Saturday, December 11, 2010

'The Barbarian Hordes Storm the Walls' by Mark Pesce (from Future Present)

Mark Pesce - Words.
CHU - Images.
Steve 'Fly Agaric'' - Mixing

Unevenly Distributed:

Production Models for the 21st Century


II. The Barbarian Hordes Storm the Walls

Without any doubt the most outstanding success of the
second phase of the Web (known colloquially as “Web 2.0”) is
the video-sharing site YouTube. Founded in early 2005, as of
yesterday YouTube was the third most visited site on the
entire Web, led only by Yahoo! and YouTube’s parent, Google.
There are a lot of videos on YouTube. I’m not sure if anyone
knows quite how many, but they easily number in the tens of
millions, quite likely approaching a hundred million. Another
hundred thousand videos are uploaded each day; YouTube
grows by three million videos a month. That’s a lot of video,
difficult even to contemplate. But an understanding of
YouTube is essential for anyone in the film and television
industries in the 21st century, because, in the most pure,
absolute sense, YouTube is your competitor.

Let me unroll that statement a bit, because I don’t wish it to
be taken as simply as it sounds. It’s not that YouTube is
competing with you for dollars – it isn’t, at least not yet – but
rather, it is competing for attention. Attention is the limiting
factor for the audience; we are cashed up but time-poor. Yet,
even as we’ve become so time-poor, the number of options for
how we can spend that time entertaining ourselves has grown
so grotesquely large as to be almost unfathomable. This is the
real lesson of YouTube, the one I want you to consider in your
deliberations today. In just the past three years we have gone
from an essential scarcity of filmic media – presented through
limited and highly regulated distribution channels – to a
hyperabundance of viewing options.

This hyperabundance of choices, it was supposed until
recently, would lead to a sort of “decision paralysis,” whereby
the viewer would be so overwhelmed by the number of
choices on offer that they would simply run back, terrified, to
the highly regularized offerings of the old-school distribution
channels. This has not happened; in fact, the opposite has
occured: the audience is fragmenting, breaking up into eversmaller
“microaudiences”. It is these microaudiences that
YouTube speaks directly to. The language of microaudiences
is YouTube’s native tongue.

In order to illustrate the transformation that has completely
overtaken us, let’s consider a hypothetical fifteen year-old
boy, home after a day at school. He is multi-tasking: texting
his friends, posting messages on Bebo, chatting away on IM,
surfing the web, doing a bit of homework, and probably
taking in some entertainment. That might be coming from a
television, somewhere in the background, or it might be
coming from the Web browser right in front of him.
(Actually, it’s probably both simultaneously.) This teenager
has a limited suite of selections available on the telly – even
with satellite or cable, there won’t be more than a few
hundred choices on offer, and he’s probably settled for
something that, while not incredibly satisfying, is good
enough to play in the background.

Meanwhile, on his laptop, he’s viewing a whole series of
YouTube videos that he’s received from his friends; they’ve
found these videos in their own wanderings, and immediately
forwarded them along, knowing that he’ll enjoy them. He
views them, and laughs, he forwards them along to other
friends, who will laugh, and forward them along to other
friends, and so on. Sharing is an essential quality of all of the
media this fifteen year-old has ever known. In his eyes, if it
can’t be shared, a piece of media loses most of its value. If it
can’t be forwarded along, it’s broken.

For this fifteen year-old, the concept of a broadcast network
no longer exists. Television programmes might be watched as
they’re broadcast through the airwaves, but more likely
they’re spooled off of a digital video recorder, or downloaded
from the torrent and watched where and when he chooses.

The broadcast network has been replaced by the social
network of his friends, all of whom are constantly sharing the
newest, coolest things with one another. The current hot item
might be something that was created at great expense for a
mass audience, but the relationship between a hot piece of
media and its meaningfulness for a microaudience is purely
coincidental. All the marketing dollars in the world can foster
some brand awareness, but no amount of money will inspire
that fifteen year old to forward something along – because his
social standing hangs in the balance. If he passes along
something lame, he’ll lose social standing with his peers. This
factors into every decision he makes, from the brand of
runners he wears, to the television series he chooses to watch.
Because of the hyperabundance of media – something he
takes as a given, not as an incredibly recent development – all
of his media decisions are weighed against the values and
tastes of his social network, rather than against a scarcity of

This means that the true value of media in the 21st century is
entirely personal, and based upon the salience, that is, the
importance, of that media to the individual and that
individual’s social network. The mass market, with its
enforced scarcity, simply does not enter into his calculations.
Yes, he might go to the theatre to see Transformers with his
mates; but he’s just as likely to download a copy recorded in
the movie theatre with an illegally smuggled-in camera that
was uploaded to the Pirate Bay a few hours after its release.

That’s today. Now let’s project ourselves five years into the
future. YouTube is still around, but now it has more than two
hundred million videos (probably much more), all available,
all the time, from short-form to full-length features, many of
which are now available in high-definition. There’s so much
“there” there that it is inconceivable that conventional media
distribution mechanisms of exhibition and broadcast could
compete. For this twenty year-old, every decision to spend
some of his increasingly-valuable attention watching
anything is measured against salience: “How important is
this for me, right now?” When you weigh the latest episode of
a TV series against some newly-made video that is meant only
to appeal to a few thousand people – such as himself – that
video will win, every time. It more completely satisfies him.

As the number of videos on offer through YouTube and its
competitors continues to grow, the number of salient choices
grows ever larger. His social network, communicating now
through FaceBook and MySpace and next-generation mobile
handsets and iPods and goodness-knows-what-else is
constantly delivering an ever-growing and increasinglyrelevant
suite of media options. He, as a vital node within his
social network, is doing his best to give as good as he gets.
His reputation depends on being “on the tip.”

When the barriers to media distribution collapsed in the post-
Napster era, the exhibitors and broadcasters lost control of
distribution. What no one had expected was that the
professional producers would lose control of production. The
difference between an amateur and a professional – in the
media industries – has always centered on the point that the
professional sells their work into distribution, while the
amateur uses wits and will to self-distribute. Now that selfdistribution
is more effective than professional distribution,
how do we distinguish between the professional and the
amateur? This twenty year-old doesn’t know, and doesn’t

There is no conceivable way that the current systems of film
and television production and distribution can survive in this
environment. This is an uncomfortable truth, but it is the
only truth on offer this morning. I’ve come to this conclusion
slowly, because it seems to spell the death of a hundred yearold
industry with many, many creative professionals. In this
environment, television is already rediscovering its roots as a
live medium, increasingly focusing on news, sport and “event”
based programming, such as Pop Idol, where being there live
is the essence of the experience. Broadcasting is uniquely
designed to support the efficient distribution of live
programming. Hollywood will continue to churn out
blockbuster after blockbuster, seeking a warmed-over middle
ground of thrills and chills which ensures that global receipts
will cover the ever-increasing production costs. In this form,
both industries will continue for some years to come, and will
probably continue to generate nice profits. But the audience’s
attentions have turned elsewhere. They’re not returning.

This future almost completely excludes “independent”
production, a vague term which basically means any
production which takes place outside of the media
megacorporations (News Corp, Disney, Sony, Universal and
TimeWarner), which increasingly dominate the mass media
landscape. Outside of their corporate embrace, finding an
audience sufficient to cover production and marketing costs
has become increasingly difficult. Film and television have
long been losing economic propositions (except for the most
lucky), but they’re now becoming financially suicidal.
National and regional funding bodies are growing
increasingly intolerant of funding productions which can not
find an audience; soon enough that pipeline will be cut off,
despite the damage to national cultures. Australia funds the
Film Finance Corporation and the Australian Film Council to
the tune of a hundred million dollars a year, to ensure that
Australian stories are told by Australian voices; but
Australians don’t go to see them in the theatres, and don’t buy
them on DVD.

The center can not hold. Instead, YouTube, which founder
Steve Chen insists has “no gold standard” of production
values, is rapidly becoming the vehicle for independent
productions; productions which cost not millions of euros,
but hundreds, and which make up for their low production
values in salience and in overwhelming numbers. This
tsunami of content can not be stopped or even slowed down;
it has nothing to do with piracy (only nine percent of the
videos viewed on YouTube are violations of copyright) but
reflects the natural accommodation of the audience to an era
of media hyperabundance.

What then, is to be done?

Sodtherich by CHU
Sodtherich by CHU     

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