open the past, create the future

massive media – etech

Speech delivered at Emerging Technology Conference 2005

Thank you.

I am going to take you through a quick tour of the world of broadcasters and large content creators, in particular the organisation that I work for, the BBC. The idea today is to look at what media organisations like the BBC are doing in response to a dawning possibility that they are becoming simply (and go with me on this little linguistic journey) they are becoming simply the <click> Massive Media in a world where everyone is potentially a broadcaster, where everyone is creating content for mass consumption, indeed a world where there are signs that mass media is now truly mass media, created by the masses for the masses.

Quickly slipping away are the days when Massive Media controlled the what, when, where and how their audience experienced media. Audiences are either acquiring media under there own terms, or even more frightening for the large organisations, turning to other suppliers – suppliers that are on the network – the emerging true mass media network.

In other words, rather than broadcasting to a passive audience with few alternatives, Massive Media are starting to understand that they are potentially broadcasting to a very active, very large network, a network that is rapidly becoming adept at self-commissioning – and it is this mass media network that is increasingly deciding the what, when, where and how.

We hear a great deal about how audiences, consumers, customers are becoming the media, the prosumers, the creators and in doing so they are creating this alternative, truly mass media. I thought it might be fun to look at how the traditional providers of media for the masses, those I am now calling Massive Media are grappling with a future in which they compete with their audience for attention and for key real estate on the Street.

I think it is fair to say that for many massive media organisations they see such a competition as being heavily weighed in their favour – Massive Media, almost be definition will surely prevail – and yet each time Jimmy Wales announces that wikipedia has trounced another massive media org – yesterday it was the New York Times – ripples of doubt are created in the broadcasting citadels and not everyone in Massive Media is so confident they will prevail by default –

Last year I was fortunate enough to hear Joi Ito give a keynote on the future of content at MipTV to an audience of international TV execs. Amongst other things he talked about DRM, during which he very quietly announced – “You will succeed – you will convince your audiences that they are not to use your content”

This caused a little ripple – but you could see the audience were still caught up in the “you will win” part. So you can imagine their dismay when Patrick Kennedy, Executive Vice President for Sony Pictures Digital Network, stood up and told them “get your stuff out to younger audiences any way you can because they aren’t learning about your brand through the traditional channels – worry about the business model later”. This is not the talk of an organisation comfortable in its prevailingness.

Similarly, the BBC faces changes in audience behaviour particularly with television viewing. A few years ago it shifted the 9 o’clock news to 10 o’clock – audiences were not getting home until later, they had busy lives after work and simply weren’t making it to the tv in time. Then there were the difficult audience years, mid teens through to early 20s had always been a concern however this was tempered by the knowledge that they always came back to the BBC before they were 30 – suddenly this didn’t seem to be quite as guaranteed as it once was – the difficult years were getting longer.

Of course, they are doing other things, playing games, talking to each other, organising and maintaining their increasingly sophisticated content worlds not to mention the myriad of new communication and communities they now engaged in.

So how is Massive Media responding – well I think even the more enlightened organisations have their good days and their bad days.

On their bad days…they they do things like this. <click>

Three weeks ago a pre-transmission cut of the first episode of the new series of Dr Who “escaped” and within days was the talk of the legions of fans around the world. Like all good fans, especially computer literate, sci-fi fans they had a lot to say about what they saw – especially the titles you can see – they were in turn prolifically offended, ecstatic, saddened, delighted indeed the whole gammit – of course the shame is that much of this great feedback, indeed this great free audience insight and creativity is locked up behind registered online communities and it is not really surprising when the broadcaster responds with this – <click>, <click>.

Contrast this with the distribution and marketing strategy of the new series of Battlestar Galactica –
They allow their fans to watch the first episode of Battlestar Galactica online, commercial free and uncut – sounds kinda like a pre-transmission cut doesn’t it? <click> On top of that they also provide extras for download – like a pre-released MP3 format or podcast format of the directors commentary that runs in tandem with the next broadcast episode. In other words they are taking the first steps to joining their fans network – taking a tentative place next to their audience rather than above it.

Of course, on their good days, Massive Media have glorious epiphanies and they do things like this…

release a computer – <click>

Yes in 1982, the BBC, in conjunction with Acorn, released a personal computer onto the market. It was designed to a very high specification and represented the cutting edge of personal computers.

Around 1 Million BBC Micros – as they were known – were sold before the BBC withdrew from the market unclear as to the success or failure of the undertaking.

In retrospect however, we now recognise that far from a failure, the BBC Micro was actually part of the toolkit with which our audiences took their first creative steps into the digital age.

The BBC facilitated this creativity by ensuring that the Micro was Open – open at every level. Users could and were encouraged to hack the hardware, hack the software, create their own applications, create their own solutions, create their own uses, and some of them chose to create their own games. This was an important part of the success story that is now the British Games industry, exceeded in net worth only by Japan and the US.

20 years later and the BBC realises that while computers were in hindsight a successful venture, it has something far closer to it’s domain of expertise, something that could help the BBC take its first steps into a creative relationship with its audiences, something that could ensure it a place on the network,

it has –

<click>600,000 hours of archival video
<click>68 years of continuous viewing

it also has
<click>more than .5 million audio recordings.

Better than that, the BBC had the sense to realise that this represented an opportunity to apply some of the learning from the BBC micro experience

and even better than that…on a really really good day for massive media, the BBC committed to a global audience that it was going to do the…

<click>Creative Archive

A BBC led public service initiative to digitise and distribute its audio and video archive in such a way that it allowed audiences to download, watch, listen and critically, RE-USE, RE-MIX the content in their own creative endeavours…and share the results – with the network, the new mass media network.

In other words, we want our audiences to <click> rip, mix and share their BBC. We want the BBC to be part of our audiences creative process, we want the cultural heritage, the history of ideas and expression that is the BBC archive to become part of the foundation on which our audiences can build – and in doing so we think we will provide the fuel for a truly creative nation, for a truly creative mass media.

(I love that slide).

How are we going to do this…

First of all we are going to apply the Micro mantra of openness – <click> The Director General of the BBC said last year – “Digital exclusion is a form of social waste. This is why the BBC will always be on the side of universal provision, open access and unencryption.”

<click>So there won’t be any DRM wrapped around Creative Archive content.

<click>Secondly we are using a licencing framework heavily inspired by Creative Commons non-commercial, attribution, share-alike licences with our own unique twist, UK only.

<click>Thirdly – we are going to take this slowly – we are going to be joining the ranks of the long time beta products – with a pilot of at least 18 months starting this year and some long digitisation years ahead of us we will be drip feeding for some time to come.

<click>Fourthly we are hoping that our audiences will become our distribution partners using p2p distribution technologies – by the way, this may not be in place when we launch but please be assured that it is definitely part of the mid to long term plans.

<click>Fifth – we are also hoping that our audiences will become our metadata partners by allowing them to annotate in ways that make sense to them and their communities of interest – again, this is one of those slightly longer term plans.

I am always tempted to leave it there…on a nice up beat tone…but there are a couple of issues –

<click>You might have noticed the apparent inconsistancy with the UK only provision in the licence and the mantra of openness – we are working on this within the organisation – it is strangely a huge shift for the BBC to think of itself as being part of a global network.

<click>Finally, It is no secret that the BBC does not own the rights to all the content in the archive. Indeed, rights ownership in BBC archival material is a very complex and rich ecosystem. All I will say on this point is that in order for the Creative Archive to succeed we have to find a way to honour and inspire existing rightsholders in a way that ensures that the dusty warehouse is transformed and available to inspire the next generation of creators.

<click>The coolest thing about the mass media network is the degree to which we all now get to see individuals creativity made manifest – out of the toolshed comes the perfect process for drilling holes that Saul Griffiths’ iFabricate seeks to capture and share, out of shoeboxes comes the incredible outpouring of creativity that flickr has enabled – imagine if we can successfully coax Massive Media down from their broadcast towers to provide a massive body of creativity that inspires and fuels those same individuals.

Actually – coolest, that future, can’t imagine, stuff, happen

thank you.


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