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..