Bridging Media – Some thougts

I attended a very interesting one day conference in Vancouver today called Bridging Media. The intent of the conference was to

open the channels of communication between the broadcast and digital media communities. We aim to increase an understanding of our respective industries and strengthen our approach to building multi-platform projects.

Over the last few yers I’ve been working with pure digital media and video distribution on the web and I’m aslo the technical producer for The Pratt & Taylor Show on Rogers Sportsnet Pacific, so with one foot on each side of the divide this conference was pretty much a must-attend for me.

NOTE: For all you expression people who read this blog and right now scratch your heads because this seems to be totally off topic: It’s not. This has to do with the future of online video and content distribution – something you will be working with no matter what kind of projects you are involved it. It’s a bit of a meta-topic but it’s still quite relevant.

I won’t go through the conference here – Miss604 has done an excellent job live-blogging the entire event. Instead I’ll share with you my thoughts and perspectives on the problems presented and the whole concept of media convergence as a whole.

A bridge built from one side only will probably fall

The title of the conference was Bridging Media, and the intent was a good one. Unfortunately there were few if any broadcasters present, so the bridge was only being built from one side. The conference was attended by all the usual suspects in the digital and social media scene and also a large group of independent movie producers and they shared what I would classify as a standard from-the-digital-world view of the situation: Broadcasters rely on funding, digital media relies on other streams of revenue. The broadcasters don’t want to share our content because they are a bit antiquated and they are afraid of losing control of their own dominance and their own content. The digital realm is the future and we should just ignore the broadcasters and move on. In other words, if you build it (a digital media outlet), they (the viewers) will come, and they’ll bring money. (This of course is my very broad and biased interpretation and I’m sure many will be angered at it. So be it.)

To prove this thinking, examples like Sanctuary, Quarterlife and Ask A Ninja were brought up. And this brings me to my first issue: None of these examples are actually applicable in the conversation: Both Sanctuary and Quarterlife were created by well established producers with a strong fan base and more importantly solid funding.. If a complete unknown with the exact same idea had presented any of these concepts to investors, they would most likely be turned down or get insufficient funding. Furthermore, the chance of them reaching a wider audience would be next to zero. Why? Because the web is saturated with similar content and it’s almost impossible to break through the noise to get people’s attention. As for shows like Ask A Ninja that actually get picked up, they are flukes and one-offs. Building a business based on the thought that your show will be picked up by a major network is financial suicide. And the one commonality of all the similar shows that have been picked up is that they were started as jokes with no intention of making it big. So this whole way of thinking is fundamentally flawed. Such successes simply can’t be reproduced by entry-level content producers, at least not without a fair bit of luck (as in winning the lottery kind of luck).

NOTE: Since posting this article, Sanctuary has been picked up by the Sci-Fi Channel for broadcast release. Quarterlife was picked up by the E! Channel in early February. Both these shows were launched on the web with the intention of migrating to broadcast proving that building a fan base online can help you move to the living room screen. Unfortunately you have to be famous and have millions of dollars backing you tho…

The other idea that was touted, that you can make money off your content if enough people come to your site, is also highly questionable. Simply generating visits is not enough to generate money these days. Having a video series on YouTube that has over 2 million views combined will give you exactly $0 in revenue. To turn your content into money, you have to either use advertising or sell services. And that’s where the divide really shows itself in all it’s width and splendour.

Broadcasters are content producers

Putting on my broadcast hat, I can understand why there were no broadcasters at the conference. And I also understand why even if they were there, they would have no answers: Broadcasters are content producers that expect to get paid for the content the produce. A phrase that kept coming up throughout the conference was the question “What business are you in?” The thinking presented was that if you share your content online and want to get money from it, you should use it as a way to get other business that will generate money. As an example, Papercraft was brought up. They produce funny and informative videos on their website explaining complicated technical terms in an understandable way. These videos make no money but companies ask them to make custom videos and these make money. So it’s a completely different way of approaching the whole concept of revenue gathering.

Broadcasters and other content creators on the other hand, are not interested in using their content to advertise services. Their content is the service they provide. They are in the business of making content. If they were in the content of selling services, they would be an advertising agency. And that’s why there is a divide. The two sides are talking two entirely different languages and thinking about things in completely oposite ways.

The question is if there is any way of making them come together at all. Right now, the digital media community is building a bridge over to the broadcast side, but the broadcasters are digging a tunnel to the digital media side. And while a bridge built from one side is likely to fall down, a tunnell will bore it’s way to the end and start functioning whether the other side wants it or not. TV and film producers are quickly learning that the internet is an excellent marketing tool and are working on ways of leveraging this technology to theri advantage. On the other side, the digital media community feels it has content that should be presented on an equal level with the broadcasters and they are trying to push this content into the classic broadcasting channels. The problem is that once you move into the realm of public broadcasting, a whole mess of legal and financial problems arise: Who owns the content? Who made the content? Who has the rights to distribution? How do we pay the producers? Who is responsible if it turns out the content is illegal in some way? These are issues that are largely ignored by the digital media community because it is based on a somewhat anarchistic approach to content ownership (i.e. once it’s on the web it’s free). Broadcasters on the other hand have to make sure proper ownership is in place and that all the rights are where they should be. Otherwise they lose their licence. Unfortunately many people in the digital media community don’t understand (or choose to ignore) why this is so. But as a content creator I can tell you that when you find material you created on someone else’s web site, and you realize that not only do they earn money from it but they pass it off as their own, you feel creatively raped. So until the digital media community bring a more open attitude to the concept of rights and ownership, the broadcast side will be very reluctant to work with them.

At the same time there needs to be a softening of the firm and archaic guidelines that govern the broadcast side. For the most part, the systems in place both for television and films were created way before the web was even given a name. They are cumbersome, full of red tape and based on an attitude that only “proper” broadcasters can make broadcast content. That’s just not the case any more and the broadcasters just have to accept the fact that they are no longer the only roosters in the hen house. But that doesn’t mean that hot chicks farting is worth broadcasting, no matter how popular their videos are on YouTube. That brings me to my final point:

1,000,000 views don’t make you Stephen Spielberg

The fact that your video is popular on YouTube doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth broadcasting. In fact, many of the most popular videos on YouTube are such trash that they should never be broadcast. And others are blatant misinformation that has no place in the media realm. If you exclude funamenalist states like Iran, China and even the US, most countries have very strict guide lines for media outlets when it comes to balanced coverage. The internet has no such rules and as a result anyone can publish anything and present it as true. It’s a running joke that people who quote the internet need to check their sources, but it’s pretty evident that it’s not something we should laugh at. People, organizations and even governments with an agenda can use the internet indiscriminately to misinform and even blatantly lie to their audience with no reprisals. And because of clever marketing strategies and viral distribution, much of this content becomes so prolific people start believing it. Some of the best examples can be found on YouTube if you search for “global warming”. A public broadcaster would never be allowed to air much of this content because it is based on half truths and whole lies. And it’s often very difficult to tell if content produced is factual, rubbish or even part of some evil ploy. So if a broadcaster is going to get involved, these things need to be checked and re-checked and re-checked again to ensure balance and factuality. What stunns me is that many people on the digital media side don’t see such misinformation as a problem or even think exclusion of such content is equivalent to cencorship. I agree that all sides of any story have a right to be told, but when large corporations or organizations use substantial funds to deliberately misinform the public through lies and manufactured evidence we have a serious problem on our hands.

This is one of the reasons why when a digital media content producer approaches a broadcaster about distribution of her content, the broadcaster is rather reluctant to even talk to her. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just explaining it.

So should we just tear down the bridge then?

I guess I sound pretty pessimistic about the whole thing. I’m not. I just want to get all the facts out and make people understand that the fundamental problem here lies in the lack of a common language. The analogy of a bridge is actually a very good one, but it should be thought of more like a bridge over the Gibraltar strait than a bridge over the Nanaimo river. It might seem like the digital media community and the broadcasters are standing on the same land mass and speak the same language, but in reality they are entirely different countries with different languages, customs and rules. What’s need more than anything is an interpreter or a common language we can all work from. As long as the two sides think they are on the same plane, nothing will change. They need to understand that they don’t see things the same way and that to communicate they need to find a common vantage point somewhere in the middle.

All that said, I applaud the effort and look forward to Bridging Media 2.0.

Finally, for all the Expression people who by this time must surely have stopped reading: This is relevant to you because at some point in the near future, one of your clients is going to ask you how they can put a video online and get it featured on a TV show. Now you know why it’s not as simple as putting it on YouTube (and that you’re not the only one confused about why it’s so hard).

8 thoughts on “Bridging Media – Some thougts

  1. Morten, I don’t think you sound pessimistic, I think you ask all the right questions and make valid points. This is is an excellent review of the event. Spot on.

  2. Hi Morten,

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts here. Well written! You hit some points that I have been discussing with some other broadcasting folk that were at the event this past week, including the fact that the revenue model for both Sanctuary and Quarter Life were to both get picked up as regular series rather than remain as web-based shows. In the case of Sanctuary, with the visual effects involved it would be very difficult to finance at this stage on the web.

    I whole heartedly agree with your point on the different languages that our two industries speak – as Meg and I were building we ran into this realization on a number of occasions. It is also a realization that I came to just now in reading your blog and leads into a few points that I feel I need to shed some light on.

    1) The broadcast community includes filmmakers, writers, actors, directors, producers, camera men ….etc and yes, the commissioning editor (or “broadcaster” in the strictest sense of the word). Similarly the digital media community represents a wide variety of skill sets including social media experts, technology experts, bloggers, marketers ..etc. What Meg and I are intending to do here is bridge the broadcast community with the digital media community, not the “broadcaster” with the digital media community, although certainly “the broadcaster” (aka commissioning editor) is one of the people that we aim to attract to these events. Proportionately, we actually attracted a decent representation of commissioning editors to this first bridging media event, especially since in Canada most of the commissioning editors are based in Toronto. We certainly hope to see this group grow in number as we build. Overall, there were 66 people registered for the event representing the “broadcast community”, 63 from the digital community, and a few educators and others who were there out of curiosity. Certainly from both the broadcast and the digital communities, there were those of us that bridged both communities as well.

    2) I was told at the end of the event by one of the broadcast decision makers that they are looking to us,the filmmakers and digital media experts for the lead on how best to approach and deliver multi-platform projects. We are the decision makers.

    3) You suggest that the bridge is being built from the technology side alone. I, myself, come from the broadcast community originally, as do my fellow organizers – Carol Sill and Monica Hamburg. I personally feel that as broadcasters we have not learnt how to properly utilize multi-platforms, due to not having a clear understanding of how this marketplace works, having difficulty in identifying the people with whom to seek advice from in the digital media community, and treating that platform as a quick, dirty and cheap after thought to our projects. To use your tunnel analogy. We may have been building a tunnel, but we did not put the proper foundations in place and it is caving in.

    Personally, I don’t feel that digital media is the death of traditional media, but I do feel that broadcast and digital media need to work together to build the future of media (which I believe will be multi-platform). Together we can create much stronger projects by building, learning and problem solving with one another, as opposed to separately. This goes back to the whole idea of not needing to reinvent everything ourselves, but utilizing the tools that have already been built.

    4) I am glad you brought up the issue of copyright and legalities. These are issues that we wish to address in future events.

    Once again really appreciate your taking the time to write down your insights from the day and greatly enjoyed reading them.

    I certainly hope to see you at future events as your thoughts are sure to stimulate more discussion, which is exactly what we need in order to learn each others languages and find our own ground for communicating and building.

    Erica

  3. Erica: I realize my stream-of-consciousness way of writing is not ideal for communication and I see now I didn’t really get my message across.

    I agree with you 100% in your definition of “broadcaster” as more than just THE broadcaster. You’ll note I put myself in that category, and I’m a TD. My point was that people who produce content for broadcast rather than web approach the actual content production in a completely different way. This is because broadcasters are content producers while online content producers are somewhat different. This makes more sense with an example:

    I was approached last night by a guy who wants to hire me to make motion graphics for a show they are packaging for HGTV. The pilot has a budget of $50,000 and is set to be completed in three weeks. It’s a magazine-style show and each 25 minute episode features 3 segments with different topics. The show is formatted for TV and built on the premise of keeping the viewer interested throughout by building anticipation before the commercial breaks and so on. The main focus of the show is for it to be entertaining.

    In contrast, I was approached a week ago to help produce an online video magazine with much the same type of content. This show had a $5,000 budget for the whole year (three episodes per week). Each episode can be no longer than 6 minutes and the format is directed toward the impatient internet audience so it’s an upside-down pyramid with all the interesting stuff right off the bat to keep the viewer stuck to the screen for as long as possible. The main focus of the show is for it to be educational.

    There are two important distinctions here: The first one is that shows formatted for broadcast are structured differently from those formatted for the internet because the viewing audiences are vastly different in their viewing habits. A TV viewer is far less likely to change channels than an internet viewer is to click on a button and leave the video. The second distinction is that what works content wise on TV differs from what works on the web. While TV bases itself mainly on pure entertainment, the most persistently successful videos on the web are how-to or educational (though funny) videos. AskANinja and TikiBarTV are good examples of this and MetaCafe pretty much bases it’s existence on how-to content.

    These two distinctions are at the forefront of the “conflict” between the two media, and they are very hard to overcome because they have to do with the end user rather than the content creator. Which is why many broadcast outlets are starting to make content targeted specifically at the web audience and released only on the web. This content is vastly different from the broadcast content and much of it would never fly on TV at all.

    There was one point I completely forgot to mention in my original article: Broadcast outlets have extremely high and stringent standards for what is put on the airwaves. While you can get away with grainy, murky, blurry and badly shot video with inexcusably bad audio on the web, once it’s on TV the viewer expects it to be immaculate. And when it’s not, they complain. To the broadcast outlet. Anyone who has made a movie or worked in TV production will know that getting the content up to this standard is a pain and requires a lot of know-how and expensive equipment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to explain to people why a graphic meant for TV can never be hard white or hard red and why your lines have to be at least 2 pixels wide if they are horizontal or vertical. These are problems web producers have no knowledge of that become huge issues once you try to migrate things to TV. I’ve worked on a couple of projects where we had to re-package the entire show to get it on the air because the graphics were designed by someone with zero TV experience and didn’t comply with even the most basic standards. Much of the blame for these problems must be taken by the so-called “democratization” of media because people think that if they can make something that looks decent on the web, there is no reason why it shouldn’t look good on TV as well. That’s just not the case. TV and film production is a science that has to be learned. Simply picking up a camera and shooting isn’t going to cut it.

    Man, I sound like such a grouch. I’m not really negative, I just want to make sure people understand that these problems are far more complicated than they seem.

  4. Broadcasters come from a mindset of scarcity. On the web (now that the bandwidth huggers worried about gif files bigger than 20k have thankfully faded into obscurity) we no longer have this mindset. When something is scarce, it is “managed”. Thus, we have issues of controlling content and judging which content is “acceptable” for broadcast.

    I don’t believe one can accurately say that today the audiences for tv and web are different. The reality is, the same person watches tv one minute and the web the next, sometimes even doing both at the same time. In fact, it is entirely conceivable that you could watch the same content live on tv and live via streaming video on a laptop while sitting in front of the tv. It is just a conceivable that the broadcaster could point their live camera at their own laptop and send the live streaming video on the laptop screen to the broadcast audience. So the broadcaster’s rather elitist view that they must be picky about the content is becoming a weaker argument by the minute.

    The audience seems quite accepting of poor reproduction quality and tolerant of a wide range of quality from poor to HD. Scratchy video and audio, formerly verboten on tv, are now seen frequently, especially as news shows pick up security camera and amateur news video clips.

    True, there are valid issues with respect to technical excellence and I do not mean to reject or minimize them.

    Though I don’t like the closed model of Flash, I think it is a terrific medium and find it to be a good bridging technology between film, video and web.

  5. Outtanames999: I agree with you that quality is no longer such a big issue, but it plays second fiddle to the real issue: Legal rights. Although a broadcast outlet can push out the worst quality audio and video possible if they want to, they are still bound by very strict limitations when it comes to ownership and content. These issues are largely ignored in the digital realm. To truly bridge the two media, that hurdle (which is a mighty big one) needs to be removed or circumvented, and simply ignoring it like most of digital media does is not an option.

  6. Good points about the legal issues. I’ve commented on some of them on Mark Cuban’s Blog Maverick site regarding You Tube and the Viacom ruling.

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