Business as usual? - Negotiating change in the internet age
DON QUIXOTE – Pablo Picasso’s print.
As European’s we can be proud of our contribution to the development of the media. This of course is Don Quixote, Cervantes mythical hero who spent his fictional travels “tiliting at windmills”. This is regarded as one of the first ever novels, made possible by another recent invention – Guttenberg’s printing press. But what was the casue of Don Quixote’s madness? Too much reading. For Cervantes was cleverly lampooning a suspicion held at the time that the act of solitary reading which was made possible by the mass production of printed material – could lead one to madness.
Of course what was happening was the transition of stories from an oral medium to a written medium. Of course, as now, people resisted the change, decrying the transition as dangerous and socially destructive. In fact, what Cervantes cleverly did was pioneer a format – the written novel – that would inevitably popularise the medium.
The analogy, I think, is obvious. The supsicions that are besetting the new medium now are merely cyclical and will be resolved. New formats – will and are emerging that will make this new medium triumphant.
THE NEW MEDIUM
The theme of my talk today and indeed, the argument I will repeatedly challenge you with over the course of the Screen Leaders IV programme, is my belief that the entertainment industry, rather then making a simple transition from analogue to digital, is actually undergoing a much more profound transition.
We are moving rapidly from a traditional top-down broadcast medium (or one to many) with a very structured, highly controlled hirerachy and business model and a passive audience to an entirely new medium that is horizontal and collaborative with an active audience, has increasingly few if any hierarchies and demands of its practitioners new flexible business models.
You may note I use the term the New Medium as opposed to the New Media. The reason I use the singlular is so that we can distinguish it from the broadacst medium that we are transitioning out of.
Medium: noun 1) a means by which something is expressed, communicated, or achieved.
It might be a petty semantical argument, but I want to get away from this idea of a multimedia or a plurality of media so that you can understand that the medium itself is quite singlular in its effect – regardless of what devices or platforms it is being veiwed on.
So when did this new medium begin to emerge?
FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL
9th November 1989 - the Fall of the Berlin Wall from an idealogical point of view, it was the triumph of the free market over the concept of a controlled, centralised economic administration. The knock-on effect was a gigantic leap in globalisation as previously isolated markets like Eastern Europe, China and India suddenly opened up for business and embraced the free market.
..and nothing epitomised the free market more then the emergence of the internet… or more specifically, the web browser, perhaps the most succesful application of the internet so far.
The internet has been developed in the US as a failsafe communications platform in the event of a nuclear attack. Now with the Cold War over, it emerged into the mainstream.
TIM BERNERS LEE
In the CERN institute in Switzerland – an Englishman – Tim Berners Lee and a Belgian, Robert Callilou perfected the Hypertext Transfer Protocol for a new global structuring system they called the World Wide Web. They fought for six months with CERN to ensure that their research would remain in the public domain, setting an important precendent for the new medium.
This precedent was followed most importantly with the IPO of Nestcape on August 9th, 1995.Yes, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer won the web browser war, but Netscape won a much more important victory – open standards as opposed to proprietary software – and their IPO put the Netscape browser on everybodies desktop for free.
The internet – which had started life in the Cold War ironically as a military application – suddenly became a global phenomenon which brought people together on a massive scale regardless of geographic location.
So for me, an important point about the New Medium is first and foremost an ideological one:
Whereas the Mass media 'corresponded to the logic of industrial mass society, which values conformity over individuality.’
The New Medium follows the logic of the post-industrial or globalised society whereby 'every citizen can construct her own custom lifestyle and select her ideology from a large number of choices. Rather than pushing the same objects to a mass audience, entertainment and marketing now tries to target each individual separately.' (Lev Manovich).
THE TIPPING POINT
2000 was a tipping point for this technological development. Unfortuantely we were blindsided by a number of other things:
the Dot Com crash – which was really just an economic sideshow of greed with little correspondence to what was actually happeing in the techology area.
Enron – which in fact reined in the previous excesses of the Dot Com era.
9/11 – which halted unfortunately halted the free flow of labour into the US and the ensuing Iraq war.
But Something more important was happening.
In the space of a decade we have seen
- a PC install base growing to over one billion machines with a billion internet users. (Microsoft) - Desktops going mobile and wireless - Broadband going from almost nothing to over 415 million users. (Strategy Analytics) - Mobile phones achieving a penetration of over 40 percent of the world’s population. (Mobile Active.org) - Television screens going bigger and flatter - Music and photography going digital and becoming software-driven and the clear trends are that all media and entertainment will also become software driven.
In 2000, there was suddenly a happy convergence of technologies including the laying of fibre-optics globally, faster microchip processors, increased storage capacities and new innvoations in software and hardware devices leading to :
“a global, internet-enabled platform for multiple forms of collaboration”
or as I would like to argue today,
THE BIRTH OF A NEW MEDIUM
The change we are witnessing, of course, is not peculiar to the entertainment industry. It is happening or has happened to a wide range of industries including the travel industry, the booksellers and the financial services industry.
Again, what is emerging now is a New Medium – not an old one re-packaged – but an entirely new one with its own rules that will increasingly impinge on the way you do business.
NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL
OLD MEDIA DONT GO AWAY
So what are the Old Media? Radio, Television, Newspapers, Magazines.
But any Medium, as we know from history, doesn’t go away. It is simply re-defined. This was made clear to me quite strikingly after a previous talk on digital that I gave on Screen Leaders where one of the particpants recounted how as a child their whole family used to sit around and listen to Irish dancing on the wireless radio set. When the television came, they sat around that instead and watched it. So what became of the radio? Was it thrown out? No. As he said it became “aural wallpaper” – something that was on in the background. This story came to mind during my holidays recently when I was in rural France and I went into a remote bar in the middle of nowhere. There the barman was on the internet watching a video on his laptop. In the background, was the television set with a 24 news channel with tickertape. So is the television on its way to becoming “visual wallpaper”? Maybe.
SO WHAT ARE THE FUNDAMENTAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS NEW MEDIUM?
BITS NOT ATOMS
First of all, we must understand that it is Bits Not Atoms we are now dealing with, to paraphrase Nicholas Negroponte.
The TYRANNY OF THE RETAIL STORE is over, replaced instead by infinite choice - and software that will recommend and personalise those entertainment choices.
This phenomenon, known as THE LONG TAIL, simply means that niche audiences can be served in a way they never could be before. If your predilecton is Science Fiction, Horror, Documentary, Arthouse or action movie, the software of the New Medium will help you find it. For film and television producers this is potentially manna – except we must also understand that microprocessors don’t distinguish.
EVERYTHING IS JUST ONE AND ZEROES
Everything is just ones and zeroes – the microprocessor in your phone, your laptop or your iPod doesn’t distinguish. In the torrent of the bitstream, a great movie occupies the same hard disk space as a family photo album, a console game, a home movie or a word document.
So there is MORE COMPETITION FOR EYEBALLS then ever before.
The television has gone flat and wall-mounted. Games Consoles and IPTV are offering video on demand and access to the internet at the touch of the remote control. Laptops and Desktops PCs are giving audiences on demand access to video through websites like Youtube, social networks like MySpace, peer to peer applications like Bit Torrent or web applications like Joost. Video has also gone mobile – with phone (if you can call it that anymore), the iPOD or the DVD player.
Another major phenomenon that tends to be ignored is that the DEMOGRAPHIC HAS CHANGED. The latter part of the INTERNET GENERATION – those born at the same time as the internet – take it for granted and have an “I WANT IT NOW!” mentality. As a generation grows up with mobile broadband, this demand intensity will increase.
The New Medium also won’t tolerate slackers.
“DEATH OF THE MIDDLEMAN”
The New Medium, fuelled by collaborative work flows and global reach, aggressively disintermediates any inefficiencies in the flow of information. We’ve seen this with the travel industry, the book shops, the music industry and we’ll start to see it increasingly with cinema and television. Broadcasters – especially Public Service Broadcasters – will feel the most pain if they can’t keep up with demand of the demographic. The schedule is history.
They will pay for the service. But if you put a barrier in the way – be it regionalised Blu Ray DVDs or unworkable Digital Rights Management – they’ll steal it.
POWER OF THE NETWORK
One cannot underestimate the Power of the Network – just look at the phenomenon of social networking sites. For content producers, these are turning into repositries of latent talent, promotinal and marketing networks as well as potential distribution platforms. Your work can be judged at the speed of light and word of mouth will lift you up or kill you in the blink of an eye.
USER GENERATED CONTENT
Time Magazine in 2006 heralded the phenomenon of User-Generated Content which has come about through the newly found enpowerment offered by the horizontal, collaborative New Medium.
DEMOCRATISATION OF THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION
The availability of cheap technology, tools and software have democratised the means of content production – which is an enormous challenge for the traditional broadcast medium… but a huge opportunity for producers if they can harness it.
One of the defining charactersitics of the New Medium is its openess. Tim Berners Lee and Robert Cailliau who created the World Wide Web at CERN (in effect they created the Hypertext Transfer Protocol – or HTTP that you see beside every web address). They fought hard to ensure that it remained in the public domain.
In someways, this brings us back to the ideological arguments that divide the old and new media. Whereas traditional broadcast models try to assert control, the new models seek to enpower the user. Microsoft are struggling against Google for this very reason. The proprietary, licensing software model that made Microsoft such a monolith in the days proceeeding the internet now seem outmoded in the era of wikinomics.
So what are we heading towards –
Well, the eighties and early nineties saw the networking of Desktop PCs in the office across a LAN or Local Area Network. From 95 we saw the establishment of the internet which networked PCs globally. The next ten years will be about the establishment of the CLOUD, the networking of all devices through internet protocol.
The New Medium’s rightful place is the Cloud – that computing grid that is being developed right now, hosting applications and software that will be downloaded on demand to our mobiles, our laptops, our television screens and a variety of other devices – even fridges and ATM machines. Entertainment, of course, will be a part of the equation.
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN FOR YOU?
Death of the 30 second television ad spot, the ubiquity of broadband, the Attention Economy, embracing the collaboration culture etc.
There are two routes to go for Ireland and potentially for European film-making – low-budget feature film-making (following in the European tradition of Cinema Verite and more recently Dogma)
The other more difficult road is Digital backlot, developing Europe as a service industry for US production or in tandem creating a mid-budget studio with original content servicing a niche global audiences.
FILM & TELEVISION DRAMA PRODUCTION
As above. In terms of television, the area of Branded Entertainment and online narrative opportunities. Those working in Genre such as horror, science fiction or comedy have the most to gain from traction online – as they build their audience through Web 2.0 technologies.
Animation is the most in tune with the digital media technologies and has potentially the most to gain. An example of an interesting cross-platform concept that could be applied to animation in a relatively cost-effective way is being launched by Scholastic:
The 39 Clues is a multi-platform adventure series for ages 8-12. Scholastic’s Trade publishing division launching simultaneously in September 2008 in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Combining reading with online gaming and collecting, The 39 Clues will include 10 adrenaline-charged books to be released over a 24-month period, 350 collectible cards, and a dynamic online game where readers uncover information beyond what is revealed in the books and cards and compete for prizes. All rights for The 39 Clues are controlled by Scholastic, and Scholastic Media, the company’s entertainment, licensing and consumer products division, will be extending the print and internet components by developing the property across other media and consumer products..
In March of this year, two Limerick businessmen, brothers John and Patrick Collison, sold their company Auctomatic to Canadian company Live Media for the princely sum of $5-million. John, the younger, is still at school. Patrick, now aged 19 and working with Live Media in Canada, previously won at the European Young Scientists Competition in Moscow (2005) for his development of a new programming language. In my view, their achievements illustrate a momentous new trend: the emergence of a young demographic that is hyper-empowered by technology and a simultaneous cultural change that is as important, if not more so, then the upheavals of the 1960s.
Technological innovation and cultural change have always gone hand in hand. The teenage revolution of the 1950s, which blossomed into the significant socio-political and cultural changes of the 1960s, began with a few simple technical innovations – the electric guitar, the portable record player and the car radio. The invention of the electric guitar by Adolph Rickenbacker in 1931 brought a new sound that set the scene for the convergence of black gospel music and rhythm and blues, bringing it to a majority white audience that adopted it as their own. Early pioneers, such as Bill Hailey and the Comets, were followed by the protégés of the melting-pot Sun Recording Studios in Memphis – Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.
The distribution of this music then lay in the convergence of another two technological innovations: Ford Motor Cars’ mass assembly-line made automobiles cheaply available to a booming US economy, allowing America’s youth to parade along the streets and boulevards (nostalgically remembered by such films as George Lucas’s American Graffiti). The music emanating from their cars was courtesy of another great technology – the car radio. It was the radio that gave disaffected teens in the suburbs and cities of the US a point of connection as they collectively tuned in to DJs like Wolfman Jack, playing the latest hits coming out of Motown or Sun Studios or whatever was popular in the billboard charts, defining what was cool for the youth of America. Rock ‘n roll became mainstream. It became the vanguard of an empowered teenage movement that was, it would turn out, revving-up for the 1960s.
Technological innovations are today laying the foundations for an equally momentous cultural shift. With the availability of high-speed broadband and cheap digital devices with massive storage capability, young consumers will become united around software developer kits as the DIY ethos of the internet gains pace. Kids of the 1950’s were passive consumers of rock-‘n-roll – getting it where they could on television or radio, in record stores or, even more rarely, at live venues. In contrast, for kids of the 2010s, it won’t just be a style of music that will be swapped, shared and enjoyed, it will be anything that exists in binary code, be it audio, video, games, photos, websites, applications or a ‘mash-up’ of all of them. The only criteria being – as it always has been – ‘Is it cool?’ But a big difference is that no one corporation or individual will be cultural arbiter of what is cool. Instead it will be judged by the wisdom of the crowds spread across the multitude of social networks such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo and the cleverly optimised responses of search engines. This generation’s digital devices will be the equivalent of the car radios and gramophones of the 50s. Today’s adolescents will be both creators and distributors of the content, as they desperately try and define for themselves and their generation what’s cool.
Doors If we remember the 1950s as setting the scene for the sexual revolution of the Sixties, the Nineties gave us cybernetics and the opportunity to free our minds of the material world as the global consciousness embraced the world wide web… The so-called ‘Flower Power’ generation which had its culmination in 1968, had its beginnings in simple soulful innovations. Fifty years on, technological innovations are currently galvanising the youth scene globally and the Collisons’ success is just one home-grown example of what lies ahead. The portable record player and the car radio have now been replaced with ubiquitous high-speed broadband and cheap digital devices with massive storage capability. Instead of just music, kids are formulating their identities around a myriad of content – and mainly content that they create, not just what the studios and big corporations want to sell them. In this regard, young people are even more empowered and democratised then ever before. The DIY and Open-Source ethos of the internet has seen an explosion in creativity and innovation that is still not recognised by the mainstream media for a new cultural movement.
Over the next few years, we will increasingly see tech-savvy young consumers becoming united around the software developer kits – which are being provided free of charge by the big technology and social media leviathans such as Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, MySpace and Google. These kits are exactly what they say on the tin – instructions for how to create cheap, Open-Source software applications over a range of devices and platforms. The motivation for these platform-owners to provide these kits for free is the lure of the advertising dollar as these home-grown applications attract increasingly large and clearly defined audiences to them.
Just as in the late 1990s, when creating websites was ‘the rage’ and courses on HTML and web design were inundated, these kits will allow users create more sophisticated websites (or, more precisely, applications) that can potentially run on a range of devices from a laptop or phone to an Apple iTouch. What will these applications do? Many of them will be incidental and stupid – like interactive video clips, games or those annoying Facebook applications that tell you what sort of vegetable you are. But, increasingly, they will be more like the sort of business application that John and Patrick Collison sold - theirs allowed eBay users to monitor their inventory
Woodstock: if you build it, will they come? But this is not the 1960s. If Ireland is to lead the way this time rather then follow the crowd, there are certain key things we need to do, or else watch the likes of India and China run away with the prize. A truth about the Collison story is that their success came not from Irish investment or support, but from attending a Silicon Valley start-up programme called Y Combinator, which introduced the fledgling entrepreneurs to the company that eventually made them rich.
It is a sobering experience to petition a 19-year-old for economic advice, but in a recent interview (with Intruder.TV), Patrick Collison outlined his thoughts on why they left these shores to seek investment elsewhere.
‘Were I doing another company I would either start it out in Silicon Valley or start it here (in Ireland) and move it out [to the Valley]. People can sometimes take this as unpatriotic but it’s not.’
He goes on to explain why the conditions in Ireland in terms of investment and opportunity were not suitable. ‘We could in theory turn Ireland into a very creative start-up hub. We don’t need to change anything for that to happen but at the same time it hasn’t happened yet. It is something we need to work at improving…. [we need to build] up the investment community, encouraging more people to go into technology at third level…’ John Collison has since gone back to finish secondary school. Patrick has moved to Canada to a senior technology role with Live Media.
Cloud Watching So as we come to the close of this decade, there is a profound structural change happening to the internet. The history of personal computing saw us move from single Personal Computer terminals to Local Area Networks (or LANs) in the 80s, which gave the ability for corporations to share content across their own office networks, regionally and globally. The 90s saw the emergence of the World Wide Web and the interconnection of Personal Computer terminals worldwide, outside the constraints of the corporate office environment. Now, we are witnessing another rapidly pluralizing change known as ‘Cloud Computing’, where a range of internet-enabled devices, from mobile phones to laptops and MP3 players, are connecting to each other and, more importantly, to a network of third-party hosting solutions – the so-called ‘Cloud’ .
These third-party hosts (such as Amazon or Google, many of whom are providing the software-developer kits) offer free hosting capacity for content and applications created using these kits within their ‘Cloud Computing’ network. In effect, the barrier to entry for entrepenuers and would-be entertainers to offer content and services over a range of internet-enabled devices to a global audience has been effectively removed.
All that is required to get in on the action is a personal computer, a broadband connection and basic IT skills. Users will simply upload and store their self-created content and applications and freely allow other people download and modify them. ‘Cloud computing’ is the term used to describe this service and it is most certainly the next big leap for the internet and all devices that connect to it.
Let the Children Play The times they are a-changing and Ireland needs to keep up. First, we need to ensure that our broadband infrastructure is up-to-scratch and made available to everyone in society. We need it to be free, where possible – in libraries, schools and urban centres, and cheaply available anywhere else. Second, we need to educate our young people in the many software developer kits that are already available for a host of devices and online applications such as Apple iPhone, iTouch, Facebook and Google Apps. These allow anyone to program applications across a range of devices and platforms and give enthusiasts the tools and instructions to create applications on whatever infrastructure that the patron provides – such as Google, Amazon or Facebook. For example: mashing-up Google Maps with a dog walking service or an online treasure-hunt could suddenly create a workable business proposition for little or no money in terms of prototype and development.
When we have achieved this, then we can truly claim to have a knowledge society and encourage other young entrepreneurs to emulate the teenage millionaires John and Patrick Collison who sold their eBay application for more than €3-million this year. Never before has the opportunity existed for such immediate access to global markets with such small start-up costs – all that is required is a broadband connection, a PC and increasingly perfunctory ICT skills and anyone can be selling digital content and applications online to a global audience. So rather then having a sullen teenager sitting in their bedroom listening to obscure music, we can have active teenagers sharing their content and better still, earning their own pocket money from a range of entrepreneurial activities. It’s not Rock and Roll, but mark my words…they’ll like it.
- An Article by Neil Leyden from Enterprise Ireland's Technology Ireland supplement.