How downloads will save TV

So, I’ve been ranting about the iTunes downloads killing off TV for a while. I’ve not been arguing that TV content will die out, but rather that the way they are funded will change and with it the nature of TV programming and content.

Ivan Askwith from MIT has put forward the details of this argument far better than I:

The most enticing possibility, though, is that on-demand television will allow audiences to take an active role in programming the networks. We’ve seen several examples of fans banding together to save their favorite programs in the past few years. Fox put Family Guy back into production on the strength of high DVD sales, NBC released Freaks and Geeks on DVD after getting bombarded with petitions, and a fan-organized campaign to resurrect Firefly resulted in last month’s big-screen release of Serenity.

Direct downloads will give fans of endangered shows the chance to vote with their wallets while a show is still on the air. And when a program does go off the air, direct payments from fans might provide enough revenue to keep it in production as an online-only venture. If we assume that the average hour-long drama costs $1.5 million per episode and downloads will cost around $2 per viewer, shows would only need a few million viewers to turn a small profit. Would a few million viewers pay $2 a week to download an hour of television? It’s certainly not impossible. In the past month, viewers have shelled out more than $30 million for two hours of Serenity. And even if viewers aren’t prepared to pay $2 per show, there’s nothing to stop the networks from offering free downloads with embedded advertising (which could be far better targeted than the ads networks currently show).

The interesting thing here is the relationship Ivan sets up between the networks on-air versions and then the continued life off-air. I suspect this might turn around the other way. It’s pretty common for TV to pick up on other media outlets (radio is one the most common for comedy) and then harvest the popularity and turn it into a TV show. We’ve seen it plenty of times with cable/access shows too, so I imagine TV might become even more of a repository for things that have been around for a while going broadcast, rather than the place where content is originated.

Via the MIT Arts and Science Blog.

New Hulger phones.

Hulger PIP phone

Although I’m one of those Bluetooth headset jerks (I use it in the car, okay?) I’m very excited about the new Hulger’s from my friend Nic. There’s a Bluetooth version of them too, but I like the curly cable. The Pip, above, reminds me of the phones my Dad used to have in his office in the 80s.

American border police overzealous

I’ve just been reading Hossein Derakhshan’s (aka Hoder) account of being stopped at the border in Toronto about to go back to New York. It’s pretty depressing reading of an overzealous immigration officer Googling his name and decided to bar him on what sounds like pretty illegitimate grounds.

I had an equally depressing (though not so distressing) experience going through U.S. Customs on my way to Canada recently. I had to fly via Hawaii from Australia and this forced me to go through U.S. Customs. They appear to have no conception of the idea of passengers in transit, so you have to go through the entire rigmarole of having my fingerprints scanned and my picture taken. All for a country I didn’t even want to visit at that time.

It was pretty appalling on the way back too, the Customs guy couldn’t have been more bored out of his mind, slouched at his desk and waving his hand at me saying, “so, where ‘ya been, whatcha doing, where ‘ya goin'” before forgetting to give me my stamp so I got stopped and turned back later down the track. I can understand my fellow delegates that I met in Banff who were from the U.S. feeling like they needed to escape.

Popular opinion around the world is that Americans are stupid. This may be true of some sections of American society, but it has also attracted some of the brightest minds in the world over the past. But it is easy to imagine an enormous brain-drain as the political climate continues its decline.

More TV vs Internet debate with Ian Methods

A friend of mine, who works for one of the major Pay TV networks, mailed me a comment as I had inadvertently turned off comments when I moved to WordPress. He writes:

On the I-pod / Disney thing, and nails in coffins, not sure I follow (but then again, must confess I read in somewhat of a rush). The only way a show can become a successful traveller to other forms of distribution is if it’s already a hit on the the US network it’s produced for, so you could say it makes the network even more powerful. The caveat is that it is possible it’ll affect international sales values and secondary US sales, since portability and e-distribution (regardless of whether territory-filtering technology is employed on the downloads) will mean that viewers overseas will have avenues open to them to watch content before it hits their own channels. Lost is sold in 183 territories, by the way.

As an aside, there may more behind the Disney/Apple deal than you think. Pixar is a Steve Jobs company and it said it would no longer distribute its movies through Disney recently. By giving up the BVI content to Apple to help them sell video i-pods, you could say that it would make Pixar feel a little warmer towards Disney than before. This speculation is doing the rounds.

Now, I’m sure there is something more to the Disney/Apple/Pixar deal, but the main point is in the first part of the comment – the idea that a show can only move to other forms of distribution once it has been a hit on a major network. It is exactly this thinking that is being turned on its head with Mark Pesce’s thoughts on BitTorrents and Chris Anderson’s Long Tail theory. The assumptions here are A) That the networks are the sole repository for large audiences and B) That something needs to be a “hit” in order to travel.

Pesce argues exactly the opposite for networks (indeed this is the problem they face), namely that peer-to-peer systems mean large audiences without the need for a network aggregating them. The Long Tail suggests that you don’t actually need a “hit” in order to make a great deal of money. Networks are conduits and audience aggregators and both of these roles are fulfilled by the peer-to-peer downloads and peer recommendation models. But they also commission content, or at least pay for a percentage of its creation. That’s the main thrust of Pesce’s line of thought, that this is a problem with the economic model and one that is going to change. Other financial models already exist and more alternatives will be found.

Put simply, there is already a large audience for “unsigned” as well as commercial content, it’s just that a lot of the time they don’t pay for the content. Viral campaigns and the blogosphere are clear indicators that large numbers of people can be reached. So the dilemma for the networks is this: find a way to make people pay a small amount for the content easily or watch your sales bleed away as people download it illegally for free. iTunes and the like get close to a decent version of this (although I still reckon it’s over-priced here in Australia). It is likely to continue to change the way we see TV and advertising as Paul mentions here as well as on Tapeitofftheinternet.

ACUADS paper – The Future has already Happened: Dispelling some Myths of Online Education

Recently the Australian Council of University Art & Design Schools finally published the papers from the 2004 ACUADS conference in Canberra.

My paper, co-written with Rick Bennett and Leong Chan, The Future has already Happened: Dispelling some Myths of Online Education, is now available for download from the ACUADS site. Here is the abstract:

As funding for higher education continues to shrink, student numbers steadily increase and international alliances become significantly important, online delivery is often heralded as the ‘direction of the future’ for learning and teaching. However, deep rooted and negative opinions regarding the online learning experience and concerns that technology will replace the teacher accompany the new pedagogical setting.

By paying careful attention to the alignment of course content, learning activities, assessment and learning outcomes, online education experiences can be engaging and rewarding for both student and teacher. However, perceptions often remain negative towards online education, viewing it as simply a cost-saving measure leading to student isolation, inactive participation and absent teachers. This paper aims to outline some myths regarding online education and dispel them as misconceived.

Essentially it argues that many of the issues that sceptics of online teaching and learning have already been dealt with long ago. We all use e-mail and the Internet all the time in our professional capacities, yet there appears to be an institutional failure to appreciate their use in education. This also comes at a time when most of my students spend a great deal of their time online. The community that they have face-to-face at university continues into the virtual realm and, like me, they often run a parallel course (instant messaging each other whilst being in the same room or building).

If any of my students are reading, I would be very happy to hear some feedback in the comments.

New Omnium site – an online haven of collaboration

My friends and colleagues on the Omnium project have just launched their shiny new site. It is the outcome of over six years of work and research and they have now launched various versions of their software. Expect exciting developments and new projects along the lines of this year’s Creative Waves project. Also keep an eye of the Omnium Creative Network:

The OCN aims to attract multi-disciplinary interaction between students, educators, theorists and professionals within the visual arts and design. Although the OCN will be facilitated by the Omnium team, it is hoped members of the ‘Network’ will also generate much of its direction and discussions that take place.

I hope to be continue to play a part in this as the very first project in 1999 was one of my first contacts with COFA and Rick Bennett. Oh yes, you can check out my ugly mug there too.

Snaps for my students

Nice to see one of my students, Tim Rudder getting some interest on Tween for the music clip, Alicia, he’s just finished for his final year project with Toby Pike. Simple idea well executed.

I’m ploughing through all the final year work at the moment and there is some good stuff there (amongst a few too many “my first 3D walk-cycle project” clips). As usual I’m very proud of the level of work coming out of the Bachelor of Digital Media course here at COFA. If you are looking for some freshly graduating talent, let me know.

Whilst you’re at it, check out the upcoming Ninjaman game. The version on the site at the moment is from earlier in the year. Version two is coming soon and is excellent. Created by Adam Searle, Johnny Le and Jason Chow.