Archive for the ‘ideas’ 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)

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Landshare

Landshare with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Landshare with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

In the wake of Sexperience and Embarrassing Teenage Bodies, I’m moving on to get some more light, space and fresh air…  next up for me is Landshare, a project to link up people who want to grow their own food (and can’t get an allotment) with people who have land where food could be grown.

The project is in its initial phase – gauging and registering the interest of growers, land-owners, land-spotters and all the people & groups who will be needed to make it work well and sustainably. 6,000 people registered in the week after launch. I’m doing the project with the River Cottage folk (Keo Films and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) and, if you’re interested in any of the roles mentioned, you can register at the nascent Landshare site at www.landshare.net.

Here’s a vid of Hugh getting going, securing land from the Church of England. Old grannies with arthritis who can’t do their garden any more through to property developers with wasteland temporarily on their hands are equally in the frame for sharing land and the produce that comes from it.

And here is Hugh explaining the basic idea.

Update 11.xi.08 :

An interesting post about Landshare by the formidable John Thackera on Doors of Perception – you gotta love the graph at the bottom.

Paper Scissors Rock of Ages – a new game

Here’s a new game – my first try. Feel free to join in…

paper scissors rock of ages

paper scissors rock of ages 1

UPDATE: And here’s my second stab at it… (just finished reading Hitler’s Peace by Phillip Kerr set at the Tehran Conference in 1943)

paper scissors rock of ages 2

paper scissors rock of ages 2

If you want to have a go, you can join in here or in the Comments or wherever you like putting pictures.

Hunger

Steve McQueen directing Hunger

Steve McQueen directing Hunger

I have to admit I was a bit worried when I heard Channel 4 were making a film about Bobby Sands and the Maze hunger strike. Having sat through shite like Ken Loach and Rebecca O’Brien’s ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ I feared the worst. But ‘Hunger‘, by Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen, is an artist’s film of intense emotional impact and real insight. And it belongs on the big screen, its compositions and rhythms fill the space. That it is a London born film-maker, a black film-maker, that provides such insight into so fraught and sensitive an Irish story is all the more remarkable.

It was commissioned by my colleague Jan Younghusband, Commissioning Editor for Arts and Performance at Channel 4. She is a woman with a purist and committed approach to art, as I learned from working with her on projects like Big Art Project and 4mations. ‘Hunger’ was five years in the making and conception. Through her work on the Turner Prize Jan came into contact with McQueen, hooked up from time to time in a cafe on Old Compton Street and gradually homed in on this most demanding of subject-matter. Film 4, in the person of Peter Carlton (who I worked with last year on My Movie Mash-up/Faintheart, which amply demonstrated his ballsy approach) came in to back the film as a theatric offering. I have to say, having just emerged from a viewing of the finished film, I couldn’t be prouder to be part of an organisation that creates a work like this.

I walk past Bobby Sands regularly in the form of a Christ-like statue of him in Newry, the town in County Down where my wife was born. She grew up in Northern Ireland in the 70s and early 80s – I can hardly imagine how she and her sisters will watch this film. Whatever you feel about the politics behind Bobby Sands (of which most of our (British) population is incredibly ignorant, and was so back in 1980 – as a suburban London teenager it was right off my radar beyond what I gleaned from Stiff Little Fingers) the portrayal of political conviction and of inhuman bigotry is as powerful as it comes. Thatcher’s voice, heard in voice-over punctuating the film from time to time, comes across as truly monstrous. Everything about its coldness and stridency speaks of the huge cultural gulf between the Lincoln grocery and a family gathering in West Belfast or Gweedore, Donegal (where the key flashback scene of the film takes place) or pretty much anywhere in Ireland or an Irish home.

My wife recalls how her life and the lives of all around her were overshadowed by the hunger strike. A time punctuated by the staggered deaths (they deliberately spaced the starts of their hunger-strikes two weeks apart to maximise the impact of their sacrifice). Looking back from the last few years it is only now she truly recognises what a troubled, hard childhood she and her contemporaries lived through. A couple of years ago we were in the (old) Tate with the children. They were copying some of the pictures in the Pop Art rooms. As we emerged from the gallery I noticed my wife was really upset. I asked her what was up and it turned out walking through a room of Richard Hamilton images of soldiers on the streets of Belfast [The State 1993] had really disturbed her and awakened ghosts. (Richard Hamilton of course also portrayed Bobby Sands draped in blanket in his picture ‘The Citizen’ [1981-83].)

When I first visited Newry in 1986 I was greeted by the most surreal of experiences – walking down the high street I watched British troops, armed with machine guns and equipped with radios, ducking in and out of shop doorways between little old ladies struggling along with their shopping bags. Nothing in my North London childhood had given me the slightest clue that such dark comedy was to be had on the streets of ‘my country’.

On my way out of the screening I met a woman who looked pretty shaken by the experience (naturally enough). It turned out her daughter works at the Channel and she comes from Crossmaglen, Co. Armagh. Needless to say she knew the one family I know in Crossmaglen, as that is the way of Ireland. I knew the hospital she was born in in Newry, Daisyhill aka Crazyhill, as my wife was born there too. I knew her school in Kilkeel as my wife went there too. It’s a small, connected place. In her family home this woman I got talking to has some of the tiny notes smuggled out of the Maze – that’s how connected it is.

I thought the starvation in Sean Penn’s ‘Into the Wild‘ was painful to watch and moving but it goes nowhere near the forensic observation of this film. The skeletal bodies are resonant of Auschwitz – and the crucifixion. And yet the film captures something incredible, something transcendent about the human spirit and will.

Towards the end of the film we see a flashback of the Belfast boy on a coach traveling over the border into Donegal to attend a cross-country race put on by the Christian Brothers (purveyors, as Pete McCarthy amusingly put it, of “the carrot and stick method of Education – only without the carrot”). Behind the face of the young Bobby is a blurred swoosh of gold, low sunlight on the ferns and bogland. It represents a paradise to the starving man.

Recalling when I first went to that place – Gweedore – brings a smile to my lips. I’d followed the roadmap and came to what I thought was not far from Gweedore. I stopped at a junction, reminiscent of where Cary Grant gets off the bus in ‘North-by-Northwest’ and gets attacked by a crop-spraying plane. There was a small shop at the junction, outside of which stood an old fella in a flat cap. I wound down the window and asked him where Gweedore was. You’re in it. Where? All around. He was trying to explain the concept of a ‘townland’ which was foreign to me. ‘Town’ I get. ‘Land’ and ‘country’ I get. But this was something in-between, half way to the imagination, between the word on the map and the ground beneath me was a cultural gap and an imaginative leap. ‘Dhun na nGall’ (Donegal) means ‘fort of the foreigners’ – foreigners have given the people there a tough time since way back – from the marauding Vikings (who probably explain my wife’s love of the battle and fighting scenes in ‘Gladiator’) to the screws beating the living shit out of Bobby Sands and fellow prisoners with their truncheons and tattooed knuckles. The same shit these men smeared on the walls of their cells in an astonishing act of defiance for over 4 years, the shit McQueen turns into a kind of circular abstract painting in one scene. The ability of people to survive that kind of degradation and brutality for the sake of an idea is ultimately uplifting. The ability to inflict that kind of degradation and brutality is to be the subject of one of my next posts (bet you can’t wait 😉 inspired by Philippe Sands‘ recent book Torture Team about torture in Iraq, where Steve McQueen served as a war artist in 2003.) So shifting Sands from Bobby to Philippe – not easy subjects but then 7/7 isn’t an easy day…

Fairtrade

Had a quick poke around Starbucks new web 2.0 UGC blah de blah site ‘My Starbucks Idea‘. Perhaps it should be called ‘Starbucks’s My Idea’. Here’s Starbucks’s idea:

“You know better than anyone else what you want from Starbucks. So tell us. What’s your Starbucks Idea? Revolutionary or simple—we want to hear it. Share your ideas, tell us what you think of other people’s ideas and join the discussion. We’re here, and we’re ready to make ideas happen. Let’s get started.”

And here are their basic terms:

“‘If we implement your idea, we may give you credit on the site, but we won’t be compensating customers if their ideas are chosen.”

So here’s the first idea I came up with and posted:

“My idea is that Starbucks compensate people fairly for their ideas and original thinking.

‘If we implement your idea, we may give you credit on the site, but we won’t be compensating customers if their ideas are chosen’ reads like exploitation to me.

But you can have this idea for free.”

I can’t see why littl’ ol’ Starbucks can’t reward some ideas appropriately, even if it’s on a good faith, unspecific basis. Ideas may be ten a penny but implemented ideas have a value, so not paying for them is as exploitative as not paying farmers properly for coffee beans.

I’m working on my second idea now but it’s difficult – my friend Akeva banned me from Starbucks years ago.

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