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Saturday 17 March 2012

Transmission Vamp conference - Media City, Salford

I was speaking in Salford last week at an event called Transmission Vamp which was about digital and the arts with a particular focus on video and broadcast. It was an interesting event as alongside myself, Jane Burton from the Tate, Marisa Draper from Cornerhouse and Alistair Hudson from Grizedale Arts, Susannah Simons from the BBC and Tabitha Jackson from Channel 4 were there to talk about the future of broadcast and the commissioning of arts programming.

Over the past 6 or 7 years the worlds of online video and broadcasting have been slowly converging. Though perhaps converging is not the right word as it implies movement from both sides. In reality television was slow to appreciate the move online and often there has been a resistance to change that was inevitable. Susannah was speaking about The Space, the new Arts Council/BBC initiative to create an online pop up arts channel while Tabitha focused on Channel 4's short form arts series, Random Acts. What is significant about both of these projects is the fact that they are really online projects and have little in common with the type of long form arts programming we have traditionally seen from the BBC or Channel 4.

As more and more arts organisations start to create video content of increasing sophistication, and as on-demand grows in significance for broadcasters the boundaries are being blurred between the roles traditionally played by arts organisation (subject), production company (producer) and broadcaster (commissioner).

One of the main  aims of The Space is to turn arts organisations into producers and creators of content. They come up with the idea, and if they want, make the film, edit it and upload it. Whatever is proven by creating a new platform and aggregating arts content the question going forward will be can arts organisations create meaningful digital arts content on limited budgets? Behind the scenes docs, almost certainly but performance films will continue to be a challenge. And if you do, will people be happy to watch recordings of live performances? There is an emphasis within The Space on avoiding straightforward capture which is as it should be.

Tabitha spoke about her thinking behind Random Acts. This series of short films have been shown on Channel 4 but the inspiration came from short form videos of the type seen on YouTube. This is a culture shift as broadcasters have traditionally thought in terms of 30 minute or 1 hour slots. They have also assumed broadcast was the significant element in any commission and online views were an added bonus. Online the Random Acts films have generated over 900,000 views. These are large numbers for arts content.

Interestingly, even though online video often gets criticised as being dumbed down and shallow it may be a real savior for intelligent arts programming. While there is plenty of short form cat video online also allows room for the "big explainer", the real expert and the type of in-depth deep content that may only be watched by a niche audience but will always be significant and find viewers now, next year and in 20 years time. Certainly if I am ever going to create a 12 part history of European contemporary dance I should start by planning to produce it for online rather than hope for a commission from BBC4.

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