Project Timeline 2005–2010

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Focusing Question

Where are the Arts in the Future of Australian Television?

Draft Agenda for the workshop

Themes and Conversations

Media in transition, distribution modes

AD Arts are like the Internet in that anyone can create a work of art like anyone can create content on the Internet. You can do that quite separately from any influence of governance and funding. But broadcast is different because in order to have your work broadcast there’s whole sets of gates that you need to go through.

(comment about need for “excellence”)

And the Australia Council funding also sets up those gates, so that we are funding the best artists in the country, rather than just any artist and some would argue with that.

NH Digital access is becoming so ubiquitous and cheap. Twenty years ago TV broadcasters never contemplated the idea that someone in the street with a little video camera with a mobile phone could actually give them some content they could use. Now it happens all the time. And they’re actually inviting people to do it.

LC I think that’s a really interesting observation because my view of public broadcasting is that they were very much controlling what they could invest in creating.

And content creation is different – now we give it to them and they don’t go out and get it.

When you asked the question “who are the people?” people could be anyone both creating and consuming. So people in the drivers are both creators and consumers.

AD There’s a struggle in Journalism about what happens to the broadsheet newspapers with the Internet and the whole rise of twittering. And everybody is a witness to any event and can publish their perception of that event instantly and around the world.

People, consumers, authentication

LC Speaking as a consumer in regard to using the internet that creates real problems for me in terms of what I can rely on as quality and authentic  – so as a consumer you tend to refer to “controlled” content as being reliable and “uncontrolled content” is “colour”

RG A lot of people talk about a process of “triangulation” Amongst all that uncontrolled stuff you just do a limited number of cross checks and then you come to your own judgement. I do see it in people who are under 40 who are just doing that automatically. All the time now rather than relying on the Financial Times to give them the proper information.

LC Yes but are people gradually learning to do that or is it something that needs to be brought to their attention. For example I know people who are glued to their computer and are constantly getting news feeds and I’ve noticed they will tell you something “oh gosh this has just happened” and it’s the first breaking report from some eccentric news source and by the time all the feeds have come through and you’ve got a full picture of what’s happening, its something completely different so you almost have to censor what you are receiving or build in that capacity to censor and ask questions. Just because it’s on that screen doesn’t mean its true.

AD when I was in Vancouver recently I was talking to this person who runs W2 and the people that do organising for the Olympics asked him if they could rent that space as the first centre for bloggers at an Olympic Games. So they’re going to have their centre for registered press and a centre for bloggers and non-professional press.  Need to accommodate the numerous people who will be coming to the Olympics to cover it for their blog

NH It’s difficult and it’s becoming more complex particularly with younger people who are much more adept. The so-called digital natives (gives the anecdote of teaching students and getting them to reference sources from Wikipedia).

LC we’ve all been taught at school about how to read newspapers for bias – its much easier to know the bias in your 3 daily newspapers than it is to know what bias is coming at you from content that’s coming from thousands and millions of sources

NH (Suggests new ways of authenticating outside authority mechanisms) But at the same time Wikipedia is growing in authority and its authority is produced through the now numerous contributions it receives and aggregates.

AD talks about Boston Consulting groups visit and graph on abortion and comments on wikipedia and how when it first started people where changing the content to pro and anti, and gradually the graph became balanced because it’s had such a vast number of contributions.

All the points of view of the “wisdom of crowds” are thus slowly aggregated in the description of that particular issue.

RG this notion of broadcast reception versus feedback turbulence.

This is the shift and challenge for last century television

I presume there is a similar issue in the arts for facilitation and governance?

Different business models between the arts and television

AD I’d argue that there’s always been feedback turbulence. If you think of theatre of live performance you’ve got your instant feedback loop there.

LC You have and you’re quite right to a degree when your thinking about performing arts or visual arts, the artist can still put their art out there, it might only go out there once if there’s no positive response to it in the feedback loop we are talking about but I think the difference is that while you are working in the physical world, your audience, the access to your art is so limited for people to both know about it and physically get there to receive it – it has to be a planned process where as in relation to television as we are defining it now, your audience is the whole world. It can be quite random access or it can be quite planned using search capabilities. And that just creates a completely new connection between audiences and artists,

AD the method of rating things for television is completely different than what would happen in the arts.

LC There’s always tension in the arts about whets going to sell in term of tickets, which sustains the artists and the companies. To a degree things have to sell. But there is value as art for its own sake. So if your running a performing arts company for example you set up your annual program so that you’re selling enough to sustain what you want to do, that’s not necessarily going to be commercially attractive. In business the analogy might be what’s not going to sell is a research and development program.

NK talks about commercial TV being based on advertising and the way it conceptualises its audiences as consumers. Its main discussion with its audience is with advertising. What television is dealing in is the audience as commodity.

JB emphasises that’s commercial free to air but not networks that are free of that structure like subscription TV.

NH You’re right and the model of subscription is much more successful. Americans were the first to realise that model. Advertising and aggregation, that the FTAS use here, is less profitable than convincing people to pay directly – so there’s this constant need for aggregation here. But the subscription model is far more lucrative.

Quadrant 4, Uncontrolled Content and Open Access, and Australian Content Issues

LC Lets think about artists and the creation of art pov – the uncontrolled content/open access gives artists much greater opportunity to practice the art that they want to and reach audiences that may be dispersed and they may never find this necessary support for their work if the audience had to be gathered in the one place. So you can reach people all around the world.

From an audience pov the open access, relatively uncontrolled content means that you can access whatever you want from anywhere around the world and you can make your own decision about quality and excellence, and I think an immediate example of that is that you can now view opera from Carnegie Hall performed by any one of the leading opera houses of the world at cinemas on big screen, and probably soon it’ll be on Pay TV— and I think there’ll be people who prefer to see that than go and see Opera Australia at the Opera House.

AC Exactly you’ve hit the issue that people in the industry were discussing, that if we were in this quadrant (4) where is Australian content?

LC there’ll always be some people who find the live experience more exciting, but that’s comparing the live experience with what’s available through television, which is different.

RG Yes because up here in the open world (4) there’s no regulation, so many of the anxieties of those committed to Australian content rise very quickly over here, and that’s how as a tool its very useful because yes “ those anxieties are rising”, sit with that for a while, think it through, more and more… what else happens?

AC Does it mean we have to close down into a quadrant one to maintain Australian content, or what other visions would we have?

LC If you use music as a scenario to look at, people thought that broadcasting live music on free to air radio, would kill off live music concerts – well it didn’t…and then they thought that cheaper CDs would mean people would prefer to sit at home and listen there rather than go to live concerts. Well that hasn’t happened… quite the opposite. So there’s no reason to think that by providing people with more choice that the live aspects of arts is going to be eroded. It’s just the question of competition from all around the world for the televised and broadcast aspects of the arts that’s a problem. And probably bears thinking about.

AD where Australia sits on the matrix depends on where other like economies sit on the matrix too, so if we went hooray open access, lets go completely open and other economies weren’t doing that then we’re laying ourselves open to the invasion of their content…so there has to be some sort of regulation here… to ensure access of Australian audiences and other audiences to our stories.

JB There’s an issue around quality and excellence because you can do that with Australian content, and try and regulate to ensure more local content but people can still access whatever they want.

JB one of the major issues is that people go and see the Opera broadcast on HD live at the Chauvel … and then they go to the Opera Australia latest performance and think “ why aren’t you as good as those guys”. They don’t realise some international performances have spent $900 million dollars on one of those shows. This would be the entire season of an Opera Australia production. And so how do you meet the quality expectations of an Australian audience.

LC Well personally I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think it works both ways. I think in many cases both Australian and overseas audiences will be surprised at the quality of the content that they see. And I think there’s still a bit of a “cringe” mentality in Australia. I think we do some things as good as if not better than the rest of the world. But yes we’ve got this fear about “not measuring up”. I think that’s part of the Australian psyche unfortunately.

AD My question is more how do you get the Opera Australia performance broadcast into the theatres in Europe and the States? Its Ok at their end of the game in terms of what they are able to send to us.

JB Suggests that we are really good at niche product so maybe we could try and tap into that.

LC discusses touring Sydney Symphony overseas and talking to agents in Japan and Europe. “We don’t get this, why are you bringing an Australian orchestra, playing Russian music, with an Italian conductor? What’s that all about? If you bought an Australian orchestra with an Australian music and an Australian conductor then that’s interesting. Show us that. And so when you are thinking about “people” consuming what we provide – it’s about us asking well what is it that’s special and different about what we provide. But if it’s that we want to say, “ we can do xxxx as well as the New York Met. Well we’ve just got to put ourselves out there and take that risk. And probably it will take us a long while to convince people  …. And if it doesn’t have an international audience, it will certainly have a national audience, because people will be interested in seeing how well Opera Australia stacks up.

I think if you’re an artist working in a regional centre in Australia you are probably afraid of coming to the city, wondering if you will measure up against what’s in the city, but you’ve got to take that risk and do it.

I think what’s happening now is quite exciting because it creates a global view of what’s special and unique in what’s happening, in a way we couldn’t see before.

NH this whole issue about Australian content has been around for a long time now. The Australia Council was a product of that 60’s debate about cultural nationalism. It was debated in this quadrant (1) of closed access and controlled content. So what you were dealing with was that the channels of distribution were controlled by large international entities, and to a large extent they still are – but the Internet in particular offers this alternative – I mean that artist you were talking about living in regional Australia, the Internet allows them to get their content out there without those gatekeepers saying ‘No you can’t do that’. You can just say ‘I am doing it’ and I don’t care if only one other person in the world wants to hear me, there’s an audience for me.

Funding issues, markets, supply and demand

JB there’s an issue about funding and income in all this. “where do you get the money to make a work of scale?” “How do you earn income from it?” The Internet opens up a whole new area.

And that’s the miro level. At the macro level you’re increasing supply, but your not really doing anything about demand. Are you hoping for demand? If you’re not doing anything about demand that leads to a decline in income normally.

AD Well yes and I don’t think technology is going to solve that issue.

RG Its just jumping over national limits. An Australian artist who does a banjo tune that gets 10,000 people from Solvinia liking it and paying how many Solvinian ruples they want to pay for it… that just changes everything.

LC That gets back to my comment earlier which is somehow either an individual artist or a company has to work out a business model that works, that allows them to do all that stuff that’s not going to make much income, or that’s costly to actually distribute, by finding other sources of income, with probably more commercially attractive work. And it’s a constant compromise. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Beethoven or some body who’s not well known. They all had to work that out somehow.

JB You can use live broadcast and events to make money. And simulcast of events as well, you can go and see it in 3D at the IMAX – its like having a live experience.

LC You’ve only got to look at what some of the popular artists are doing with the CD’s or with their downloads which they now realise they can’t make any money out of, so they do it free and give it away to create audiences .. and I think that’s very clever. One of the issues I think the whole performing Arts hasn’t come to grips with is that you’ve got agents and performing arts rights organizations around the world still trying to insist that those artists get paid royalties on recordings that have been given away. That’s just not going to work.

And one of the models that’s being used at the moment is that people will form a commercial agreement and say once this project is profitable we’ll share the profits. It gets over that almost emotional reaction to:  “ how can you use my artist but not pay them”.

NH Nevertheless the people who keep wanting to control content in that way are having some success. Just a couple of weeks ago the recording industry in America convinced a jury to fine a woman two million dollars for downloading songs.

LC But that’s different because they weren’t being offered for a fee. I’m talking about “giving it away”. This concept causes problems for some people who think the artist should be paid, but you can’t pay them if you’re not going to make money out of them

Ozco and the arts in the current and future media landscape

RG I get a sense that we’ve started to come over to really thinking about these drivers and this map for the arts rather than for television.

We were going to go into imagining the arts and its role in the future of television.

So having a general understanding now of this map and the drivers – what would happen if I invited you to think about how the arts work on television… in the future…. According to this map.

So if we were to choose a quadrant (we refer to page 10 of the dossier)

LC well at the moment it’s the bottom left (1) and we’re really only at the stage of convincing the National broadcaster that the “arts’ is valuable content.

RG ah ha, and how’s that progress been made, like what’s driving that traction do you think?

LC Well from my perspective its that the arts can offer content and to a degree its content that’s already available in digital format which means that the ABC who’s always looking for content and has a difficulty finding budgets to develop their own programs is now almost getting prepacked arts programs given to it in digital format that they can use.

The ABC is very selective about what it takes at this stage and it selects on the basis of what it views is the audience appeal. So my view is it certainly wouldn’t take contemporary digi opera and put it on. It takes something that has an impact on its ratings. So that’s its audience according to the ABC demographic. So its ratings and also “how can we get something almost for nothing” (that drives its arts content)

But the convergence of technology and interest from the performing arts companies in reaching broader audiences, satisfying the access that we give them is good – there is convergence.

RG And is that for a time scheduled broadcast model or is it going into a database where people can just access it.

LC Its all time scheduled. And I suppose the other element that makes this possible is that some of the venues now – I’m thinking about the Opera House for example – have fantastic recording facilities – if you go and talk to the Opera House it’s completely cabled, even the forecourt. Its got excellent recording studios with really state of the art recording desks and they can mix and edit and do all the production work there in the actual venue… and that means you don’t have to get the ABC film crew coming in and all that sort of stuff. So happy convergence of all of that… The elements that you’ve talked about here… you’ve got the content, the technology the environment. They’re (Opera house) are not really making anything out of it – they are paying the artists of course- but I mean everybody wants this to work so its not seen as a commercial activity primarily.

AD Yes I think the general perception is that the ABC arts programming is fairly conservative and not really engaged with the very contemporary side of the practice in Australia- across all art forms. I think one of our historical frustrations with the ABC is that they’ve always talked about collaboration but… on their terms… and its about well “you pay for the artists and later come and use our stuff and create work that we’ll either broadcast or do whatever with… and we’ve never been really happy with that arrangement because they think “you just have to pay for the artists and they don’t cost very much”, and so there’s always been that frustration in our relationship. And I if I have to think about it, I think its very much down here (in quad 1) where they really do control content and control what’s broadcast. And there’s very little opportunity to open doors to other types of content.

LC And at the moment it’s all about resources, so we know what’s happening on the ABC. We’ve started to be able to get web casts of some Australian content, as I said I used to run the Sydney Symphony and we did web casts with Bigpond and Bigpond did the video recording and the ABC did the audio and the whole thing went out over BigPond um but even there where you can think of it as a much broader audience cause it went international… we had comments from people around the world who saw those performances…Bigpond still.. they chose 8 performances a year to web cast and you can see that they’re choosing either what I’d call more jazz contemporary sort of the very popular classical music. They certainly didn’t say to us as Sydney Symphony “what would be the ten programs of the year that you think feature your work at the highest standard in the world that you operate in”… and then selecting what was going to be commercially viable

RG asks about the basis of the BigPond decisions.

LC Oh well they didn’t make money out of it because it was a web cast and they measured it in terms of “eyeballs” and so they wanted to have the most viewers and most popular appeal.

And while we provided the performance they were putting the money in.

So while this is resource intensive there’s going to be “control on the content”

RG So that’s a story driving by “funding” and driving by “governance”. There are 2 antagonists in the story coming form different positions. The symphony is offering from its point of view of its authority as a governor of the culture, and they’re seeing it from different drivers .

LC Well these arrangements as we all know, it doesn’t matter what model we are talking about – it all comes down to some sort of contractual relationship and one party is going to assert more power based on the resources they put into it… by the way this was a fabulous relationship for the orchestra, they were very happy with it. But part of the agreement was the group putting up the money (Bigpond) selected the programs

RG So that’s using the tool and the knowledge…we’ve got a way of accounting for a present or recent moment. What if we were looking into the future… that sort of instance of Symphony orchestra accessibility… and if we said lets see from one driver point of view, for example people? how will that instance that you just described… how will that be different in 10 years time if “the people have all the say”

LC If people have all the say? Right. Well I guess it would be like what happens now with radio… that everything that is done by that company whatever that company may be, in this case its an orchestra, is available to people to see and consume through television…

RG And how does that availability work?

AD Its on demand.

LC Exactly, which is how it works on BigPond at the moment. Anything that’s seen or web cast it there for twelve months. Its not downloadable but streamable

RG Which straight away allows a distinction to be very stark between recordable available categories and “live” and the “anything could go wrong” kind of category.

LC Yeah that’s right but that’s what “liveness is”. But also to a degree it resolves the “rights” issue because if something can be downloaded and stored and replayed again and again by “you” and it becomes your property sort of thing… well the rights have not been given for that. The rights have only been given to view it.

AC If there was no Bigpond and there was no ABC how might the Australia Council approach distribution of its av product?

LC Well to make it work you need the capacity to film and record the sound. As I said most of the modern venues have got facilities there but you need to resource all of that. So the Australia Council would have to do more than just support the artists… and by the way at the moment the Australia Council doesn’t support venues to turn on the lights and sell tickets and all of that sort of thing. Other areas of government do that and most of those venues are supported by State governments through their arts departments.. so you’d have to have that capacity somewhere in the system of the arts world because you’d be recognising not only do you have “bums on seats” for people who buy tickets, but you have to have the content available to people in a distributed manner… so its not beyond the realm of possibility I guess to envisage a future era where Arts NSW as well as funding the Opera House is also funding the capacity to broadcast.

AD Well indeed if there were no BigPond or a company like that then maybe Arts NSW sets up a portal for the broadcast of their state product of culture. And I guess the other thing I was thinking is that as the Internet and television merge, which they will do at some stage…. And Samsung already have a device for having an Internet browser on the TV… “watch You Tube” on your TV” … and you could log into the Pool site at the ABC and watch arts content through that sort of site… so I think as those things merge there will be far more capacity for people to watch high quality images and sounds of “anything” they want to. And the arrangement that companies have with those service providers with iiNet for example at home… I get all of the ABC Iview content free and downloads to XBox are included in that package. So these developments will drive what people prefer to watch because it’s cheaper for them to see that content at the provider level. I think that will really change the way people watch and what they’re watching

JB I was just going to say that the other option for funding that kind of recording in future if there’s no ABC and no Bigpond. The companies themselves might have to look at their business models. If there’s demand for seeing a show broadcast and they could see how that could circle back and increase their own income, through greater attendance or merchandising, or somehow create a funding stream from it…. Maybe it would mean they change their programming decisions to produce more mainstream stuff or maybe they do fewer shows that stump up the money to broadcast those shows… so there’s ways that the companies themselves might change their approach… if it was going to be of benefit to them.

LC You’re quite right.. and I don’t think that’s really been explored much at all.

I mean most of the performing arts companies work on the basis of people subscribing to a block of programs. You could add the option that you could also receive broadcasts.

But I suppose that at the moment what’s stopping the companies from funding this themselves is that they all teeter on the brink of bankruptcy every year as it is… and I suppose there are a number of things that are an issue for them with this. Firstly, do they have the skills and knowledge in house to do this and typically they don’t. And some of this is still new and mysterious to them and they think “its too hard.. we’ll just get on with what we know how to do”… that holds them back as well as the actual money. And um.. the fact that to do it well requires not just going and filming.. in the early days people thought you could just stand there with a hand held camera and it would work. It’s quite interesting to see the amount of editing, or if live, the amount of preparation that goes into it.

RG But you can see how that if some sort of momentary benefactor turned up to the Opera House and said heres a million dollars… they could actually break out … they could become their own broadcasting station.

LC Well they’ve already talked about that. If you go and talk to the Opera House people they are very keen that the Opera house has its own website that broadcasts the productions that are available to the Opera House.

AD It’s just that question of when it becomes a tipping point and it’s just a cost of doing business… and what’s that tipping point.

NH Doesn’t the Tate Modern do that? They’ve got an online model of that. A museum that’s both a physical space and a virtual space.

RG Yeah the Tate’s been exploring that for a long time.

LC the interesting thing about that answer that you get to the tipping point and you’ve just got to do it… again getting back to the business model, whether it’s a performing arts company or a gallery.. certainly in Australia, none of them are fully government funded and none of them can survive without government funding here. So it’s a balance of earned income and what funding we supply or the State bodies supply and what they can get from other sources of support. Now using that example of the Sydney Symphony web cast, that’s really a sponsorship arrangement with Telstra, so Telstra supply the Bigpond support in return for sponsorship credit that they value.. so getting any new arrangements to work are probably going to be around that sponsorship arrangement.. and to get that to work it needs to be a company that’s got the profile, the audience, the brand that the commercial partner thinks is going to add value to them.. so it’s going to be hard to make it work with small companies that don’t have a particular profile.

The other thing I think its interesting to think about is the reason the ABC is part of the model with the orchestras is that the ABC used to own these orchestras. When they first got going with radio and television they thought they had to own the content and they had to have the capacity to create the music.. just like they did for drama

And I don’t know maybe there’s some sort of bizarre scenario in all this where you end up with the technology companies wanting to do the broadcasts wanting to yet again produce and own that content.

AD Maybe it will become a critical factor in your choice of service provider that you can watch all this Australian content free on their channel.

LC Well I know when I was negotiating with Telstra they knew from their customer data, when they were surveyed about what entertainment they typically engaged in that the arts were high on the profile of broadband subscribers and so they figured that putting this on BigPond was a good thing to do.

RG this little exercise that you’ve done.. I mean one of the things I like about these is the surprises that turn up so … it actually is quite feasible that what appears to be a minority cache of content, specialist art content is a sort of tipping point moment for a lot of this broadcasting five to ten years out and that very idea that you just said that sort of deal of this content being available becomes a major breakout moment

AD It just makes you think about what partner arrangements we should be thinking about now to lead down to that track.

RG Now we got there kind of by pushing the people driver, which ramifies to everything, the governance the regulations and funding alter. The technologies are given in a way in that instance, although its not because what you’re saying is that at the opera house people are not technologically savvy enough quite yet.

LC Well the opera house is. I’m saying the companies aren’t. I mean what you’d find now is that anyone supporting technology is probably supporting emails and that sort of thing, not somebody (who is technically production skilled).

And at the Australia Council at the moment we have a strategic priority out in the “Digital Era” and one of the aspects of the program that we’re looking at this financial year that’s just started is putting what’s been described as a Geek, lending geeks to companies to start thinking about these things, because many do not have the capacity on their staff or on their boards to think about these things.

RG And I don’t know how the opera house runs so much but pursuing that line, you could actually imagine very easily the opera house purely as a valve through which all sorts of data flows… so that their kind of governance role would be very limited … and its though whatever value establishment system… their user feedback or whatever…its just a portal through which everything flows. To push that 10 years out what would happen if that were the case. They’d say well we’d be of use only if we still had a brand and the brand is partly just this gob smacking building. But it’s what museums worry about a lot … our authority … our trustworthiness I suppose. So they need to manage their brand.

AD Maybe the production department of every company also becomes a … or needs to think about how you actually record the performance for distribution digitally. But then I was thinking well maybe you don’t need to replicate that in every company because you have organizations like the Opera house and each of the major venues in each of these states that are set up to record for broadcast everything that goes through those organizations.