X Media | Lab | Conference Wednesday 11 June 2003 - part 2
Back in the office we were on deadline, so I didn't get a chance to catch all the speakers at X Media | Lab | Conference, which was a shame because I only caught the closing remarks of the session in Platforms.
Steve Mack, from moody rock outfit That Petrol Emotion, nailed industry sentiments on digital media platforms when he said: 'Content drives adoption (of new platforms)'. According to Mack there are plenty of new wireless gadgets buzzing in the hands of early adopters, but 'they're all waiting for new content, from new ideas'.
As Executive Producer of New Programming and Special Events at Real Networks and author of The Streaming Media Bible, he's a coal-face authority on the size of the online and wireless audience for streaming media. Mack reminded conference goers that streaming media is a new mass medium, for a huge mainstream audience, yet half the audience looked puzzled. . .
Want further proof of the mainstream reach of streaming technology? Mack's company Smacktastic produced the Internet broadcast of U2's show live from Notre Dame in 2001 - award 'Top of the Net for 2001' by Yahoo Internet Magazine - as well as Netcasts of WOMAD, the New York Music Festival and the Tibetan Freedom Festival.
[You heard the man - the medium needs new content. Better content. Create some now.]
Next up was a man I once worked for, Creed Chris O'Hanlon, delivering a keynote that might be summarised like this: 'If you really want to gain the attention of your audience. . . leave them alone.'
[Of course, he fired a volley of other equally crazy ideas that had the audience laughing and snarling (sometimes simultaneously, in different cliques), but that was the main message that stuck once the shouting was over.]
OK. It would have been too easy to drop the 'leave your audience alone' line and walk off the stage; so what did the admitted 'Poster Boy of the Australian DotCom crash - and a pretty unappealing one at that' have to say about the state of digital media in our country, given he has spent most of the last half-decade overseas living in hotels?
Quite a lot. For starters, he mused that 'During the boom, our best creative talent was disillusioned. . . developing content became just a job. There's been an abject loss of ambition.' And he's right in saying the local industry needs to be reinvigorated / re-energised / and re-inspired. . . but how?
According to O'Hanlon, we should look to Asia for the kick up the cliche we're all so deserving. Indeed, early in his speech, he left an uncomfortable question hanging that drew blank and embarrassed faces from some people: 'Why are there no representatives from Japan, China and Korea at the X | Media | Lab?'
. . .And the Europeans and Americans in our midst smiled when he pointed out that Australia has the potential to be a major source of talent, but our traditional allegiance to Europe and the USA is misplaced:
'The USA's century-long global pop culture hegemony is limping to an end,' he declared, 'You can almost feel the static jolt of Japanese toys, anime and manga, Japanese and Korean video games, Chinese action films, East Asian dance music and the twisted fashion sense of youth in Tokyo, Shanghai and even New Delhi, converging in the cluttered synapses of the developed world's largest audience and reversing the century-long flow of disruptive memes from the West.
'Except for its remarkable filmmakers, Australia has always been a fairly passive partner in its cultural exchanges with the rest of the West. But now it has an opportunity to accept its geographically assigned place in the rise of an Eastern pop culture that's going to dominate this century just as emphatically as Western pop culture has dominated the last.
'It has the technological know-how, and an inclination to offbeat, eccentric creativity. Its youth are well educated, and, because of the unabashed multiculturalism of its major urban centres, not to mention an almost nomadic compulsion to travel, they have a better understanding of the cultural inflections of their neighbours than most Americans...
'... As it is, our children are the first to embrace, rather than be confronted by, the sometimes confounding ideas, trends and technology-driven stimuli of a century that already, unquestionably, belongs to Asia.'
About that 'leave your audiences alone' statement. Here's a bit of context from CCOH:
* The modern audience is voracious, consuming hours of media from different sources;
* Now days it's harder to reach the audience;
* We're all addicted to connectivity;
* The audience is burning out (CCOH: 'Notice I didn't say "declining");
* Design has dominated the media. We're offered an astounding array of colours, shapes and designs, yet our interest has been dulled;
* It's getting harder to maintain the high.
[I guess modern media, like other mind-altering things, has become over-produced/over-processed - it's too damn strong. We might consume it in short bites, but we're taking huge numbers of these bites. We want it, but we're not getting the buzz anymore; we're just getting fried.]
I was right about that thought on being 'fried'.
Product placements in films draw us away from the story. To the point where film is no longer about the narrative, according to O'Hanlon, instead: 'There is no art - there is only commerce.'
All kinds of media commentators, including some creators of mass media, have been puzzling the dilemma of the audience's 'information fatigue'.
O'Hanlon believes that in the attempt to gain more of our attention, program designers and producers are losing it. He placed big shares of the responsibility for this on a 'Trinity of Evils: MTV/CNN/the Web', and theorised that the demands of multiple messages and media are filling up an individual's cognitive bandwidth'.
There's the context. Now roll the message: 'Leave the audience alone to gain their attention.'
A great example of this technique is to let an audience discover a new show or experience itself. The games industry does this well, by 'leaking' new games into the hardcore gamer community, and allowing players to not only evangelise the new game's highpoints, but discover its errors too.
Peer-to-peer and other shared experiences might help new stars, new shows and new games grow into the mainstream. Or they mi