Archive for the ‘creative industries’ Category
When I first arrived at Channel 4 my job was Creative/Commercial Director of 4Learning. Channel 4 has always existed with that tension between public service and commercial, and I remember sitting down after the first couple of weeks, trying to reconcile that creative slash commercial, and writing down the 8 ways of making money off content slash services on the internet.
Yesterday morning (on the 20th anniversary of the day Tim Berners-Lee sent *that* memo which gave rise to the Web) I attended a very stimulating workshop at NESTA set up for the Digital Britain team (directed by Lord Carter which gave rise to a top class peer-to-peer joke) who are tasked with mapping out the way forward for the UK into the fully digital age. Among the colleagues in attendance were Charlie Leadbeater, whose critical response to the Digital Britain interim report was the springboard for the discussion; Mark Earls of Herd: How to change mass behaviour reknown; the energetic, insightful JP Rangaswami; Matt Locke, fellow commissioning editor at Channel 4; the always lively James Cherkoff; Roland Harwood and Jon Kingsbury of NESTA; Steve and Johnnie Moore; Joanne Jacobs (what is it with digital media and the scarcity of the fairer sex?); and Christian Ahlert of Open Business.
I found Charlie’s response to Digital Britain stimulating, particularly liked his categorisation of media into Enjoy, Talk and Do media (the first of these modes is usually couched in negative terms like Passive which don’t do it justice). But I felt the hole in the piece was a failure to address the lack of new business models to take over from the disrupted and digitally undermined ones. Beside a passing reference to “people who lose jobs set[ting] up microbusinesses online”, there’s very little sense of where the cash flows in this world of ‘mutual media’ or how most people make a viable living in what presumably remains a significant industry. Charlie did, however, address this issue early in our discussions yesterday. In this context, JP drew attention to Kevin Kelly’s illuminating blogpost Better Than Free which lists 8 ways to make money in the digital world. In super-brief, these are a set of “generative values” – qualities which must be nurtured and grown, and cannot be copied or faked:
The thing about new digital business models is that people often second-guess or idealise behaviour when they’re trying to conceive them. I remember sitting in a meeting at Intellect in Russell Square in the early days of the Broadband Stakeholders’ Group and having at one point to ask people round a big table, as they blathered on about subscription and Pay-per-View: Who here has parted with actual cash money for digital content in the last month? And the answer, needless to say, was next to no-one.
So by way of experiment to test Kelly’s ideas and get a feel for how cash flows in the brave new digital age I thought I’d try to note down for a typical quarter what I spend on products and services from within the realms of digital content and networked digital services (i.e. media and communications). I won’t bother listing stuff like regular monthly bandwidth or mobile account (only where that’s over and above the routine). So here we go, starting now… (14.iii.09 17:30 gmt):
Date Purchase Amount
14.iii.09 iTunes Track of the Week Big fat zero, honey (nor is it worth anything much)
18.iii.09 2GB of extra bandwidth (cos of having to watch loads of Embarrassing Bodies off-line edit videos for work) £2.92
22.iii.09 2 x iTunes tracks for Mother’s Day mixtape £1.58
21.iv.09 Domain name renewal £12 (actually on behalf of Channel 4 on expenses)
Not the easiest of weeks as I walked around half deaf and drowning in my own snot but here we are, Friday evening, made it. And it had its moments. Highlights included two awards ceremonies. Last night I presented the Multi-talented Award at the friendliest awards in town – the 4Talent Awards – to Oli Lansley who combines acting, writing and directing in the theatre and on TV in a way full of energy and promise (“that dirtiest of dirty words” – just been watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the first time, Holly Golightly is my beloved sister-in-law Bronagh, right down to the take-out cwofee). I judged this category with Dan Jones of Maverick TV – we have both been building 4Talent (formerly Ideasfactory) since the early days, over the last 6 years painstakingly developing it across the UK with James Estill and the dedicated crew to the point where it has the warm, creative vibe that was suffusing the room yesterday evening. Oli has a new series going out on ITV2 early next year called FM based on the Comedy Lab he did for Caroline Leddy at C4 in 2006. He also has a series in development at the Beeb with Matt King of Peep Show called Whites. On top of all that, he leads his own theatre company called Les Enfants Terribles who did a show entitled The Terribles Infants at Edinburgh this year and last, due to tour it in 09. So a multi-talented, multi-channel man to keep an eye on.
The 4Talent Awards were hosted with great aplomb by stand-up comedian Jack Whitehall, talented well beyond his 19 years, with fine comic judgment. Other entertainment came from the versatile jaw of Beardyman.
Winners were a rich mix ranging from Hollyoaks’ Emma Rigby for Dramatic Performance to Rose Heiney for Comedy Writing, from Dan & Adrian Hon of Six to Start for Multiplatform to Robert Glassford & Timo Langer for Directing (this last presented by my colleague Peter Carlton of FilmFour with whom I had a lovely rabbit before the presentations, the two of us equally infectious so no danger of adding to overall global germ activity).
To start the week I had the pleasure of attending the announcement of this year’s Turner Prize winner at the Tate. I arrived with Jan Younghusband, fellow Commissioning Editor for Arts & Performance TV, who introduced me to the ITN team that was shooting the event live for Channel 4 News. The looming gothic cowboy with the handle-bar moustache who walked by me with his looming gothic girlfriend was Nick Cave. He first entered my life with the Bad Seeds on The Firstborn is Dead over two decades ago now. On this night he passed by in the flesh like an extra from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (which I watched again recently – fabulous film, Kris Kristopherson was perfect as the Jim Morrison-style gunslinger-cum-rock messiah).
A while later another messiah, model for that humungous roadside crucifixion that is the Angel of the North, Antony Gormley introduced me to Grayson Perry who was wearing a fetching art student-designed post-it note dress. Not too often I get the chance to say stuff like ‘Antony Gormley introduced me to Grayson Perry’ or spout my theories about avant-garde art 1900-1970 to two luminaries of that world but we had a great chat and a consensus on how difficult it has been to innovate in the wake of that huge Modernist arc that went to the roots of every aspect of painting and art over those seven decades.
That was, of course, the Biggie but other chats included John Woodward of the UK Film Council (who agreed, through not quite gritted teeth, that FilmFour has had an awesome year with its string of Irish tales of waiting), and TV types like Roy Ackerman of Diverse and Michael Waldman (Operatunity). Art critic Richard Cork (The Listener – why on earth don’t they bring it back?), Alan Yentob of BBC’s Imagine (the Woody Allen of British TV, gets to make whatever he wants, quietly, no questions asked), Hans Ulrich Obrist of the Serpentine, were all swilling around. Enjoyed the walk home past the neon courtyard of the Chelsea College of Art and through the rainy backstreets of Pimlico
A final high point of the week takes us from art to architecture. I was having a meeting with RDF, who make Secret Millionaire, and Zopa, the interesting online finance service (interesting and finance – not words I often invite out to the same sentence). The fella from Zopa was asking about the Channel 4 building as we headed up the particular red of the stairs (the colour is lifted from the Golden Gate Bridge which is a delightful thing to think about every morning) – were Channel 4 the first occupiers? was it purpose built? etc. – I told him what a fine building it was bar a few flaws which I’d love to pass on to the bloke who designed it, like there’s no Gents on the side of the floor I work on, two Ladies instead. The delicious irony was that the RDF rep was Zad Rogers, son of Lord/Richard, the architect of C4 HQ in Horseferry Road – we revealed this after a while of course as – as in that essay on Iago by WH Auden in The Dyer’s Hand (Joker in the Pack) which velvet-jacketed Mr Fitch (RIP) drew our teenage attention to – there’s no satisfaction in a practical joke without the final revelation.
[written and published elsewhere shortly after the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony; published here the day before the closing ceremony including an 8-minute hand-over slot to London 2012]
I dreamt I saw thousands of people moving in unison in circles. I dreamt they were so numerous that the incredible spectacle looked as ultimately unconvincing as CGI. I dreamt I saw children singing songs so simple (so not made up by children) they were bland and charmless – We plant trees, we sow seeds, the land turns green. The air turns brown. We wear masks. I dreamt I saw teenage girls swaying for hour after hour as country after country filed past, filming the filmers on their made in China handycams. Getting tired? Keep swaying happily girls or it’s the labour camp for you. Meanwhile back in the labour camp, some months earlier: OK, lads, here’s the choice – break rocks or learn this little dance. I dreamt I saw some other lads goose-stepping in black boots. Tanks filing past, missile launchers, fly-bys. One world, one dream. One tank, one student. Meanwhile, some miles away: 150 tanks roll into Georgia. Georgian army 11,320 – Russian army 395,000. Georgian population 4.63m – Russian population 140.7m (though due to halve by 2050). Georgian annual military expenditure $380m – Russian military expenditure $59,100m. How much did this spectacle cost? How much does China spend on education per year? I dreamt I saw no flag from Tibet. I dreamt I saw unison not unity. I dreamt I saw bird cages in a bird’s nest. People moving in small circles. I dreamt of the Mordillo cartoon I cut out as a kid. “We’re all different!” shout out the identical looking mass of people. “I’m not!” shouts out one of them. One party, one line. I dreamt I saw something which sub-consciously summarised what others fear.
In 2012 to follow these people making a spectacle of themselves, partying to the tune of the Party, London must be itself, tune in to its idiosyncratic, eccentric, spirited creativity (one thing that cannot be manufactured); its rich mix of cultures and peoples; its unique, particular, genuine handmade in Britain talent; its individual dreams which thread the tapestry of its Jerusalem spirit.
As it turned out, some of it was CGI (the footprints across the city sequence as shown on TV across the globe). The ‘lovely children’s singing’ turned out to be voiced by the little girl with crooked teeth whilst the pretty little girl provided the acceptable face. And those various ethnic groups represented by children dressed up in various ethnic costumes turned out to be not very ethnically mixed at all. So after two weeks of great sport, it still looks like a bit of authenticity, eccentricity, diversity and deep-down creativity should go a long way.
Went to Trafalgar Square on Sunday to watch the Olympics hand-over communally. Within the 8 minute British 2012 intro perhaps the most interesting moment was when David Beckham kicked the football into the serried ranks of the Chinese performers (seemingly not where it was planned to go – how very England FC of him). For just a moment the fine-tuned order was disrupted as a lone individual nabbed the ball and showed a brief glimpse of genuine delight.
What an exciting day! I get in to work this morning and this plops on the electronic doormat:
I’m delighted to inform you that your entry ‘Big Art Mob‘ has been short-listed in the Community Engagement category of the inaugural MediaGuardian Innovation Awards. The shortlist will be formerly announced in MediaGuardian on 28 January and the winner at the awards ceremony and dinner on 6 March at Indigo2, O2, Greenwich. The debate at the judging day was lively and hard fought, so congratulations on reaching the shortlist stage of an event which we hope will become a benchmark for innovation in media in the UK.”
Next up a message from the fellas at LG15 that they’re coming a’visitin’.
Then the gorgeous Slugger O’Toole over in Beal Feirste points his dedicated audience in the direction of the excellent ’3 Minute Wonder’ tomorrow night on Channel4 (at 19.55) complementing the Picture This series. It looks at the disappearance of the fortified RUC police stations in Northern Ireland. As someone who got married in Derry, I’ve a certain familiarity with these particular architectural fantasias. I remember sitting in a pub in Forkhill in South Armagh and admiring the painting on the wall of the locality from which the police station had already been disappeared, years before the Good Friday Agreement.
Finally a lovely young laydee comes up to introduce herself at the climax of the Cultural and Creative Leadership Mentoring Programme at the ICA (on which I have been mentoring Caroline Bottomley of the Radar Festival). Said laydee is none other than Zoe Margolis aka Abby Lee, the Girl with the One-track Mind, in the flesh.
Now that’s a good day by anyone’s standards.
But not as good as yesterday when I found out my mum’s cancer had not come back. Now there’s really good vibrations.
Had the pleasure yesterday of two inspirational encounters with London-inspired artists.
At lunchtime photographer/artist Emily Allchurch visited Channel 4 to talk to any interested parties about her work. This was at the invitation of Andrew Webb, the Picture Editor in Channel 4 New Media’s design unit who had first met Emily working together in the Tate’s shop. She focused on her new exhibition ‘Urban Chiaoscuro’ currently at the Frost & Reed gallery in St James’s.
The exhibition is inspired by the fantastical Caceri d’Invezione drawings (c.1745-1761) by Piranesi, intricate architectural constructions of prisons of the mind.
In recent years Emily has focused on reconstructing old master paintings and drawings by seamlessly collaging contemporary photographic components in Photoshop. Hundreds of layers of photoshopped elements – individual details photographed from very particular angles to make the perspective work – result in smooth, painterly transparencies displayed on thin lightboxes, the size of an art gallery painting.
A little later in the afternoon I pulled by Frost & Reed’s to see the works in the flesh. They typically take three months to create. In real life all that masterly craftsmanship is even more evident in the painterly, surreal qualities of the luminous images. I bumped into Emily again at the gallery and had a chance to chat a bit more – I was saying how what really struck me in her images was where she had (re)created fantasy, impossible environments – for example, Bruegel’s Tower of Babel and some of the more labyrinthine, Escheresque Piranesis.
Emily featured in the excellent BBC4 series Digital Picture of Britain. In the episode I saw of that she recreated a Whistler nocturne viewed from Battersea Bridge using images taken on a mobile phone (that was part of the challenge of the series – each photographer ended up with a high-end digital camera, a high street one or a mobile phone by luck of the draw). It was only in the wake of participating in the series that Emily switched from film to digital.
Despite being born on Jersey, Emily is clearly turned on big time by London, which, as a major league Londonphile immediately elevates her in my eyes. There’s an interesting element of fear in her works which stems in part from having to hang out alone in the dark recesses of the city to get her raw material. It manifests itself in the photographs as references to surveillance – cameras, tannoys, signs, warnings. Yet for all the anxiety there’s the joy of discovery.
When we were looking together at one of her Urban Chiaoscuros made in Paris, I spotted one of those mosaic Space Invaders. Emily didn’t know what it was and I was able to explain to her that it’s part of a long-term public art project with its roots in Paris – something I found out when I posted one on the Big Art Mob which I’d come across round the corner from St Martin’s art school in Kingsway.
Which brings us neatly to the second inspiring encounter of the day, as I’m hoping to feature this artist and her work on the Big Art Project and she posted her first image to Big Art Mob from St James’s Park where we had our meeting.
Laura Williams was introduced to me by the Creative Accountant (Sydney Levinson). She is slowly but surely creating an amazing public artwork, Aluna, a lunar clock which is destined to land on the north bank of the Thames opposite the Millennium Dome at the site of the old East India docks.
The huge sculpture indicates the movement of the moon around the earth and the flow of the tides using LEDs built into its recycled glass curves.
Aluna is designed to reconnect us with a slower, more natural flow of time – much as can be gotten from the allotment where I’m writing this post from on a Blackberry, having just eaten a very late raspberry off my neighbour Maurice’s bush. And just to be neat about things I’ll pause for a moment to go and get a late blackberry off our fence…
…Yum, had three but they’re pretty much done now for the year, they’re mostly rotting on the plant, covered in a yellowy fungus or something. Ah nature, dontcha just love it – one big restaurant.
Now where was I? Ah yes, close to the Meridian in East London. Laura is also truly inspired by London and the Thames. The lunar clock is, naturally enough, tidal powered, sitting on the bend in the river with one of the fastest tidal flows. The artwork will be driven by turbines in the river which will generate surplus electricity to sell back to neighbouring houses making the whole thing self-sustaining.
So between Emily and Laura, the ol’ creative batteries were certainly recharged yesterday, ready to plug in to Medicine Men and Fourmations and all the other interesting creations coming over the horizon in the world of Channel 4 Factual interactive media.
Pictures courtesy of Emily Allchurch
I was called to the TV in a hotel room in Lahinch, Co. Clare, to hear about the sad departure of Tony Wilson to the Big Gig in the Sky. My memories and associations of him?…
Only encountered him once in the flesh – introducing the In The City conference three years ago at the ICA, London. It had all the classic Factory ingredients of music cross-fertilising with other arts and media; waving the Manchester music flag; and all being a bit on the chaotic side, too many ingredients to fully bake. On the new media meets music front, he was quick to spot the iTunes imperative and back early commercial music download services.
The Lyceum, London: Joy Division supporting The Buzzcocks – one of the most embarrassing performances I’ve ever witnessed (only just behind Matt Lucas at the Comedy Store) – but embarrassing in a truly original way – little did I know…
It was Atmosphere which really enlightened me with regard to Tony’s Factory – so here’s a good juncture to tip the hat to Martin Hannett. The scene with the drum kit on the roof of the studio in ‘24 Hour Party People‘ captured his contribution fabulously.
Buying Pete Saville 12″ covers in that little oasis in East Finchley, Alan’s Records. Tony drew in and nurtured some wonderful creative talent around the big boys of Joy Division and Happy Mondays. His consistently extravagant praise of Shaun Ryder’s lyric writing was admirable in its loyalty and provocation …and, of course, passion.
And that pretty much summarises the fella – loyal (to his native town, to his Factoryfolk – like humouring Saville with his post-gig tickets to be proud of); provocative (the clip on Newsnight the other evening in Lahinch paying homage to The Third Man in a ferris wheel [or was it the London Eye?] “And what did London produce? …Chas and Dave!”); and passionate – a man who makes records where the beautiful sleeve costs more than the retail price of the record does indeed wear his heart on his sleeve. Enjoy the unknown pleasures, Tony, you deserve them.
I was on the panel of a lively session called Steal This Film about the future of Intellectual Property Rights (if there is one) and the impact of peer-to-peer file-sharing on funding creativity in film and television.
In the red corner, Jamie King (Dr JJ King to his friends), a prime-mover of Steal This Film, an internet documentary about sharing films you neither made nor invested in (financially or in kind). I jest, it’s actually a good provocation about very important cultural, creative and business issues – and he is to be admired for taking the brickbats so doggedly for raising perfectly legitimate issues as points of principle. 1.85M people have viewed the film in 12-18 months. It has netted, in JK’s estimate, £16k.
In the blue corner Eddie from FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft) of Knock-off Nigel fame.
Sandwiched between was Guy Avshalom, Head of Legal and Business Affairs at Lionsgate Films (formerly Redbus – a link between our careers as the broadband video outfit I set up with partners before turning gamekeeper at Channel 4 was backed by Redbus Investments too) and Yours Truly.
My main issue with Dr Jamie’s theories about filesharing is that they are a bit on the black and white side – everything should be free vs the corporations rob us all.
As he spoke, he reminded me of Mrs T. Thatcher emptied the mentally ill onto the streets and then tried to put in place ‘care in the community’. Jamie seems to want to dismantle IPR-based business models and then figure out how to finance creativity. Having run 4Talent/Ideasfactory at Channel 4 for four years I’m a bit obsessed with creatives in whatever discipline making a viable living and emerging creative companies thriving.
At the Other Annual Documentary Festival which shall not be named, the day I spoke there last November the front page of the FT announced that Google UK would earn more advertising revenue than Channel 4 in 2007 and than our biggest commercial broadcaster ITV around 2009. So as all that cash gets syphoned off out of the country and the parasitic business models of YouTube and the like invest big fat zero in content, talent nurturing and supplier corporate development, the question is who steps in to fill the gap when the broadcasters can’t afford it any more? Who helps the next Ricky Gervaises get from flawed series 1 of The Office to the classic series 2? I can’t really see why Dr K doesn’t focus his very evident creative thinking and energy on new ways of funding creativity properly rather than on how to take apart the old. There’s room for more than just black and white in a complex world in rapid transition. Guy seemed very open to new commercial models for the film business and even Eddie acknowledged the need for new approaches to IPR in this emerging digital age.
The logic of that diversion of ad revenue coupled with that failure to invest in creative content and talent is that ultimately we all get to watch more cats on skateboards and mentoes in coke bottles. (Top of Google Video as I write: “This is a funny video about a hipo and his dog“.) The irony of Steal This Film is that the only stuff you’d want to steal in a longish 32 minutes is the Hollywood movie clips. It’s a good summary of the issues with not so good narrative skills. It is populated almost exclusively with the type of white 20ish males who would get off on this, like the 7 people who watched it yesterday on YouTube.
In spite of the lively exchanges around all of the above, there seemed a broad optimism in the room – the auditorium of The Phoenix Cinema, which looks like it must be the sister of my beloved Phoenix in East Finchley, the oldest purpose built cinema in the UK (where I do a bit of pro bono work). Optimism about the opportunities networked digital technology and a more creative approach to IPR promise. The Phoenix in East Finchley was built in 1910. Whether I’ll be able to enjoy films there like Guy’s title The Lives of Others in 2010 or 2015 will depend on resurrecting viable business models for rewarding individual creatives from the ashes of the models which no longer compute in this on-demand, networked, two-way era. We’d better sort out our creative community care before we chuck professional creators out on the street or we’ll all be watching more cats and mentoes. What does happen when you put a pussy in pepsi?
When I was over in Canada last month, speaking at the NextMedia interactive media festival and the Banff TV festival, I had the pleasure of chatting with journo Jenn Kuzmyk of C21 about some of the stuff I’ve been working on recently – yesterday the fruits of our convo showed up in Jenn’s C21 Factual weekly bulletin:
C4 factual arm gives power to the people
What does user-generated content (UGC) mean in the factual television space? Sometimes it has very little to do with television at all. Jenn Kuzmyk profiles the Big Art Mob and Hot Shots [Picture This], two new interactive social media projects from Channel 4′s factual unit that are to be fuelled by contributions from people throughout the UK – and perhaps the world.
The Big Art Mob is billed as the first major mobile blogging project to come from a British broadcaster. It’s also the UK’s first comprehensive survey of public art, and will be based entirely on pictures (or audio and video) from the camera phones of art-lovers nationwide. Launched in April 2007, a full year before its TV component will roll out, the project aims to record for posterity the wealth of artworks in public places across the country and serve as the focus of a dynamic national conversation.
The project is a spin-off from the Channel 4 Big Art Project (3 x 60′), a series for the main terrestrial network that will culminate in the commissioning of six large-scale pieces of public art throughout the UK some time next year. The TV portion, to be produced by the UK’s Carbon Media (Jump London), won’t launch until the mobile blogging portion has been running for over a year.
“We can do something that couldn’t have been done before,” says Adam Gee (above), C4′s new media commissioner, noting that the Big Art Mob was in part inspired by the BBC’s mass user-generated climate change studies Springwatch and Autumnwatch. “If people think something is worthwhile, they’re quite willing to put the information up there, and they’re quite assiduous and careful about it, as well,” says Gee, emphasising C4′s belief in UGC.
C4 devised the Big Art Mob with moblog:tech, a UK mobile blogging facilitator that has worked with the likes of Universal Music, Greenpeace and Warner Music. Essentially, a user takes a picture (or video) of some public-domain art that they love, they MMS it to a number and it drops straight into an online map (below) that tracks contributions from across the nation. C4 first contacted niche groups that already have an interest in public art, and is now going out to people whose parts of the map are under-represented, to encourage those regions to submit.
Contributors can add any information they have about a specific piece of art that they have submitted, but the opportunity is open for others to tag someone else’s image and complete information such as title, important dates and the history of the artist or piece. “It’s like a simple Wikipedia, really,” describes Gee. “It has the same openness as a Wiki, in that the person who submits the picture can have a right of veto over what is put up about the picture. It also protects against abuse,” he says, noting that people can also see who has last visited their picture, which encourages connection among users.
Gee’s remit is to focus on pop factual projects with a tendency towards public service, and for the Big Art Mob there is, of course, an underlying learning element, and something Gee classes as an “interpretative” function: something that can spark debate and conversation. “You have to decide what public art is. I could put a bronze statue up there but I could also put up the piece of graffiti around the corner as well,” he says, noting that at the moment the balance is probably around 60/40 in favour of street art (below).
Now that the infrastructure for the initial UK effort is complete, it is transportable to other territories, and a few possible spin-offs are already being thought of. “It’s designed to have legs before and after the broadcast, and the overheads are relatively low. Now that we’ve done it once and know how to do it, we can replicate it for next to no money. We’d like to roll out to New York and Paris next, making the ‘Big Art’ map really big,” says Gee. “If C4 ever pulls out of supporting it, which is not really on the cards because it has very minimal overhead, then we could give it to a public institution and they could carry it on and keep it, but it is being established for the long run.”
The Big Art Mob and other projects in the works are part of a push to experiment with C4′s public service and how that role can be carried into the interactive space.
Next up is Hot Shots, an integrated TV/web project being produced in association with online photo-sharing outfit Flickr, which is involved via an ‘in-kind’ exchange. “They are very supportive of the project. They’ll [Yahoo!] promote it, and we’ve traded the TV sponsorship for that, really. It helps us to do a project that has some serious scale,” says Gee.
The rest of this article is available at C21.