Archive for the ‘creative industries’ Category

Cash Flow

So where does the cash flow?

So where does the cash flow?

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:

  • Immediacy
  • Personalisation
  • Interpretation
  • Authenticity
  • Accessibility
  • Embodiment
  • Patronage
  • Findability

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)

The free range broadcaster

With all the speculation, misinformation, politicking and general bullshit flying around today with the release of TV regulator Ofcom’s blueprint “for sustaining and strengthening public service broadcasting (PSB) for the next decade” I’d like to take a moment here to highlight Ofcom’s recommendation for Channel 4:

Create a strong, alternative public service voice to the BBC, with Channel 4 at the heart

And pick up an article by Roy Greenslade, widely respected Professor of Journalism at London’s City University, writer for The Guardian and Evening Standard, and man about Donegal (believe he’s been spotted in The Bridge Bar, Ramelton where my wedding reached a satisfying, musical conclusion on Day 3). In tonight’s issue of the Standard (which I picked from the bin in East Finchley station – does Alexander Lebedev have any idea how few people part with actual cash money for it?) Prof G wrote the following insightful article:

Ofcom risks making a pig’s ear of C4 if we lose gourmet selection of quality TV
Roy Greenslade
21.01.09

Pig Business - a Channel 4 documentary

Pig Business - a Channel 4 documentary

On Monday evening I attended the preview of a Channel 4 documentary called Pig Business. It was a fine piece of work, a mixture of passion and compassion that raised all sorts of disturbing questions about factory farming, agri-business and globalisation, not to mention airing concerns about public health and the environment.

You can make up your own mind on 3 February, when it is screened on More4, but — even if you disagree with the polemic — it has to be seen as an extraordinary project because it was filmed over the course of four years by Tracy Worcester. After the showing there was loud applause for her and tributes from several speakers, including Zac Goldsmith and Chrissie Hynde. There was acclaim too from Tim Sparke, managing director of the path-breaking broadband TV documentary company Mercury Media, but he broadened his praise and struck a particularly topical note.

“If ever we need a demonstration of Channel 4′s commitment to public service broadcasting,” he said. “Then this is it.”

As C4′s chairman, Luke Johnson, and chief executive, Andy Duncan, peruse the Ofcom report released this morning that outlines how the channel will be funded in future, it is important to keep in mind the value of its output.

I know this is the channel of Big Brother, and that we are currently being assaulted by another instalment of a Celebrity Big Brother, a title that — given the crop of inmates — surely breaches the Trades Descriptions Act. But they are programmes that ramp up viewing figures, thereby attracting essential advertising revenue and enabling the broadcasting of serious public service broadcasting (PSB) content.

There is so much to appreciate about C4, not least its contribution to film, arts, drama and documentaries. There is a Channel 4 ethos, a distinctiveness, that sets it apart from both its commercial rivals and the publicly-funded BBC. I happen to be an avid viewer of Channel 4 News because it deals in some depth with the most important news stories of the day. It treats viewers as grown-ups and, significantly, attracts a young audience that clearly appreciates that fact. It’s a sort of early Newsnight.

Consider also the very different documentary and factual strands such as Dispatches, Cutting Edge and Unreported World. The latter, screened 20 times a year in peak time, takes viewers to stories in parts of Africa, South America and south-east Asia that never appear elsewhere.

Sure, the audiences are small. But the whole point of PSB, and of C4′s remit, is to widen the TV horizon. There is no point in sticking to a safe mainstream, agenda. Other broadcasters do that. There is a mix, with populist factual programming running alongside more esoteric stuff, but it works. C4 also commissions programmes that take risks or challenge our preconceptions.

Take the eight-part series now showing on Sunday evenings, Christianity: A History. It started off two weeks ago with a superb and counter-intuitive presentation from Howard Jacobson on Jesus the Jew. It was some of the most watchable TV I have seen in a long time, intelligent without being in the least bit pompous, provocative without any hint of bombast.

Turning to C4′s contribution to film, who can deny the virtues of a company that backed movie-makers such as Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting and Shallow Grave); Steve McQueen (Hunger) and Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Six Shooter)?

But let’s stop the tour here. The point of the exercise is to illustrate what we stand to lose if C4 is not adequately funded in the coming years. It is also to underline the point made by BBC executives, even if through gritted teeth, that rival PSB output is healthy for our society.

I realise the over-riding importance of C4 every time I call up the list of documentary channels on Sky and discover the endless loop-tape of what has rightly been dubbed a choice of sharks or Nazis.

What distinguishes C4′s factual output is that it rarely, if ever, stoops to the formulaic TV that populates the digital depths. That is one reason why I have been opposed to the notion of a merger with Five, a commercial channel that would erase the individuality of C4.

I have never seen the point of Five since its launch in 1997 and, going on the viewing figures, neither can most of the nation’s viewers. It is remarkable that a populist channel that screens wall-to-wall entertainment attracts only 4.6% of the total audience. Yet C4, with so much of its PSB programming specifically aimed at minority audiences, manages to get a 6.3% share.

I can well understand why the BBC’s director general, Mark Thompson, has advocated a C4-Five merger. He wants to protect the BBC’s licence fee and preserve the income from its own commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.

While I was thinking about C4′s dilemma I realised that the Pig Business documentary offered several relevant metaphors. In its current state C4 is a free range broadcaster, offering good meat that satisfies the appetites of its customers. If it is overly constrained, whether by tighter budgets or by an uncomfortable accommodation with a rival, there will be a reduction in both the quantity and quality of its meat.

Factory-farmed TV is junk food for the masses. C4′s programmes, by contrast, are a gourmet selection for niche audiences. We lose them at our peril.”

Update 22.i.09:
Last night while I was writing this post Channel 4 was winning the Broadcaster of the Year Award at the Broadcast Awards.

It also picked up awards for:
Best Documentary: My Street [a wonderful film]
Best Documentary Series: The Genius of Charles Darwin
Best Single Drama: Boy A
Best New Programme: Gordon Ramsay Cookalong Live
Best International Sales: Come Dine With Me

Update 22.i.09:

To ram the point home, this lunchtime (GMT) this year’s Oscar nominations have been announced and Channel 4′s Film4 have received 12 (yes, 12!) nominations:

Slumdog Millionaire

· Cinematography

· Directing

· Film editing

· Original score

· Original song – “Jai Ho”

· Original song – “O Saya”

· Best picture

· Sound editing

· Sound mixing

· Adapted screenplay

In Bruges

· Original screenplay

Happy-Go-Lucky

· Original screenplay

That was the week that was

Golightly

Golightly

Gowest

Gowest

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.

One world, one nightmare

[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]

Lin Miaoke and Yang Peiyi - face and voice

Lin Miaoke and Yang Peiyi - face and voice

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.

Post-script 23.08.08:

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.

Post-script 26.8.08:

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.

Giving me excitations

Girl with a one-track mind - abby leeGirl with a one-track mind - abby lee

What an exciting day! I get in to work this morning and this plops on the electronic doormat:

“Dear Adam,
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 a note from the boys at Preloaded that Picture This has 11.4% of its audience staying for over 30 minutes at a time and 4.7% over an hour.

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.

There’s snow business like show business

Floating in the sky

Took the Enfants Terribles last night to the 25th anniversary celebration of The Snowman, one of Channel 4′s first commissions, originally TXing in November 1982, the month the Channel took to the air. It had been commissioned that February from John Coates (who also produced Yellow Submarine for The Beatles) – he was at the event yesterday evening at the Peacock Theatre near Lincoln’s Inn. Camilla Deakin, former Channel 4 Commissioning Editor for Animation, introduced me to John, a stalwart champion of British animation.

I’m currently working with Camilla and her business partner at Lupus Films, Ruth Fielding, and the comfortable creatures at Aardman in Bristol to explore where the next 25 years of Channel 4 animation may go in the networked, on demand world we now inhabit.

I bumped into David Baddiel for the first time in a long while and his charming Mrs, Morwena Banks of Absolutely Productions. In the wake of his recent BBC1 documentary on the question of restitution for property stolen from Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators in Germany, Poland and Eastern Europe, he is keen to move beyond Jewish and football themes to explore lively approaches to documentary in other areas, more allied to his novel writing themes.

Fellow comedian Rowland Rivron, as dapper as ever in a pinstripe reminiscent of that other groovy fella Jools Holland, seemed to be an afficianado of The Snowman stage show, highlighting variations of scenes and costumes from the previous times he has sat through it over the child-rearing years. Since returning purified from Extreme Celebrity Detox, he seems to have lapsed a bit from the strict regime of vomit-inducing fluids he bravely tested out on behalf of Channel 4 and is comfortable again sipping a drop of wine and downing a petite mince pie.

Don’t think Tamara Beckwith downed even one of the mini mince pies – there wasn’t room in her spray-on jeans. Other glam in the place included Natasha Kaplinsky and two this-generation female Blue Peter presenters who I don’t know the names of but of whom the older Enfant Terrible asked me: are they lesbians? Not sure what prompted the question but brought to light what a different world we’re in compared to the innocent days of Valerie Singleton.

Said Enfant was delighted to chat with Duncan Ballantine of Dragon’s Den – “I wouldn’t have invested in those smiley stickers – there are loads of things like that in schools” he confidently pronounced to the tanned tycoon, evidence of the real educative value of the Den.

Meanwhile the Mrs was altogether more interested in John Simm of Life on Mars and Human Traffic fame (which was produced by my one-time flatmate and old friend of the Mrs, Emer McCourt – check out her first novel Elvis, Jesus and Me).

Reflecting back on that first month of Channel 4 chimed in perfectly with the evening before – the first annual 4Talent Awards, at which I had the honour of presenting the New Media award to Mark Bowness, the fella behind the brilliant TribeWanted. The warm, intimate event at C4 HQ in Horseferry Road was perfectly MCed by comedian Paul Tonkinson, light but respectful of the young talent in the room. And the winners – 20 selected from art forms ranging from sit-com writing to architecture, from documentary photography to fashion design – were buzzing with fresh talent. Bastards.

No, it was fabulous – and very C4. Had me floating in the moonlit sky. You can peruse them all here on 4Talent / Ten4. The recognition clearly meant a lot to the bearers of the illuminated, chameleon-colour-changing awards (from Matmos, the lavalamp supremos) and was a clear motivational boost. As Channel 4 moves into the fully digital age and its next quarter century, the kind of energy and fresh talent in the Drum (the round room in the basement of the Channel where the post-awards drinkies took place) will be central to the evolving organisation and the beat to which it marches.

Art and Soul of London

Urban Chiaoscuro


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

Hacienda of an era

unknown pleasures

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.

Britdoc rocs

Britdoc

On my way home from Oxford and that annual documentaries jamboree that is the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation‘s Britdoc Festival.

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.

Refereeing was Britdoc meisterin Jess Search of said British Documentary Film Foundation and Shooting People.

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?

BIG ARTicle

Public Art in Canada

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.

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