Whenever I watch a TED video it’s always so optimistic. Perhaps the independent TEDx event I attended in Manchester was under the pall of the city’s ceaseless rain, because it focused on some less than rosy home truths.
Content? Are you? Not if your job is to produce content. The anodyne catchall phrase for creativity as mediated by the web belies a bloodbath of job loss in newspapers, music and TV. The Evening Standard has recently accepted that what a consumer will pay for its product is zero, but it was last Friday at TEDx Manchester that a simple message came home to me.
It is conceivable that content is just something you can’t monetise in the era of the internet. Historically publishing has been fraught with similar difficulties, some of the world’s most influential books were utterly unable to remunerate their creators. Dr Johnson required a royal pension to keep him afloat despite having written the first full scale dictionary, likewise Diderot managed to remain poor after producing the West’s most famous encyclopaedia. No wonder publishers struggle when all the profundity they can muster is the Evening Standard. Are we simply returning to the equilibrium where creativity is next to impossible to convert into cash?
At TEDx Guardian Digital Editor Sarah Hartley articulated hyperlocal journalism (basically a local resident keeping a blog) as a possible future of news media, but she also admitted that she had no idea how journalists might earn a crust from this pursuit.
The next speaker to play into this theme was Marc Goodchild, head of Interactive for BBC childrens, who told us (amongst much else of interest) that at the age of 12 most kids started to predominantly spend their time on social networks and games – two areas where in effect you make the content yourself. He also told us that for the first time for children game play and internet use combined account for more hours of viewing than TV.
Hugh Garry, a Radio 1 producer, made the point even more firmly. His talk focused on a project that involved handing out mobile phones at festivals and asking people to record their experiences. The material was gathered into a film called “Shoot The Summer”. This exercise illustrated an interesting technical fact: mobile phones can produce footage that is perfectly watchable at cinema size.
A more subtle point was that most of the recipients of the mobile phones had a great natural sense of what would make interesting footage. If you don’t believe me, check out the film. And if you think that he just has the good bits from millions of hours of people taking drugs in tents, well, you’re right. That’s exactly the point – where is the space for the professional when a million amateur YouTube clips can be relied upon to produce a thousand gems? Of course, the content generation generation will also have a more natural sense of how to use a video camera compared with those for whom such devices are fresher developments.
Against a backdrop of the inevitable Twitterfall, and the equally inevitable Mancunian rainfall, the possibility of the end of professional content production took root in my mind. What medium might remain immune? Film? Surely this is the medium with the highest barrier to entry protecting its profits. Perhaps, but in a projected video of a JJ Abrahams TED talk we were all told we had no excuse not to be making films now the relevant hardware is so cheap.
I don’t really doubt that there are a number of ways for the paid journalist or film directors to survive, and it’s not news that the internet has put the squeeze on certain professions. There is a feeling though that we are just waiting for really cheap credit card transactions, or for Murdoch to spearhead online paid content, or for some other technological development to restore the professionals to their thrown. That might be misplaced optimism. Indeed some top journalists may be reduced to giving talks to a load half-arsed bloggers, perish the thought.Google+