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Scenario introduction

As part of the Seeding Fund application, we undertook to deliver a trial scenario. This document includes the base elements in draft form.

The genuinely is a trial only: proper scenarios cannot be written until the full OTB project has been followed through. The real purpose of this trial draft is to give participants some sense of what the final process will have to deliver: four scenarios, each different and each based on a single matrix developed during the process. These scenarios will be written as the final group stage of OTB.

The scenarios are alternative pictures of Australia’s audio-visual world in 2016. So, this single trial is not a prediction, it is a description based on the logical extension of current events in 2006.

The final stage in writing this scenario, once the description is agreed, is to devise a narrative to detail some typical actions in the described world.

For the purposes of writing a trial scenario, I have drawn on a matrix prepared by NetAction in the US. Their matrix, devised for their own scenario writing, looks at “the Future of the Internet and Communication as we Know It”.

Though it is not specific to the content of Outside the Box, it has obvious connections. I’ve included it here as an example of what OTB will have to develop in the main phase.

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Australia: a Window Half Open

It is 2016. The global economy has been shaken over the years by changes in the balance between the economies of China, Japan and the US. China’s massive economic growth faltered around 2010/12 as a result of internal pressures. This added considerable pressure to the US national debt which had in part been funded by Chinese investment. Tensions between China and the US and the reshaping of the Japanese economy added to the impact.

Critically, the combined economies of China, Japan and India have swung the centre of globalisation from the West to Asia.

In part because of the wandering dollar, in part because the Middle East remains a conflicted area, and in part because of a loss of consumer (and general) confidence, the US has steadily withdrawn from its global policing stance of the early 2000’s. Its close relationship with the UK and with Europe has diminished and both the US and Europe are facing the harsh reality of ageing demography and the consequent growing issues of immigration and settlement (as indeed is China).

The developing world continues to grow in population exponentially: poverty, disparate opportunity and migration (both internal and external) are major foci for Governments. These. Together with water, oil/gas, uranium, migration and global warming are the flashpoints for limited confrontations around the world.

Under stronger and faster regional power shifts, political and military relationships are dynamic and occasionally volatile, while the reactions of states and forces to their fellow actors quickly become public knowledge.

– ADF scenario Green Dawn.

Thanks to a careful nurturing of Asian relations, the Australia economy has survived bruised but unbloodied. Since the beginning of the century, Governments of whatever creed have maintained an essentially conservative stance as a response to Australia’s migration development, an absence of coherent/cohesive social policies and an ageing society. That conservatism was confirmed following a shake-out in stock prices thanks in part to the US’ problems. Inevitably this changing world has altered Australia’s relationship to the US. Though it remains close, it is now more pragmatic than instinctive.

The emerging communications environment is more complex than ever before, with new
elements and new participants. In particular, the computing and consumer electronics
industries are converging with the communications and media industries. The convergent
elements are multi-layered and international, with global connectivity. Content and
applications are no longer dependent on the underlying infrastructure.

– ACA 20/20Vision.

The US still plays a dominant role in audio-visual content and the UK has significantly increased its global presence, particularly through the foresight of the BBC as it becomes a quasi World Broadcaster. The EU has been riven with debate about domestic-content regulation as the struggle continues to fend off the immense reach of English-language programming. In Asia there have been significant advances in content production, particularly in information and education: vital tools for growing economies.

In Australia consumers can find access, mostly at a price, to domestic and international audio visual material of all kinds, fiction and non fiction. It’s available on a variety of platforms from analog TV (yes, Australia is still broadcasting in analog) through digital TV, IPTV, file-sharing, Search Engines and so on. The majority of homes are high-speed wirelessly connected. Mobile continues to expand in power, particularly since the development of both magnifying and short projection screens.

Increasingly Australians expect connectivity to be present wherever they are and significant improvements in technology design and power supply (particularly batteries) have enhanced this expectation. To that extent Australia is one of the lucky 10% in the world to harvest the power of new communications technology. An unintended downside is that people are much less capable of fixing their own small practical problems. What do you do when the backlight fails in your PDA? A second unintended downside is that much of the hard and software continues to be imported, placing strain on the economy.

As well as facing issues of age and migration, a growing number of Australians are living on their own. Increasingly they tend to use audio-visual media at home as a means of reducing solitude and indeed as a centrepiece of social activity. At the same time they use the Web as a means of building local communities, real and virtual. A significant element in this has been the development of full audio-visual content in blogs, allowing people to share some of the real qualities of each others lives and interests. Another significant element lies in the ebb and flow of temporarily created environments of like interest, which sometimes morph into strong and valued content bases. Activist in nature, they are tracked carefully by advertisers as signposts to new opportunities.

These developments remain impeded to some extent by ongoing concerns about privacy and identification. Blogs have proved to be not an unalloyed positive. Many major corporations have “professionalised” both content and delivery of seemingly ordinary blogs, effectively using them as “push” zones both to promote themselves and to denigrate competition. Politics has made particular use of this to undermine opposing editorial views in the print and audio-visual media. As ever, this is power groups trying to control media but it has a tendency to drive consumers towards zones whose impulses and biases they know: freedom of expression ironically pushing us back into traditional campsites.

Despite this growing sophistication in audio-visual production/distribution by ordinary people, until around 2012/3 Australia in large part had failed to take up the central opportunity of this newly digitised and partly globalised world: the opportunity to take Australia from the periphery of the audio-visual world to the centre.

Australian authorities understood mobile and wireless; what they did not understand was that the real change was in people: the consumers, not the technology. The reality that digitisation is not a change of format, it’s a whole new way of conceiving media and the use of media which was to penetrate almost every aspect of our professional and private lives from early education to death.. They did not understand that new technology enables citizens and professional to contextualise their needs and desires often with the assistance of multiple others: this is the Web as platform providing contextualised zones for sharing services and interactivities (e Bay is a classic example).

However in many other parts of the world including Asia governments and investors had seized the opportunities of the digital world and have invested major dollars in building sustainable audio-visual industries based on the potential of seamless connectivity.

Here, rather than investing in building a sustainable audio-visual industry with new skills and new content, Governments continued for some years to focus on regulating technologies and content. Given that content is confined by laws and/or technology, this limited the development of open networks and helped maintain some of the dominance of the traditional players( Telecoms and Broadcasters). By definition it also limited the opening of a real wealth of new opportunities for innovative content Producers and Aggregators: thus lessening competition and diversity in the Australian marketplace.

The result has been a considerable loss of talent (potential and real); a loss of real opportunity (particularly in the games and education markets); and a lack of Australian content innovation.

There were many reasons for this including ongoing protection of incumbent broadcasting structures, risk-aversion to major investment (educational, structural and creative) and an enduring struggle with the question of regulating for a complex, globally-influenced media environment. To do Parliament justice, not least in this latter heading sit issues of censorship, content regulation, and detection of criminal and terrorist activity.

Terrorism on or to the Internet remains a key issue. On the internet, the issue is increasingly the capacity maliciously to interfere with computer-controlled infrastructure systems (such as air traffic, telephone exchanges, transmission operations, power-generation and so on). To the internet, there continue to be consistent attempts to disrupt or pervert internet traffic.

At the same time there had been a significant push around the world by major Corporations to herd audiences into proprietary networks on the pretext that this would secure them from the dangers of the open Internet and/or would provide them with greater flexibility of service. Search engines and software/hardware manufacturers have broken Microsoft’s stranglehold and evened up the battle for ownership of the consumer. As they prosper, they combined and once again we saw a movement to small numbers of large powerful Corporations. This too has had (as was intended) a limiting effect on content production and distribution.

Around 2010, with the retirement of or passing of the “old giants” of the Australian industry and, indeed, of Australian politics, things had begun to change and the impacts of that change are now clearly being felt. But the drain of genuine new talent from Australia to Asia, the UK and The Americas has slowed Australia’s capacity to catch up.

Ironically one of the major drivers of change was the increasing diminution of the role of traditional public broadcasting. Once one of the cornerstones of the Australian broadcasting spectrum, public broadcasting was the subject of a major Parliamentary Review in 2007/8. The ABC and SBS Boards and Managements failed to convince the Review that they had a coherent vision of the future for public service content and the result was an imposed future in which the both were to focus on a complementary programming role, rather than a comprehensive one (but with no truly significant increase in budget): thus freeing the commercial networks from the presence of a powerful competitor. However the Review had also encouraged a freeing up of ABC/SBS to direct input from community groups, particularly in regional Australia, on its digital TV, Radio and Internet outlets and by 2015 these partly self-managed services are becoming an increasingly valued element in Australian audio-visual media.

The Commercial networks, now largely Corporations with interest in a multiplicity of media, had gained approval for multichannelling and are using that capacity to mix their programming from HDTV to multichannelling at different points in the schedule. Already some of the multichannelling is open to subscription. This is particularly so where some networks used the capacity to franchise start-up channels to major Australian content aggregators. They are still working their way to financial viability. But more particularly the new aggregators (some were developed versions of TV Production companies) have formed major international alliances, opening fresh markets for Australian-produced or -supported product. These alliances, together with the lack of real investment (above), funding issues and market realities, have compelled a complete review of the meaning of Australian content: the emphasis now is on service supply more than creative origination.

Network TV remains big-business: though its revenues are diminished, it is still in large part “free”; it is constantly adapting; it has used interactivity to drive a whole range of new programming (much of it computer-games based) involving mass audiences; and accessing it requires minimal activity on the viewer’s behalf. Spotting the power of “brand” the networks have also contracted long-term deals domestically and internationally with aggregators AND talent. Their financial resources allied to their tied relationships with internet Corporations give them a considerable edge on smaller distribution outlets. Frequently, combinations of free-to-air networks now operate in tandem on major projects, not just in Sport.

Subscription TV, had suffered for too long from the regulatory constraints put on it regarding sport and feature films (finally abolished around 2010). The advent of alternative digital distribution systems cut into STV’s capacity to build audiences quickly and significantly. Audiences had found it too easy to source the programs they wanted from elsewhere without having to subscribe to whole channels. This issue was exacerbated by the absence on STV of a volume of unique (and particularly Australian) content. However thanks to the advent of truly effective micro billing, they have been able to respond to this by completely changing their subscription structure to allow for individual program (not channel, and not tier) selection. But their plans to achieve majority penetration of the market have not been achieved.

The presence or absence of advertising remains the key revenue driver in content production but relationships have changed. The advertisers operate in close tandem with content producers and have provided new business models for content innovation. Advertising itself has become increasingly sophisticated in its capacity to select and play to target audiences. In a world of increasing clutter, getting the message through has a considerable premium. For that reason the traditional media windows approach to distribution has long gone, replaced by a remarkable variety of techniques from (and usually mixing) intensely local to massive national/international campaigns. The purpose is to build a long-tail of audience loyalty to given brands (of programming or of goods and services) as well as a long tail of revenue potentia to the content creators.

Whilst this has provided a boost to many forms of local production, classic and quality Australian “TV content”, particularly fiction programming, has been diminishing. This is despite the fact that fiction programming remains at the top of the audience’s wish list, followed by entertainment and sport and with News Caff a long way back.

The reason is risk-aversion: though new distribution methods have expanded the presence of many kinds of content, in Australia this has not included the really expensive genre of long form TV drama. The networks have achieved the final abolition of Australian-content regulation and public broadcasting has not been funded to make up the gap. There is considerable activity in coproduction but increasingly little in domestically-generated concepts. In some respects this is Australia as a resource but like all resources, it is finite unless carefully tended. Again this has led to brain drain. There is much activity in short audio-visual production but there is a real risk now that the skills base for high quality fiction production is being whittled away.

So 2016 is a muddled media world for Australia: