FOE: Unboxing the Medium

WARNING: Liveblogged and not checked

What counts as “radio” when it comes via podcast rather than over the air? How do we create “television” as the limitations of spectrum scarcity slip away and content is delivered online? Media is determined by conventions that emerge from both technological constraints and cultural practices – the technologies of content delivery shape the industrial and the creative modes that define something like “television.” In a world of convergence, the basis for many of the conventions that define media are in flux. How can we come to understand and redefine the industrial, consumption and creative practices of media as convergence works to erode some of the distinctions between them? How is radio affected once it moves from the Hertzian waves to the podcast? What happens to the comic once it moves from the page to a Playstation? How are audiences responding to and shaping these shifts? And how are business models adapting to these changes?

Joshua Green – Research Manager, Convergence Culture Consortium; Panelists include: Dan Goldman – Illustrator of Shooting War (Grand Central Publishing [US] and Weidenfeld & Nicolson [UK]); Jennifer Holt – UC Santa Barbara, co-editor of Media Industries (Wiley-Blackwell); Brian Larkin – Milbank Barnard College; Avner Ronen – CEO & Co-founder, Boxee

  • JG: (Reads the intro above – asks the panel to respond). We used to have clear understanding of what media were; is convergence eroding the differences? What implications are there?
  • AR: from Boxee; a NY start-up, started from personal frustration, using digital media in living rooms and no good solution to bring stuff to TV. We wanted to create a new kind of experience on the TV, to access to all the content that they like. When we started we did not know we would generate so much unease for the industry. We found ourselves in the middle of a big sea change – freaking out abut the TV being a screen connecting to the internet.  Reaction from most is to resist change; even though history of change in TV is that it is for better.  to answer the thesis, we think everything changes once connected and maybe the biggest change is around the creative process. It is a huge industry and it is all based around the existing model; it is around the platform and once the platform changes, then everything needs to be considered. We are where Tv was in 50s – when T was radio with a screen. We need to take advantage of the medium, there is a disconnect between creative and technology; the new gen of creators will have a different world. franchises will be built will be bigger than anything we have on content; the future of content producers is bright. The size of the industry will grow. the content will grown and the money will grow
  • BL: (Shows images from Indian films, Nigerian film industry, African film distribution).  Do research in Nollywood.  Nigerian and Ghana have pioneered the video film process; a practice of traveling theater,  there was a rise in cheap tape technology, at the time of structural adjustment. TV industry was at bottom. There was a confluence of events, so you got dramas on video. The rise of armed robbery reduced cinemas in the south (which were taken over by Pentacostal churches – who had a lot of editing and filming expertise).   In mid-90s there were about 50 height 2k films.year, now about 1500/year. Nigeria sees itself as a major media content producer, would like to see itself as a regional dominator. All very cheaply, in about 2wks, released a week later. There is no canon. Because of piracy, you have to get it out quickly and make money on 2 weeks.  It has an enormous domestic market.  It is powerful in anglophone africa and moving into francophone. The Nigerian film industry is aware of this, but has problems monetising the industry. It has created 2 things in convergence culture. It has a form unlike any others, it is about domestic consumption – videos in the home. It has  anew form of viewing practice – the video parlour, a space that can be anything from a space with a roof where 20 people may watch, or a room in a house, It sits in between the private of house and the public anonymity of the cinema. In places, women are banned from cinema, but can watch this.   In my work, if you build a media model, how might that be if look at Nigeria. for instance, in many parts of Africa, there is little distinction between religious and secular media, they converge. In west, there is a big christian media, but we segregate it when talking media, no matter the size or the models of monetising.  In Nogeria it is difficult to make that separation; they came from Nigeria, in a world not tutored in Afircan film aesthetics. The issues about witchcraft etc have become prominent. Most of the criticism in Nollywood have come from people trained in Film schools, they see it as cheap, bad, too much about witchcraft etc. One of the reasons witchcraft is so prominent is one of the ways to save yourself is to give your self to Jesus Christ – the savor is the pastor. the aesthetic link to Christianity and the distribution links are all connected.  The expansion of church and the video distribution over laps.
  • JH: my interest is looking at convergency and transmedia through the lens of legal issues and policy.  Look at how cable and broadcast and film, and telecommunications, have come together through a particular set of legal and regulatory pathways. So what has allowed the tyrannical transmedia nightmare that is Hannah Montana..why are we subject to it on so many different levels. I came interested about how the same proportions of studios that owned cinema in the 40s when they were forced to divest was the same in the 80s.  I’m thinking about the implications of TV that is giving us this transmedia, tv is what is keeping these companies afloat. Domestic film is only about 3% of their annual earnings. So for NBC Universal , the most profitable bit is USA. regulation has been protecting cable companies at the expense of film and broadcast.  To me, I’m interested in looking at the impulses of TV business models, the importance of transmedia, plus the history of cable through lens of regulation and policy.
  • DG: I write and draw comic book. My interest with this place, is about the changes, from music, to film/.tv to comics. I think the tsunami of digital distribution has not hit yet.   Been a professional comic creator for a number of years, a self publisher, gone onto the web. Something called Shooting War has gone from web to a major publisher.  the elephant of the change that is happening, I’ve circled. The contrast is so clear. With Shooting War I published from ??(96), i posted weekly and could watch direct when people watched it and that beat the distribution of hard copy comics. The web comics that succeed the most are strip based and gag based, not long form. The internet had been used in a simple way to replace the Sunday funnies; the cartoon syndicates has crumbled, and now the political cartoonists are losing work. As the delivery method changes, the business models follow suit and the landscape changes.  I’ve been doing long form things. I did a project called 08, (about election),I covered the whole election, went on the road a little.  During this, I was begging publisher to get it printed, but they were slow. After election, I’d been working to get the comic as an iPhone app, but publisher won’t wake up to this being viable. The contrast to digital vs brick and mortar,..they promoted it a little, with a front of table buy, but you had to go into the store – and only in the see it. It did it OK. It was a stronger than Shooting War, but it was slow and flawed with the marketing.    I’m fully digital and portable.   So how is the change manifesting?  the change to the audience and the work?  It is easy to take the stuff and slap it into a new container but where is the fun in that?  this thing that is happening now, this is our time to change things, our time to shine. It is a missed opportunity, and I’m not going to do this. I look to format my work for digital devices and it is almost a responsibility to jump into this new water. So I’m launching a new series…will show artwork that shows a digital version and how it will work across both. It makes sense to figure out the multimedium workflow before you start . red Light Properties – the story of a family run realty offices. they sell haunted houses.  The art is in illustrator (lineart), photoshop (colour), Miai 3d modeling (Background) all bought together in photoshop. On digital, you can do microreveals and the page can print it will look like the final page. Motion Comics….look like cheap animation…would take the pictures and move them around etc. this pisses me off. If the comics are done well, the reader will hear the voices and music, not the same for everyone, so don’t like the Motion comics.  They are clips, which means you are not in control of time you take to move through the piece, you are not passive, you can’t take time.
  • JG: the first consoles frightened the TV people, as you could do different things with the TC. Brain Clark asks if anything is new? Is this new, or is this a different set of circumstances?
  • DG: I don’t see this as a collapse. There are opportunities. Beyond replacing one structure with another, at least in terms of my stuff, the media is old and we’re adding twists. There are no new ideas here
  • JH: the problems are not new, nor the crises in business models. If you take the long view there are clear cycles of expansion and contraction, They have had to contend with that and with business models in desperate need of regeneration. Issues of convergence are not new. There have been cross over as far back as you can think of. They are just another burst in the cycle,
  • AR: but when tech comes about it is usually disruptive. And now we have a critical mass of screens in different sizes, connected to the same network. The content is digital and change is inevitable, you have to adjust. So animated comics may be poorly made but there is space for it.   All the traditional boundaries are artificial; what tech is great at is taking out inefficiences in a model. And that is what has happened in the music business – eg albums vs a single track . Newspapers are inefficient. I’m traditionalist as I get a weekend paper, but news is digital.  Tech and users are ahead of the industry. It will catch up, but not sure if good and bad.
  • BL: with rise of ska and rocksteady/reggae, that was about sound systems…you would use the record to attract people to your sound system; the cheaper sound systems could not go to US all the time to copy US songs, they asked the Jamiacan people to copy the sounds. they made records with no vocal, so DJs could make their own (which birthed hiphop). then the industry changed. We are now in a crisis of reproduction…in jamiaca, the event driven sounds system has driven a lot. we have gone back to a point where the production of music is driving people back to live events, as that is not copyable….Technology does change it, we have to understand how tech pushes and how it intersects with cultural practices…
  • AR: so there are users. Users care about it big time – they care about the content, not the channel, the time. then there is innovation about the creative side; if everything is connected and on demand and it is cheaper to produce you will see the creative embracing the tech. Tech provides different in eastern europe a better connection as developed later. In africa will it be cable or mobile 4G? IN asia the change will be very quick and very significant?
  • JG: if there is continuity here, if these changes are driven by cultural practices, so why is the industry constantly employing this discourse of crisis, so why do tech shifts set everyone running around like hair on fire
  • JH: some lost 70% of revenue..that is a crisis. new ways of delivering content, they do not seem eager to embrace. Fear of cannibilising other revenue streams is not a visionary strategy…so how do they come up with a digital distribution strategy.
  • AR: the issue is money. Cable is average $65/onth from video subscription,. no one wants to disrupt it…as public companies living quarterly, no one wants a dip…so can’t live with investors. this is why it is hard to incumbents to adjust.  The best thing we have as users is there is not much they can do to delay this. the internet is hear to say.
  • JH: looking at 2008 reports, they had to prepare shareholders for their losses and there will be more.
  • JG: you describe boxee as a disrupter…
  • AR: we are not trying to be disruptive to a business model. we say what we think, which upsets them. We are just saying they need to be where the users are.  You as a content owner can describe what business model you can use. the lack of content online is not a tech issue, but a business model issue. So take existing model and put it on the internet. Consumers are going to just want to pay for what they want. If you are an incumbent, then you have to adjust your mindset and get on the offensive.  If you are a content creator, and you think about subscription is better than advertising, then do it. create more.  Change your thinking..with the internet you can go anywhere, you can go globally and build a brand there.
  • DG: there has been a perception that web content is free…but with phones there is not that same pushback about spending money.
  • AUDQ: how about national boundaries to content? (eg hulu, iplayer)
  • AR: the web breaks down the barriers. if you don’t show it, then the watcher goes to torrents.  People go around the blocks.  the best way to fight is too offer content in an easy way and people will pay.
  • Dg:  torrent is practically a free platform, so give it tom them and you can have premium tiers. So if you give people something for free they will help you keep it going, make it clear that i will go away and you can get involvement.
  • JH: we have to learn the lessons of the music industry..we have to have some faith in the long term. The music industry and others have not learnt it.
  • BL: written about how piracy has been central to the Nigerian film industrian..when the film industry produced it, the only people who could distribute were pirates.    Piracy created the infrastructure that allowed the film industry..but they still don’t know how to deal with it yet, eg piracy of western tv vs local films. you can buy stuff online in NY/London but no idea if any of the money goes back to source. If the film industry can get a cable channel in London, then they can get some revenue
  • JG: you rise a point of a flow out and back from regions….could Nigerian video parlour suggest a new way of showing in the west.?
  • BL: there were lots of Indian cinemas when I grew up; with videos they all died. Now multiplexes have screens just for bollywood films, there is something about film going, I’m surprised it has not taken off, especially for niche films.  When Nigeria went to video projection, they could show far more. 
  • JG/AUDQ: isn’t content just content? What is the relationship between content and media?
  • DG: having things traveling with you is a great idea – the ability to dial into boxee. As you move between devices, having your network across all the platforms means you can vary the experience depending on where you access it. you can experiment..
  • JG/AUDQ: what held them back?
  • JH: fear held them back…it’s not the biggest companies that are the innovators…it is the smaller ones. It is usually smaller companies that do innovation…
  • DG: when a system fails…new things come up.. Solutions are tried and then dropped…
  • AR: they do experiement…eg Disney put content on ipods, pout shows on line….it may seem too small or too late, but it is major move. not sure if we would have made same or different decisions with billions of dollars at stake.  
  • AUDQ: 3 strikes rules?
  • AR: there are still ways to take it away…, net neutrality, etc, with bad government decision, would not want to live in place with good internet.  you will see people moving.
  • JH: Net neutrality is a regulatory miracle at the moment at the moment…it is so important to be aware of how fragile this is.
  • Ar: we don’t have net neutrality properly today, there are companies that shape traffic.
  • AUDQ: this panic about new tech disrupting businesses. has been used strategically to get copyright protection etc, is that part of the discourse now?
  • JH: Yes, I see it as part of protecting America..
  • AUDQ: perspective on relationship of artists with companies?
  • DG: it is probably in artists best interest to try both and see what works best. There’s no reason if you can’t get someone to pay you, then it is easier
  • AR: there is not one model that will win. the web opens up more opportunities though, you can monetise without a major label. It depends however on the scale of what you want to make. But low cost end, then take a stab at goign direct to consumer.  Infrastructure is going to get better.
  • BL: many artists are in the same positions as companies; they are in the same position of giving up money. You need the balls to try something new. If you put a lot of time and effort, the returns are small, do you want to get money, it is not about ust giving it away for free. No one know what the future will bring. In Nigeria, the film makers are in a big battle with distributors, the money is normally put up by them..the film makers are triyng to wrest it back, the gov trying to regulate it with distribution licences.
  • JG: .what do you think about policy? (also a round up)
  • Ar: I do think about it, for net neutrality and the impact of satellite. I have no plan in working through regulation, it is not something we could contemplate. I’ve spoken with FCC(??) occasionally,  the team there lives in the same world we live in. we don’t have resources to fight a battle but think we have a team that speaks our language.   We have a business in boxee that is difficult to scale internationally, the content is geolocked, if we don’t have local content then we can’t move. I’m fascinated by social aspects of media distribution…what will happen it will be global, we will become smaller more connected world.
  • BL: Nigeria does not have a lot of media regulation? Key issue is about censorship, eg about northern states that adopted sharia law. the industry was based on the north, but it was banned…it is an issue of control, they don’t know how it will play out. they may pack up and move, but not very easy there. the ways in which the industry will go will depend on these legal dynamics
  • JH: legislation impacts different to technology. Follow the money – more important than any philosophical view of the government…it is part of our mission to equate things like web access to phone calls etc….it has limited some of the big ticket productions but there are a lot of opportunities

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.