of this TV effort. The potential of reaching 7-8 million Armenians worldwide would be luring to multinational companies as well.
11. Do relentless promotion of this TV effort in the Diaspora and Armenia in order to create an anchor for this TV in a wider Armenian population. Consider using local Armenian media, papers, churches, etc., to promote and sustain interest in this TV.
F. The Internet Opportunity
I. Current State of Affairs:
All indications are that the Internet will be the medium of competition and cooperation in global and national markets over the next decade. Further, the Internet is still a low threshold medium and allows otherwise small players to circumvent traditional barriers to entry. Given the right policies and incentives, Armenians still have a comparative advantage over many other potential players on the Internet and the World Wide Web. Some reasons behind this advantage are the facts that:
Armenians pride themselves on their innovative mindset as well as entrepreneurial and technical skills.
Diasporans have a significant presence in the technology and media sectors.
As a landlocked, resource-poor country, Armenia is more likely to attract support for IT and telecommunications ventures than some of its resource-rich regional neighbors.
But just as importantly, Armenians also are the other “world wide web”, with a global presence, and a loose but effective protocol in the form of a shared heritage and language, as well as multilateral relationships between different communities. It is only natural that the Armenia/Diaspora relationship makes increasing use of the Internet and the Web. This natural fit also provides Armenians with a head start, as Armenia/Diaspora relations on the Internet can be an effective incubator for Armenians’ access to global markets of information and services.
The Internet is also the perfect medium for balanced, bilateral exchanges between the Homeland and Diaspora. As a symmetrical medium, where publishers and consumers of information face relatively similar conditions, the Internet has this balance built into its structure. The obvious obstacle to this symmetry today is the difference in the level of access that Hayasdanahays have to the Internet, compared to that enjoyed by some of the leading communities in the Diaspora.
It is worth mentioning here that the access that Hayasdanahays have to the Internet is limited, even in comparison with some of its regional neighbors. Also Armenia’s level of access and Internet presence lags far behind that of Western countries.
Armenia’s disadvantage in this area can partly be explained by a general lack of resources and difficult economic circumstances. But the fact that it lags behind even by regional standards, largely is due to the following factors:
Armenia’s telecommunications infrastructure is controlled by a private monopoly, rather than a competitive free market system;
Telephone lines are either sub-standard for Internet use or too expensive – at US $1 per hour – for the majority of households;
Lack of policies aimed at promoting the country’s information infrastructure or creating opportunities for access to the Internet.
Thus, the challenge that Hayasdanahays face today is one of access to the Internet. Whereas, in the Diaspora the Internet access is less of an issue. The bigger issue encountered by the Diaspora is one of identifying the various clusters/segments of the audience, and meeting their varying informational needs and style differences.
Fortunately, these unfavorable circumstances are at least partly compensated by the motivation and efforts of Armenian entrepreneurs, educators and institutions both in Armenia and in the Diaspora.
II. Target Internet Audiences
Similar to how magazines and newspapers may have differing readerships, in today’s electronic media marketplace, the Internet has a unique set of audiences that are seeking various types of content. While a recent UN study estimates that only less than two percent of the world’s population is online due to poor telecommunications infrastructure and/or repressive governments, it is important to note that the Internet is the single largest growing medium for worldwide communication. The Internet is bringing together communities of people who have common interests. In that sense, it is an ideal channel of communication between the Armenian communities of the world and Armenia. It can further be said that the Internet is the medium of choice when communicating with a demographic that is younger in age.
It is also important to note that similar to the rest of the world, there is a significant `digital divide’ (technology haves and have-nots) among the various Diasporan communities, and especially between the Diaspora and Armenia. This is mostly due to the poor telecommunication infrastructure among other reasons. However, if one is to approach the communications planning process with an eye toward the future, we must assume that ways will be found to bridge the digital divide, at least to some degree, thus bringing Armenia and the Diaspora closer to each other.
While there are both younger and older Internet audiences, the significant focus should be on the younger audience, as this audience is the one that is most at risk to drift away from national priorities. Moreover, future support for national topics will be further solidified if today’s Armenian youth are properly anchored to our topics of national interest – a McDonald’s Kids Meal approach to identity at an early stage. These audiences are further defined in general terms below:
Youth Audience (25 yrs old and younger)
This audience tends to include those who are in grade school and college or university. It is crucial to invest in this audience because as technology and the Internet become more available to more people around the world, this audience will eventually evolve into the more sophisticated audience of the future who already – as we speak – get a great deal of their information from the Internet. This demographic also tends to form social bonds across borders via the Internet and has already created vast virtual networks – sometimes only knowing each other through the Internet.
The key to capturing this audience is through dynamic content, not just straight news. This also is not a passive audience, i.e., they do not merely wish to consume information but seek a more interactive experience. Interactivity is one of the primary reasons that this audience is attracted to the Internet as a means of networking with fellow Armenians, sharing and exchanging ideas, and having some sort of impact on the future of Armenia. Obviously, this is a generalization, and there are many shades of gray when it comes to the awareness level amongst today’s Diasporan youth and whether – and to what extent – they care about Armenia. But the point is to at least capture those segments that range from very active to those seeking to have a better connection to their Armenian heritage, culture and identity. Capturing this audience will also require introducing Armenian identity in a context that can be tied to the local realities of Armenians living in different countries.
Young Audience (26-44 years old)
This audience can be identified as the professional audience who either work in a company or have their own business. This audience can range from those who interact on the Internet on a daily basis as part of their profession to those who may use the Internet merely to seek information about Armenia and Armenian issues. Again, there are many differences between these two extremes, however, the common characteristic is that this audience tends to have more personal resources to devote to interests. An interesting phenomenon is that while there may be many in this audience category who care deeply for Armenian issues and follow news regularly, for a great number of them Armenia is a virtual concept, having never visited their homeland, even though they may, in the extreme cases, speak, read, and write Armenian, and are active in community life.
Some of these people are actively seeking a new, tangible, and real connection to their Armenian roots but often do not have the time, like their younger counterparts, to spend on many activities so they find limited ways to create a link to their Armenian identity.
Older Audience (Older than 45 years old)
While this audience is not always engaged with the Internet medium, and many have learned to use the Internet out of necessity rather than desire. This is still an important audience, albeit, one that is not sophisticated in its Internet skills. This is the type of audience who will find one or two sources of information on the Internet and will stick to them. Once captured, this audience tends to display greater loyalty and are creatures of habit. This audience is not as large on the internet as the other two previous audiences mentioned. While this older audience should be considered in its own right, in many instances capturing the youngest audiences will lead to this older audience, due to family ties. It is a full cycle because much of the older audience’s knowledge of the Internet has been gained from their children `showing them the way’.
Audience Spectrum Summary
|Younger than 25||26-44||45+|
|Seek Dynamic Content||Seek reliable info source||Loyal to few sites|
|Active in multiple areas||Looking for 1-2 ways to help||Just the news|
|Networkers||Networkers||Limited internet skills|
|Interested mostly in news|
To illustrate one possible solution to meeting the needs through the Internet, our recommendations include the creation of an Armenian portal – or Super Website – providing content for existing sites, as well as a set of topics based on technological advances in the IT and telecommunications sector:
1. The Armenian Portal Model:
It would be natural to consider an Armenian portal website that would serve to readily `link’ to many sources of Armenian news, entertainment and information. In many instances, in lieu of creating content on this site itself, it would make more sense to create the appropriate links to existing or developing sites. Accordingly, this portal would serve as an Armenian user-friendly `search engine’ linking to sites covering news, community activities, churches, libraries, sports and youth organizations and many other areas of activity in the Diaspora and Armenia. The value of this site would be in its `one-stop-shop’ features, as well as its ease of use and virtually all-encompassing nature. For instance, instead of the current experience of a time-consuming and frustrating search, a Diasporan or a Hayasdanahay child would have immediate and effective access to topics on Armenian history, geography, and Armenian entertainment among others. Whereas, the Armenian investor would access reliable economic data mirroring on Armenia’s development, business and investment opportunities, etc.
This website would further contribute toward instigating interest among Hayasdanahays on topics covering the Diaspora, an interest from one Diaspora community to another, and Diaspora to Armenia interest.
Certain features of this website would be its capabilities in helping to surf based on language preferences, that is directly linking to Armenian websites that currently use English, French, Russian, Spanish, and other languages. This site’s capacity in catering specific sub-groups of the audience such as kids, the youth, the entrepreneurs, or others, would be highly valued, similar to an Armenian `yahoo.com’.
Our recommendations presented above on the content of the Armenian Satellite TV (points 1-4), and our suggestions on the TV’s funding and promotion (points 10-11) would certainly be applicable to this portal effort as well.
2. The Content Provider Model:
A different approach to the portal model, albeit with a narrower focus, would be to aggregate content and provide it through links to existing websites in Armenia and the Diaspora. This would give individual independently operated websites the ability to provide a more robust offering to their existing audiences. In other words, instead of building a portal and trying to build an audience for it, this model seeks to take advantage of existing traffic and audiences by infusing information and news to each of these sites that may have built-in loyal audiences.
3. Provide Communal Access through Connectivity Centers:
While dial-up or other direct access to the Internet is still a challenge in Armenia, communal Connectivity Centers can provide public access to large numbers of programs and individuals. The country’s public library network can be retrofitted for this purpose, or special connectivity centers can be constructed.
4. Facilitate the Creation of Mirror Sites (or co-location):
When Web sites are created and hosted in Armenia, they do not get the exposure they deserve to global audiences due to the slow access speeds which discourage visitors. Similarly, Web sites created by Diasporans are difficult to access efficiently from within Armenia, compared to a locally hosted sites. One solution to this problem is for institutions to offer affordable ‘mirroring’ or co-location services whereby an Armenia site is automatically replicated on a server outside Armenia, closer to major audiences, with daily updates, while sites hosted in the Diaspora can be replicated in Armenia, thus speeding access for everyone.
5. Obtain extra-monopoly satellite links for non-profits:
The current telecommunications monopoly in Armenia essentially prohibits other private or public entities from establishing satellite connections to the Global Internet network. But extra-Monopoly (outside the monopoly) satellite links do not threaten the telecom monopoly’s revenues, while they open up a whole range of possibilities for educational or other non-profit initiatives.
Convergence is a term used to describe the expanding capability of the Internet to carry more than just text but to include audio and video. While this is a level of technology that depends on each country’s telecom infrastructure and bandwidth, and is most available in the United States followed by Europe, it is a technology that is coming and should be addressed here. Convergence is an area that could be advantageous by taking current capabilities in audio and video production and turning that form of content into content for Internet distribution to Diaspora audiences. In other words, if satellite TV or radio programming was being produced and broadcast for the Diaspora, then this same production could be altered for Internet distribution as well.
G. Resources Needed
Financial, in-kind, intellectual, personnel, and technical resources will surely be needed to successfully implement the above recommendations. In general terms, self-funding approaches would be more appropriate, whether they present themselves in the form of TV advertising, on-line advertising, event sponsorships, etc. Nonetheless, some solid funding should be made available by Diasporan entities, whether they are organizations, churches, or else, as well as the strategic and tactical support of the government of Armenia.
In many instances the needed resources exist, whether they are human or technical. It is a matter of using them properly, or introducing modifications, for them to fit the projects or purpose. Specific Diaspora/Armenia entities need be formed to address topics of content, funding, as well as marketing these activities.
In summary, this paper does not provide all the answers to the complex problems we currently encounter in the communications field between Armenia and the Diaspora. Instead, it tries to clarify the questions we need to ask in order to get our thinking on the right track. It further proposes a few communication tools we believe to be effective, affordable, available and interesting for Armenians in the Diaspora and Armenia to facilitate the dissemination of information and common thinking among Armenians. The facilities that the Internet provides as well as the worldwide satellite TV broadcast are but two fine channels of communication that could be effectively utilized to help Armenians focus on their national priorities and bring our communities across the world into closer contact with each other.