The Big Debate – live transcript

Please bear in mind that the following was typed as the event was happening. I’ve expanded any abbvs and even added the occasional bit of punctuation but otherwise it’s in a pretty raw state. To take or leave but I need to put this somewhere.

Introductions from Marc Reeves, Birmingham Post editor (pleased with the Birmingham Post’s increased online readership) and Paul Tandy, NEC Group (delivering a sales pitch for the ICC for some reason).

Rory Cellan-Jones (RCJ), Chair

A sense that we’re at a tipping point in our relationship with the online world.

This is liberating/empowering for creators and consumers but it could be a threat to what we cherish.

What is new? How far have we come in last 5 years? What do people and their audiences have that they didn’t. Is subversive creation just for a small, noisy clique.

Tim Berners-Lee didn’t want the web to be static, but is the interactive web just a blip? Will YouTube be bought up and constrained by corporates? What about blogs? Established players moving in to make use of it all – BBC, Birmingham Post.

Quantity rather than quality.

Better for musicians to cut teeth live rather than putting tracks on their myspace?

What about unrepresentative pressure groups with web-savvy? Can they get more attention than they should get?

Do we have to accept that we’ll lose privacy so we can be targeted for advertising more efficiently?

Dissident voice missing from the panel. Hoping audience can supply that.

Chris Cooke

Keen on feedback between company and consumer – that’s the exciting thing for him.

Wearing many hats today. He has 2 publications and a marketing company.

Young/outsiders have more power and easier access. He used to photocopy and distribute fanzines. Now, if you’ve got decent content you can take attention from the big players.

Platforms for showcasing self are free. Possible to build and communicate with fanbase as often as you like. Can show commissioners, record companies, etc that you already have a fanbase – less risk for them.


Maintaining online presence is time intensive. Also, giving content away for free is a huge temptation – at what point do you stop giving it away?

Everyone’s facing the same challenges. We’re at the start of the digital revolution in many ways.

Net has created a launchpad – then what? After getting recognition artists want/have to deal with the traditional systems. The next step will be to make success on the internet an end in itself.

Where’s the business model? How is maintaing the online presence sustainable?

Worry is that big boys will move in and sew it up. Remains optimistic that the little guys can still make a noise for themselves.

Conclusion: there is more power but more debate to be had.

Joanna Geary (Birmingham Post)

Too much apologising for nervousness but a decent joke to round it off.

Her view is of regional newspaper journalism. Doesn’t apply to all media – different between regional and national but there are overlaps.

When she says media in this talk she means regional press.

1st impression when she saw the topic was of the digital divide. Not going to do that cos she doesn’t know enough about it (er, ok).

There are enough people online for another struggle to take place. Many people accessing content (gives figures for broadband and mobile internet usage).

Enough is happening to make an effect and the effect is being felt by regional press,

There are two extremes – news aggregators like Google & Yahoo news and small grassroots types.

In the middle was the regional press filtering it. BPost presented the national and regional news to their audience. BPost is the middleman and audience for that service is shrinking.

Newspapers’ response is the interesting thing. Google is evil, blogs are unreliable. Demonising these things is not a way to compete – cornershops acheived nothing by waving fists at the supermarkets.

Blogs, paper, TV are platforms and only as good as their authors eg From The Frontline blog.

Some blogs have built up large readerships and are trusted. Created in Birmingham is a local example. She worked on media & marketing and saw a blog spring up to plug the area she was meant to be covering – done on an almost voluntary basis and was a space for conversation to happen – something she couldn’t provide.

Papers didn’t have those conversations. Papers were ‘the media’. Could afford to ignore customers when there was a near monopoly on providing info. That doesn’t exist now.

Can the press survive in the digital age? No. We will see power errode. But should the press ever have had the power? Industy is being forced to go back and be reresentative of the people it serves. There is only a small window of time to do this.

Need to work with the content creators, not block them out. We don’t control the news. Need to build up conversations with the community again. Do it with the media that’s available. There’s a role for digital, print, radio, TV – whatever carries a message.

Conclusion – media orgs are more powerless, but that’s not a bad thing; they can still be important and relevant. It’s hard for some to come to terms with but the attitude is being embraced. Will we be killed off? Maybe if we don’t change.

Dr Doug Williams (Described by RCJ as the ‘Q’ of BT)

Intends to discuss ‘shapeshifitng media’ in context of the NGA and the question posed by the Debate.

A new form of storytelling is possible thanks to the internet.

Historical examples – every time a new format has come along the story telling changes. Oral history – stories were flud and changed according to reactions of audience.
Theatre – stories ossified. Acts, props, etc
Books – pages, chapters – function of distribution platform.
Lumiere brothers – moving images. Gimmick but not a story.

Digitality is changing things – production costs dip. In terms of distribution we are downloading music and tv. We can timeshift it but it’s still the same type of story telling.

Don’t need to do that though – no need to ossify things, can tailor to the audience. There’s a challenge to the production chain but it’s an opportunity.

Challenges – how do you write a story that can adapt to each audience member? How do you do edits when you don’t know what the next scene will be. BT aren’t wrters – they work with people who are.

More power to audience and consumers. Optimistic that we have an opportunity to create something new, a new way of telling a story. Envisions not quite a game, not quite a movie but something inbetween.

**at this point we lost audio for online peeps apparently, with amusingly little sympathy from the audience**

Anthony Rose (BBC, iPlayer)

Power or powerless is about choice. More choice is more power. Poeple need to exploit that wisely.

Looking back there was one publisher – church and one master – feudal one.
Then BBC – one channel. Can listen or not but not much choice.
More broadcasters gave more choice.

Then internet – a real problem (eh?). Way more choice but how to separate good from bad?

BBC used to world where they had several channels with talented schedulers and so on. Involved deciding what the demographic (only one) was at a given time and schedule accordingly. Maybe spoilers against ITV would affect things.

iPlayer has altered things in this regard. This year you choose the programmes you want to watch, next year your friends will choose for you.

Originally there were only 6 choices on the iPlayer’s frontpage, as chosen by editors. People were clicking through a lot – browsing or frustrated that they couldn’t get what they wanted? Added ‘related’ and ‘popular’ and this changed things. Editors were often surprised by the most popular items.

Next thing is personalisation. Systems will recommend based on what you’ve watched.

Choice will increase. Problem of choice.

People stick to trusted parties. BBC maybe, also other trusted sources. Also friends are trusted – therefore tune into what my friend’s like via their iPlayer channel.

Equilibrium is a small number of trusted sources. A study at Cornell Uni – people said that they wanted lots of choice but if they were kept given choice they were less happy. if you try to match every criteria you have you’ll be disappointed – something will be missing.

Things won’t change as much as we may think. We might have a huge range of choice but we’ll give some of that away to stick with trusted sources.

Summing up by RCJ

  • CC – 90s generation enjoyed liberation through the web, creativity was unleashed, still at the start start of that revolution, not sure where it’s going, artists not yet exploiting it and just using it as a launchpad
  • JG – painted a scary picture for ageing hack. Dinosaurs being hit by a web 2.0 comet and disappearing. There’s an opportunity though – her area can go back to what it’s great strength was and use it’s trusted brand online.
  • DW – not Mr Corporate – closest to creative process. Despite huge changes from net no change to narrative forms and that’s the way for things to develop.
  • AR – choice and power. Too much choice makes you miserable. Lead people to culture or give them freedom?

RCJ – do you see dangers for an established cultural organisation like the BBC retreating from telling peple what’s good for them?
AR – what is core asset? BBC used to be a tv channel, now a trusted provider of content. BBC in a good position then.
RCJ – what’s the regional paper’s view? Is internet a force for dumbing up or down?
JG – What are people coming to us for – specific o
RCJ – used to be editor who said what the
JG – Who gave editor the power to know what people want? Marketing myopia – product and reactions to them changes.
RCJ – The most popular Beeb story ever is about a man marrying goat – should they have more goat stories?
JG – other places on the net do goat stories better. BBC doesn’t set itself out as a provider of goat stories, people go to it for other reasons.
RCJ – what about the amount of dross online?
CC – most stuff at the Edinburgh Festival is rubbish cos there’s no minimum artistic standard – same with the net. There’s a role for editors, djs, pundits, etc to provide navigation. Large brands can provde that service, so can smaller peeps. There’s more room for these navigators than cultural media has allowed previously.
RCJ – who’s winning the online musical war?
CC – music industry suffered first in a big way. His online editorial has been critical of the music industry – they hung on to a business model that was outdated and fought unwinnable battles. They need to get used to giving away their power over content. How to make money? They’ve tried bullying tech companies, but how do smaller artists make money? Still working on that.
RCJ – people think net is free, other than access. How do you see that developing?
DW – doesn’t see that as fair. Uncomfortable with the idea that poeple put time and effort into producing things and poeple take it for free
RCJ – protected at BBC
AR – comes form Kazaa. Music and film industries couldn’t satisfy the demand they created.
JG – on the ‘free is unfair’ point. it’s not the first time that a business model has been based on free – free newspapers. We’re stuck thinking that funding comes from advertising. Answer is multifarious.
RCJ – Are you saying stuff should be given away free?
JG – Believes that there will always be enough people giving away enough, at good enough quality , free. Larger industries will have to respond somehow.

Questions invited from the audience

David Burden – micropayments system is missing
Dave Harte – reacting to live blog. Why talk about whole history of media each time debate comes up. Skating over in too much. Used to be subversive press, cinema was run by many small entrepreneurs. More audiences now.
Carl Mitten(?) – CC fixated on creatives. Most bands came from ‘scenes’ in the past. (Then rambles about smoking ban and venues closing).

CC – Arctic Monkeys usually cited as an internet-launched band but actually their story is quite traditional. Scenes and communities will still happen. They will communicate via the internet. This gives scenes in unexpected areas more chance to flourish.

Doug – old players fail to adapt and lose out. We’re in the messy stage. 1000 flowers blooming and there will be failures.

RCJ – How much skepticism in your newsroom? Do they have a point?
JG – Mixed bag. Not always the oldest who aren’t into it, sometimes it’s the younger ones. Older ones see it as a way to go back to what they used to do. Tough market and squeeze on resources. Some consider it confusing or an additional pressure on their time. This is a gold rush period where there are plenty of things to try out – we should be using this time to try things out.

Carolin Charlton – requesting answers to the Q’s on the live blog.
RCJ – pick one then
Give an example of digtial making us powerless

AR – nothing off-hand
Doug – music industry has lost power
JG – transfer of power from some to others.
CC – content owners learning to give up content.
RCJ – would cite the people on the wrong side of digital divide

John Kirk – his gandparents on wrong side of digital divide. How are poeple disempowered and what do we do about it?
AR – why not get into digital? Don’t want it or don’t get it? Barriers to entry will lower as things progress. We’re at an early stage here, there will be further divides of this sort.

AR – micropayments haven’t caught on. Providers haven’t asked for 1p for a listen, they ask for 79p to own it. Not reached critical mass. ISP’s charging on a meter for downlaods.

Audience – how does iPlayer connect with iTunes?
AR – tech – have to use DRM and BBC Trust says how long things are to be available. Cos people say that free forever would kill CD/DVD mkt. iTunes have their own DRM and it isn’t compatible.
Also, makes BBC site a destination. This may change.

Mark Comerford – the digital divide is a joke. There is no digital divide. Access is there in principle. Divide exists in choice. It’s a political choice whether people go behind headlines to see what is happening.

Donna from Digital Birmingham – any merit in local authority getting involved? Should BCC pay for broadband connections?
JG – there’s something to be said for helping people who are priced out of digital – it’s a question of literacy. We helped people to read and gave them books, should do the same with digital.

Mike Morrison (NGA blogger) – is there anything that makes the panel worried?
CC – political dimension in that government has control over infrastructure. Corporations taking control but they always will do. The good thing is corps usually screw up and make room for others. Also, media corps from different areas are competing with each other. Mergers later? But in short term it’s good.

JG – concerned that understanding of content online – criticism of content – is more important. ie checking sources. We’re still not getting it right with traditional media, need to improve in that way,

RCJ – is BT a threat to those on the net?
Doug – likes that small voices can find an audience. Identity theft is a worry. It’s about education.

AR – worry about net neutrality. ISPs being dominant and controlling. Wanting to create their own content and boxing people in.

Marc Reeves, Bham Post – is presence of a big, state funded player a good thing?
CC – it’s expensive to test all the new tech so it’s a good thing for everyone. Concern as a little player but there should be constraints on what they can do, esp with regard to using the archive they’ve been allowed to build.
JG – interesting to see what BBC do. Interesting to see overbudgeting by £110m when we’re innovating on a shoestring. Thinks BPost does local news better than the BBC.
DW – agrees there needs to be checks and balances in place to help the regionals.
AR – people at the BBC are trying to give consumers what they want, not looking to crush opposition. BBC is not the only place to go to – others can (and do) use what the BBC do as a min stadard and build on it.

And that’s all folks.

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.

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