Project Timeline 2005–2010

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Introduction & Summary

Introduction: commentary

This session was both shorter and sharper than the first. It was designed to delve further into the five key issues selected by the first forum and to see if we could begin to recognise some underlying concerns not yet fully apparent: what for shorthand we’ve called “black holes”.

The notes on the actual contents of the forum are in the Sections B and C of the Report and we’ll be happy to amend them if you have we have misunderstood or misread your comments. Those in section C are headland notes of your individual comments and may not be word-for-word accurate.

Section A contains our key conclusions following both forums and will form an important part of our movement forwards from here. Section A focuses on the “not yet fully apparent” concerns which do point to some complex uncertainties which the project must explore.
The group must find some potential outcomes to these complex uncertainties because at its heart Scenario Planning is not only about looking into the future: it is very much about influencing future outcomes. By the end of the project we will each have the tools to effect some real change.

The results of both forums will form the basis of a full interview which Andy will carry out with each of you individually in January and February. So far each of you has had little chance fully to explore your own thoughts with us and these interviews are the first step in that process. We’ll then summarise them for (and with) you and then work with you to turn them into your own personal scenarios. They won’t be definitive but they will be revelatory: they will be anonymous (if you wish) but shared with the whole group so that we can all share 15 or so different ways of considering and influencing the future. From them we will devise the final major scenarios.

Summary of Forum 3

To sum up Forum 3 boldly, what we are gleaning is that there are stories to tell about how the world configured by people, content, governance, funding and technology will undergo fundamental change over the next ten years because the values in the system are going to change radically. And because value will change, it is certain that there will be a change in the ‘logic’ of television, a change that inverts the old values that up till now have prioritised professionalism, scarcity, authority, massed conformity and passive receptiveness. Challenging these values will be new drivers that will increasingly define a society engaged in interactive connectivity. Namely, this society may very well be driven by new understandings including:

With these radical changes likely to become axiomatic (partly driven by and partly driving interactive, networked communication), we will probably see radical new realignments and perhaps even redefinitions of the drivers that currently define television. As a research group we need to put ourselves vividly into these new scenarios, with all their bewildering new values.

So here now, in ‘Section A’, we present our analysis of the ‘black holes’ in our Forum conversations, the crucial issues that were repeatedly sensed but that have not yet been fully expressed and are awaiting full analysis. More ‘neutrally’ and less provocatively, Sections B and C of this report contain a straightforward summation of what was said rather than left unsaid in the Forum 3 transcripts. But please go firstly to the more speculative Section A!

Section A

People

Both forums including much discussion of how people may interact with media over the next ten years but much of it was speculative. Manifestly this is an area of complex uncertainty. The very fact that we cannot find a word to define the users of audio-visual media makes it clear why: the users are simply individual people acting in different ways as the mood takes them. The challenge is to find them and match their desires.

Decades of advertising and television have been influenced by the make-up of different audiences in different day-parts for different kinds of content. But the media were mass aggregators with no interest in the habits of individuals. Just as they do now, most people identified themselves in part by their likes and dislikes and shared those tastes and choices at home and at work. The three major differences now, of course, are that people can find a chunk of what they want in non-scheduled, non-mass media; they can interact with it and manipulate it; and they can form their own aggregation and sharing groups. Different groups, often, for different content. Audiences over time (long or short) not all at once.

This is the start of a fundamental change in the way in which people engage with audio-visual content. The tools for creation and distribution are now in the hands of anyone who wishes to deploy them. The lines which have traditionally separated professional from non-professional content are increasingly blurred. The popular phrase to describe the media world we are moving towards is “what I want when I want it” That’s unlikely ever to be entirely so but it is useful because it shows the singular shift: “I” used to be the distributor of content but “I” is now the individual consumer of the content.

So individuals’ expectations and behaviour now become they key to accessing their media-use, which in its turn opens the potential for the Long Tail to start wagging the production dog. A key step in opening up new production for new media.

What does this really imply in terms of what we will see and not see. What do we really know of the habits, desires and motivations of the individuals in our society?

Understanding the ethnography of individuals (each of whom will manifest differently moment by moment) is a core issue. How will this happen; who will do the work; how credible will it be; who will fund it; who will use it; how can it be achieved in sync with constantly changing tastes; how can it be done with respect for privacy and security from misuse?

This is not work that will simply happen, nor is it work that can be done in a small way. Consider the millions that have been spent on understanding mass audiences and the scale of this undertaking starts to become clear. And yet it is critical information if content-makers are to provide the capacity for audiences to use and respond to their work in a rich variety of ways from moment to moment.

The challenge for this project is not to answer all those questions but to consider them closely in thinking about 2017 and preparing scenarios.

Content

There has been considerable forum discussion of content and ways in which people will be able to access, manipulate and share it. What has not been discussed fully is what kinds of content are at risk and just how much consumerism ought be allowed its own head. Whatever one thinks of standard Television output, it has influenced our society in many ways (democratically, politically socially, intellectually etc). The mooted declining nature of standard Television audiences will across time put tremendous strain on the financing of some kinds of traditional content, particularly the more expensive (and often less audience-drawing) genres: current affairs, quality drama and documentary are obvious examples. The formats themselves are not the issue: the issue is their content. Content which has over time played a significant role in the development of our democracy, our politics, our society and culture.: content which reflects diversity and responds to issues of access and equity in our society. The potential for some of that content to decline or disappear is, then, a matter of real importance.

Commentators talk of the decline in commercial and public service TV with some equanimity. They would probably not speak of a decline in the structures of banking, say, or health, with quite the same insouciance. And yet the employment and investment values involved are enormous, let alone the social and cultural input which may be reduced or removed.

It is not inevitable that these declines will take place but we need to develop scenarios which encompass the possibility and which present the effects of letting them happen or of remediating them. It’s not hard, for example, to see the three commercial broadcasters amalgamating over time to form the same kind of multichannel consortium as ITV in the UK, developing high quality, mass audience material to generate new kinds of consumer activity. The quid pro quo might well be a beefing-up of Public Service TV to undertake some of the regulated responsibilities of the current networks and to innovate content formats on emerging platforms.

But equally it’s not hard to see the three commercial channels being bought by overseas interests (all 3 are partially in that position now) and being run as formatted outposts with limited real local content. Accompanied by a drying up of funds to the Public Broadcasters and a quantum loss of Radio/TV and Internet content.

The Independent Production Industry exists on a knife-edge in this country. Unlike the UK and the USA, it survives largely on fees, not on rights exploitation. Small changes in regulation or activity can have massive effects. Witness the impact of the loss of production of TVCs; witness the impact of allowing the Commercial networks to deficit fund their regulated content by compelling Independents to wear the cost of the deal.

Industries rely on a critical mass of skilled people and they rely on the capacity to absorb inevitable failures whilst exploiting success. Audio-visual content has a notoriously high failure rate and no ongoing content-producers have ever cracked anything close to 100% success. Any nation that attempts to support only the most popular content may find that over time it has almost no diverse content-producing industry at all. Then what happens to our culture, society, economy and politics?

Inevitably the meaning of Australian content will have to change to enable a far greater range of globally-based joint productions to take place; inevitably our “television content” funding and distribution structures will follow suit. What, then, do we as a group see as the means by which this may (or may not) happen?

Governance

The preceding section segues neatly into governance which has also lurked beneath the surface of much of our discussions.. Australian audio-visual content is so highly regulated that virtually no professional a/v content is produced in this country without the assistance of Government, either through legislation, regulation or financial subvention of some kind.
Australian content Producers and Distributors have never been compelled to survive in a marketplace hungry for their product: they have been mandated a market. So to contemplate moving into a purely market-driven environment is to contemplate the complete upheaval of a complex web of diverse creative, distribution,, transmission and managerial sectors, the advertising industry and the citizens who use the delivered content.
That’s why the question of governance has emerged in so many of the issues we have discussed.

Governance means far more than Government. Covering everything from industry structures at the national level to privacy at the individual level, and including appropriate attention to access and equity, governance is the shared responsibility of every part of the A/V sector. That includes each of us as individuals, because we too have responsibilities regarding what we make and what we receive.

And that is only governance at a domestic level. Global trade issue, global economies, intellectual property laws, digital rights management…all raise questions for governance here.

Coming to terms with this will require a much more sophisticated approach than we have traditionally seen in Australia. Just as the traditional broadcasters, for example, have to change their ways of doing business in a new media world, so must all the other players.
Understanding and regulating that world requires a far greater degree of sophistication at a corporate and bureaucratic level than we currently see in broadcasting, production, telecommunications or government itself. New means of conceiving and delivering appropriate policy (political or corporate) will have to be developed and a new understanding of the value of shared incentives.

In the past a large part of audio-visual content policy has been impacted by the closed-door policies devised between the FTA broadcasters and the Federal Government but that cannot work in a complex media environment. No Government will be capable of delivering effective policy on its own: that is one price of the shift from mass to individual. How consideration of this question plays out will be critical to the success of our scenarios.

Funding

Uncertainty reigns in this heading. The key question is how to devise “secure” means of investing sufficient funds in a/v content to enable production to take place. With only mass audiences and limited distribution outlets to consider, the process was not hard: the sums were reasonably simple and the risks were well understood by all the players. In a multiplatform world, and assuming the potential of some decline in the funds available to the traditional mass aggregators, what financial models will be available to encourage investment? What new major aggregators will enter the market? How is the Long Tail to be monetised and predicted? What will be the rights allocations and the cascades of exhibition? How will Australian content be defined (or not)?

In a fully connected media world what will “channels of distribution look like”? Will we need existing intermediaries such as local or national broadcasters – or will funding and distribution be run from a few Global networks, or New Media Service Providers? Or direct from, producers such as large movie and entertainment makers? Or will “viewing communities” collectively fund content development?

Will the ICT companies of today be the media companies of tomorrow? E.g. will Google and Microsoft, Yahoo! Apple, Amazon, Cisco and maybe IBM be the main media companies in 2017, funding internet-based Television interactive content in alignment in new television devices? Google and Microsoft may well use their rapidly increasing online advertising revenues that are likely to be more than $US100 billion by 2012 to fund and develop new media content.

These are key questions. Right now an enormous amount of a/v material swilling around the internet has been reformatted, enhanced or cannibalised from traditional media: press/radio/tv/short films/features/advertising and so on. Much of this activity is not based on any real business model: it’s the originator footing most of the cost unwittingly or , more often, unwillingly. Where IPTV, mobile and other digital media will truly take off is where original multiplatform content is made specifically with intense interaction and specific technologies in mind (as with games).

Given that so much new content will be deployed globally, there is a golden opportunity for Australia to come in early on financial modelling and to redress to some extent the truly monumental trade imbalance which exists for a/v material. Again, our scenarios need to include insights into how this may play out.

Technology

By 2010 we are told that over 90% of Australians will have broadband access at 1.5-2.0 megabits per second (Mb/s) – that is Internet access either through cables, wireless or through Telstra’s Next G 3.5G mobile network. That’s enough to transmit simple streaming versions of existing television material. By 2012, at least 50% of Australians may have broadband access at over 20 Mb/s – that’s enough to transmit new interactive television content. By that time the media and communications systems should have converted to Internet Protocol based – including IPTV. This will enable very data-rich interactive content to be developed, to be created and consumed in real-time.

Conversion to IPTV may initially appear to be a simple infrastructure connection, but it actually will trigger a redefinition of “Television” to consider all real-time multimedia interactive (and non-interactive) content delivered on any IPTV compatible device – or will it? It will also be a backbone for connecting everything – the Internet of Things, or connectedness or everything – or not?

If Australia chooses to accelerate roll-outs to European or South Korean performance levels, then by 2010 over 50% of Australians would have to have access at 50-100 Mb/s, and by 2017 over 50% with access at 200-300 Mb/sec with about 10-20% at over 1 Gb/sec. This level of performance opens the way for a whole new range of remote virtual reality applications and content development. An accelerated roll-out may also see effective IPTV rolled out much faster. This level would also open opportunities for Australian Content Producers to co-operate with Corporate Australia in developing innovative audio-visual applications for business use.

Collaboration and “connectedness” are emerging as key themes and we will need to flesh them out. “Social Media” is now challenging “Mainstream Media” in terms of content development and “people sharing with people”. New and emerging technologies such as blogs, wikis, social networking applications (LinkedIn, FaceBook), Flickr, PhotoSynch and other photosharing applications, and YouTube and emerging video sharing applications, and virtual worlds such as Second Life, all are helping to build a powerful social media platform that may completely reshape how we think of “television”. But issues of security, privacy, censorship, protection of minors etc will have to be resolved if this is to happen.
Our scenarios will need to incorporate the long-term ramifications of different levels of change(and the access/equity issues which will accompany any roll-out). But they do represent a huge opportunity for Australia. As with funding, digital-content technology and applications offer the opportunity for Australia to climb high up the content-originating ladder but to do so is going to take a greater degree of far-sightedness, will and social concern than we have seen so far. Participants in the group have already voiced concerns over Australia’s tardiness and the effects that it may have on our economy, our education and our children’s opportunities. Effects that we will be feeling in ten years time.

Section B

Detailed Summaries of comments

Participants:

Room Layout:

[image here]

(Press-button microphones in front of each participant)

Forum commenced at 10.07am

Ross Gibson opened Forum:

Introduction:

Gibson:

A. People

Bell:

Smith:

Serow:

Williams:

Davis:

Barr:

Gadney:

Osborne:

Gadney:

Chambers:

Serow:

Davis:

Lloyd-James:

B. Content

Bell:

Gadney:

Bell:

Serow:

Williams:

Lloyd-James:

Davis:

Chambers:

Gibson:

Chambers:

Gadney:

Barr:

Smith:

Chambers:

Smith:

Serow:

Williams:

Serow:

Andy:

Davis:

Gadney:

Davis:

Chambers:

Serow:

Goldsmith:

Osborne:

C. Governance / Regulatory Constraints

Gibson:

Serow:

Davis:

Gadney:

Gibson:

Serow:

Williams:

Barr:

Gibson:

Davis:

Barr:

Smith:

Barr:

Smith:

Gadney:

Barr:

Serow:

Gadney:

Osborne:

Smith:

At this stage of the forum there was a break for about 15 minutes

D. Funding

Bell:

Davis:

Williams:

Serow:

Bell:

Davis:

Gadney:

Davis:

Barr:

Bell:

Smith:

Williams:

Bell:

Chambers:

Goldsmith:

Andy:

Davis:

Smith:

E. Technology

Bell:

Gadney:

Davis:

Smith:

Davis:

Williams:

Chambers:

Serow:

Gadney:

Gibson:

Williams:

Davis:

Andy:

Smith:

Gadney:

Serow:

Osborne/Williams:

Barr:

Davis:

Andy Lloyd-James ended the Forum with a wrap-up and thanks.

The Forum closed at 12.35pm and was followed by lunch.