Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Resurgence of Creative Guilds

Broadcasters, especially those in the public space, are experiencing extremely difficult times. Just at the moment when all sorts of creative collaborative tools come on the market, either the production funds dry up completely or the company loses its purpose and heads off in the wrong direction.

Coming from a heritage in international broadcasting, I'd argue that those who try to bridge international cultural borders have a task that's twice as hard. Domestic broadcasters only have to reach their own culture. International broadcasters need to understand at least two - the culture of the audience and the culture around their production centre (that also pays the bills).

The problem is that most international broadcasters have neglected to understand their audience, shouting at them with powerful transmitters in the hope that they might listen. In doing so, they fail to understand how to share an idea and, therefore, influence.

Two things made an impression on me recently. Wandering around the back of Bush House in London, I came across the first thing. They were colourful posters put in the window a few years ago to explain (and justify) the expenditure going inside the building at BBC World Service. The most powerful poster was actually the least visible. It simply states "Audiences are at the heart of everything we do". That's it. I would argue that the problem with international broadcasters over the last 15 years is that the majority have failed to to understand their audiences and, therefore, lost the power to influence. In the early days, crude audience measurement could easily fudge the result. Nowadays, the stats are more accurate - and turn out to be frighteningly low.  They face three problems : No Content, No Cash and No Clue.

So what is filling the space? I think it is the resurgence of creative guilds.

The other thing that impressed me was revisiting a short but great intervention by Lee Bryant during the Lift conference. Lee spoke for five minutes saying that what the 20th century got wrong was to apply industrial techniques to people. Treating people as a "mass" doesn't work. I recall that one of the programme titles on NHK Radio Japan in the 80's was "Hallo Asia". You have never been able to say hello to an entire continent! Which explains why they eventually gave up. 

I have actually taken out the embedded video because I can't switch off autoplay. Several people have complained that it has become annoying. So, here's the link to watch it off blog... But do watch it. It is very well done.
Lee's comment still rings true, perhaps even more so three years after his talk when many European countries are in the Great Depression 2.0, not even sure whether they have hit rock bottom yet. If I understand Lee's theory correctly, then the broadcast production stations which labour is organised into "shifts" will not be the creative centres of the future. It will be far more like the film industry - building teams from a creative pool of talent who may not geographically be in the same place.

With so much production being uploaded on to platforms like YouTube (60 hours of a video a minute - no that's not a mistake). the biggest challenge to be being recognised for a brilliant piece of work is actually being found.

So will we see the resurgence of guilds of digital craftsmen? I think we already have. Pixelcorps is a good example. But also Bloggers like TNW are starting to collaborate as they realize that a group blog on a specific subject has more influence. And certain groups within Linked-In, Facebook (limited) or circles on Google+ are becoming platforms where ideas are exchanged. On Vimeo and YouTube I am seeing the rise of all kinds of brilliant production, whether it be camera techniques, time-lapse photography, trailers for films, or openings to congresses like TED in Doha last month. As they develop they're finding out the new ways of production - and also ways to get paid. The business model is usually based on many something unique which is designed to be stolen - in fact the audience is marketing the content to their friends. So the audience is central again - and we know that works don't we. That's why the people I'm working with are switching from a knowledge network into a digital guild. It seems to be the most effective way forward.

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