Category Archives: ideas

How Seoul’s Digital Media City matches up to Salford’s MediaCityUK

Korea has created a Digital Media City (DMC) on the outskirts of Seoul and houses nearly all its broadcasters there. Like MediaCity UK in Salford. But way bigger.

 

This is the enormous HQ for MBC, one of the three Korean public channels. Check out its OTT ‘window on  the world’ promotional video on the link above.

 

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These outfits have big in-house production staff, and layers of management that would make even the BBC blush.

 

On Friday I went to CJ E&M, which is a huge conglomerate that runs several stations, and has a mission to ‘create a new global pop culture‘. Ambitious people. I met Hwang Jin Woo, head of Formats – who I’d first met doing a talk to Korean broadcast execs three years ago, and his colleague Sun Jin Sung.

 

We talked about the big shows they do – Korean versions of the entertainment shows we all know – and the drama and features shows that are the staples of their channels. Hwang is in charge of developing formats, and adapting foreign ones.

 

He also showed me the Digital centre. This is meant to be like Maker Studios, to encourage digital creatives to experiment.  It was empty at 11am, he said that was because creatives got up late – it would be fully booked from the afternoon till into the night. There was a green screen motion capture room, and other sets to do programmes.

 

 

And this digital content is the growth area, as every Korean young and old seems to gaze at their large screen smartphones most of the time.

 

In the afternoon I went to see the national broadcaster KBS, meeting Kate Hyein Cho, who I’d seen at Asian Side of the Doc, and her boss Irene Kim. Their large building is right next to the national assembly – no chance of them moving away from government to go to the DMC. A pretty conventional public broadcaster, growing old with its audience. Posters around the building encouraged staff to come up with ideas for the 20-49 age group – the assumption was the their audience would be much older.

 

 

On Monday I’m seeing EBS, the Educational Broadcaster. They’re also moving to the DMC in 3 years time.

 

Salford Media City is built on the same model as the DMC of a ‘creative cluster’ of broadcasters, producers and studios, and was being developed at the same time in the mid-2000s. When I saw the impressive blocks over the water at Salford Quays, I remember thinking that it had been conceived in a pre-mobile, pre-Youtube age (I mean the early 2000’s, younger readers) – when progress meant big buildings full of people. Now creativity is often talked about on a smaller scale – but with bigger reach.  It’s now more about multi-purpose spaces, places that make you want to hang out and have ideas with others, places that are connected.

 

MediaCity_at_night

 

In Korea, with most production in-house, I guess the model of state subsidy for large organisations to pay expensive rents in steel and glass corporate palaces still works.  This was an urban plan all about consolidating the big state-supported production models. There is a similar state planning model for publishing – Paju Book City, close to the North Korean border, is the home to all of Korea’s publishers.

 

Salford has BBC North, ITV with Coronation St, Salford University and good & busy production companies Shine North run by Alex Connock, and drama producer Red. But maybe not as many small emerging companies as they’d like (with the honourable exception of the ones based in The Greenhouse).

 

I’m not saying this is down to the producers being resistant – in the UK, with commissioning centralised in London, the third leg of the ‘production company-freelancer-commissioner’ stool is missing and there’s no particular reason for production companies to be next to the BBC in Salford unless they make Childrens programmes.

 

Alex has written a lot about the effect of a creative cluster in the North of England – see his recent piece on the role of the BBC as a ‘creative kickstarter’ and what sort of investment the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ needs. Salford will grow – but with TV production contracting, the growth will probably come from telecoms, and content work for brands, direct-to-consumer, short-form, foreign clients, rather than British TV commissioning.

 

In DMC, the huge staff bases shunted out to work in MBC, CJ E&M, SBS (the Korean not the Aussie one!) and shortly EBS meant there were plenty of people around. The shops and cafes attracted people on the weekend, unlike Salford Media City. The transport links are good and there’s a proper station there (well, 10 minutes walk away) rather than a tram stop.

 

 

The problem of the DMC is that the ‘software’ in this model, the Korean broadcasters, don’t have a commissioning structure, and have very little idea of how to work with independents. They produce in house, pay peanuts for the occasional indie documentary, and take all the rights. Unless that changes, it’s hard to see how it would become a true creative cluster.

 

Digital Media City didn’t feel much like the digital future to me, unless that future is entirely corporate. There wasn’t even free public wifi that I could find. The idea that to make content all you need is a small camera, laptop editing, lots of coffee and wifi, and some likeminded young people, still seemed a long way away.

Peoples Broadcasting in the age of the internet

When the British electorate voted for a Conservative government, to replace the previous Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition, there were a few predictions of doom for the funding of pubic services in the UK.

For the BBC, the result confirmed that their role, size and funding will be firmly in the sights of the new administration – though I imagine that would also have been the case with a Labour-led coalition. The BBC is saying it will do its own proposals on its role ‘in the internet age’, as it quaintly calls it.

Yesterday I went for the day to Digital Shoreditch, a week long series of talks, meetings, panels about this ‘internet age’. TV seemed very out of place in this online world of apps, services, sites. Friday was the ‘Live’ day, about content and there was a huge range of talks – I think I went to about a dozen in all.

The BBC’s Will Saunders showed a great clip from a year ago about the new short-form video world we were entering, made for a BBC seminar.

If that short-form is too long for you, there’s always Vine – which isn’t meant for oldies like me, I know, but is still a real mystery. One of the top Viners on this US-dominated platform is Brent Rivera. He has good hair at least.

Will also  talked about BBC Taster, a site for users to test and rate online content – a taste of things to come?

and also showed a quick run through of the first 90 years of the BBC in its Where Next? campaign from last year. Good question.

The BBC absolutely needs to think about its role as a public service media provider (rather than broadcaster) – and in truth is probably doing more of this thinking, experimenting and planning than other PSBs. And of course that future is online, with content open for viewers/users to interact with – and make themselves. I think if we called it Peoples Broadcasting rather than Public, it might seem less forbidding.

The evening finished with a few beers and music.

The BBC might think God only knows what we’d do without it – but in a world where everybody is making their own choices online, and the license fee is ‘under review’, it’s soon going to be easy enough to opt out. I reckon it’s in all our interests to think about what to do with it.

Comments, ideas, questions all welcome, you could even send me a video…

MIP-TV: Yes We Cannes!

Long gap since my last post, apologies. But last week I went to the annual MIP-TV market in Cannes which gave me plenty to think (and write) about.

Four days of meetings equated a big batch of ideas – though the word product seems more appropriate in such a marketplace.
Fewer people were wandering the Palais this year – cuts are biting, and there’s less face to face in the business anyway these days. The cost of attending a market like this for producers and distributors is large, and the pressure is on from day one.
With four of us from SBS all doing separate meetings, we covered a lot of companies. Telling distributors and producers what we needed,  running through their ‘slates’, working off this MIP 2015 SBS Acquisitions Needs brochure.
My main impressions?
You meet who you know already. There should be a ‘lucky dip’ function on the website to put you together with people you’ve never met before.
30 minutes is not long enough for most meetings, given that I usually got there late and kept getting lost in the Riviera part of the market.
There’s no time to digest all the news and industry insight that floods the market – here are just a few of the magazines I picked up before leaving. In there are lots of programmes that I should be watching.
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Caffe Roma, the central cafe for meetings with those who haven’t registered for the market itself – serves terrible tea.
What were the Aussies up to?
The SBS stand was opposite the Screen Australia stand for the Aussie producers, who made merry at a drink on the Tuesday.
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David from Devised TV, Lara & Charlotte from SBS Sales, Claudia from Taglicht
It was good to see so many producers making the long trip to Cannes. Here’s a Screen Australia showreel of Australian projects brought to the market
At 22 minutes long, it’s a great way to get a fix of Australian TV. Spoiler alert: Doesn’t include all the terrible reality shows on Australian TV though.
I got to know a few films  through this showreel. The Secret River, being shown on ABC  looks amazing. Here’s more about The Secret River and the Seven series Gallipoli
And Blown Away (at 2:21) – a very intriguing part-animated doc on Cyclone Tracy which happened 40 years ago. There’s more about the film, shown in late December on ABC1 and co-produced by Rachel Clements, here
The other clips on the reel:
  • Deadline Gallipoli (3:17)
  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (4:22) – which I’d love to see bought in the UK
  • Pitch Battle (5:38) – about the Palestinian football team
  • Restaurant Australia (7:22)
  • Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane (9:37)
  • Status: Vacant (11:15)
  • Struggle Street (13:05) – coming to SBS in May
  • Tattoo Tales (14:57)
  • That Sugar Film (16:36) – a kaleidoscopic look at a key health issue.
  • Winter (18:47)
  • Heart and Soul (19:35) – this looks like a good tale of girls making music and growing up
  • Hipsters (22:09) – already screened on SBS2
What were the others up to?
Vice was the star of the show after its meteoric rise. I went for a session in the impressive Grand Auditorium led by Eddy Moretti, the creative director of the trend-setting Vice, launching a new service ‘for and by women’ called Broadly. Though my neighbour, Ene Rasmussen from the Denmark MEDIA Desk, wondered why there weren’t more women and stories aimed at them in the main service.
Eddiy Moretti, Creative Director Vice
Vice is a brilliantly focussed and sure-footed media company and its ideas demand attention. Some ideas at MIP though seem there to test us. The delegate bag was sponsored by DogTV (TV for dogs, in case you were wondering). The Telegraph in the UK has written about the formats on offer, and it’s not too impressed.
One of the other SBSs around the world, in Korea, has the slogan ‘See The Bright Tomorrow’.  Which is a nice thought, even though it doesn’t exactly work as a slogan.
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Party central
MIP wouldn’t be MIP without a bit of socialising, and nothing beats a beachside party at Cannes.  This one on Monday night was from distributor DRG.
If you were at MIP, let me know how you found it. At the Nordic party, I met a gentleman from Finland who reminded me that it’s only 170 shopping days left till MIPCOM…
Kris Kringle (as the Americand call him) and Krishan

From Hamlet to Richard III – history brought to life

I took part in a live-action role play a couple of weeks ago, called Inside Hamlet at Kronborg castle in Denmark. It was set in the 1930s, giving a whole new spin to Shakespeare’s tale. I learnt a massive amount about what history means by acting it out (as a Lutheran exorcist priest).

 

And this evening I’m watching #RichardReburied on Channel 4, a live programme following the return of the bones of Richard III to his reburial next week in Leicester Cathedral. History made live. What I really like about this coverage is that it’s run as a news event – presented by Jon Snow, with expert scientists, academics,  novelists and descendants of Richard III (including an Australian called Wendy Duldig who came over for the event and is Richard’s 14th cousin)

Channel 4 got a very good audience for the original film – The King in the Car Park – three years ago.

But it’s been a great programming idea to make his reburial  into a new TV event. Well done to John Hay, the commissioner of the live event, & Darlow Smithson Productions, who also produced the original doc. For making us realise that the identity of a 500 year old king matters. 

History has significance – both for  our understanding of what happened then, and for what might happen. And in an election year in the UK, that’s very important.

Channel 4 (them again) did a terrific season of programmes on immigration, including Love Productions’ Immigration Street – reduced to a single documentary after certain parts of the community decided they didn’t want it made – and other programmes. One of them was a doc made by Malcolm Brinkworth of Touch Films about an election in 1964 – which took place on the immigration faultline. Immigration will be one of the key issues of the UK General Election.

History is a big part of SBS programming, but making it relevant and watchable is what matters to the audience. I must say that I haven’t been watching many of the films about the First World War. And in Australia, the Gallipoli drama series on Channel 9 hasn’t been getting the audiences the programme merited. This extended trailer shows that it’s a really sensitive and moving piece of work – well worth 3 minutes of your time.

 

History, and the lessons of the past, are so crucial to understand today. I for one am really proud of the television that brings it to life for us.

Any comments, questions, responses, ideas – all really welcome

Diversity is not an option, it’s the mainstream


Last week I went to a diversity debate in Malmo called Eye to Eye – Reflecting Childrens Reality. On the panel was a commissioner from the Swedish Film Institute, the head of the Kids Film Fest BUFF, and an animation producer from Norway, to discuss diversity in films for children and young people. Moderated by Cecilie Stranger-Thorsen, who invited me along to give my views.
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Cecilie Stranger-Thorsen and Baker Karim of the SFI
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Frank Mosvold and Baker Karim
Lots of good intentions were expressed on the panel, but the discussion was frustrating. There doesn’t seem to be much appetite for radical change. The impression I got was that the director’s ‘artistic vision’ took priority over questions about on-screen representation – or who was making the films in the first place.  It felt rather out of touch with a rapidly changing world.
I told the panel about the past year in British TV and film, in which all the major players have presented plans and funded initiatives to change the industry. I know Brits like their action plans, but they do point the way and I hope other countries can pick up some of the good ideas. Actor Lenny Henry is credited with getting the ball rolling with a speech he gave at BAFTA a year ago.
Lenny Henry
It’ll be interesting to see what happens across Scandinavia. The Danish Film Institute have recently announced a commitment to diversity, and launched it with a study and workshops on casting. I really hope that there is the leadership from the top that this plan needs. The committee including Marie Olesen alongside Mette-Ann Schepelern from the Danish Director’s Association are working on charter for ethnic and cultural diversity in Danish film and I’m looking forward to how much of a push this gets.
It was Pat Younge who told me about the DFI initiative. From his work running BBC Productions, he knows what you need to do to change attitudes and practises. He says diversity is how modern, mainstream audiences view the world, and it’s good to see he’s just started a new indie called Sugar Films, with Lucy Pilkington and Narinder Minhas.  To create content for audiences like these passengers coming off a Virgin train – I really like this ad.

But coming up with the programmes to get to these modern mainstream audiences needs work.There’s been a new push in the US with plenty of new shows in sitcom and drama. But I’ve recently been looking for multicultural formats, and in truth have been struggling to find specific examples in factual and entertainment – it’s all in who is put in the shows. I’ve just been watching First Dates on Channel 4 which is completely diverse and all the better for it.
I’m interested in how Desi Rascals worked on Sky recently – it’s been commissioned for a second series so that’s a good sign. 

The SBS charter talks about ‘celebrating and reflecting Australia’s diverse communities’ and we’re open to ideas. Wonder if I’ll find anything at MIP TV in April? Anybody spotted anything so far?

Are games the way to reach TV audiences?

Still on my Transfer Deadline theme, yesterday the BBC had a couple of outside experts giving their views on the players who might be on the market.Fifa Interactive World Cup 2014 Grand Final competitor David Blytheway and Football Manager expert Alex Stewart provided insight and analysis of players involved in deals from a gamer’s perspective.Got me thinking about games and TV.

Football Manager is a video game which involves assessing and transferring players from the perspective of the gamer as manager. Very entertaining to read in the deadline day text these gamers’ perspectives on the ‘real’ footballers, using the stats that are part of the video game to back up their observations.

Then I watched on the Guardian site an extract from the documentary “Drone“, by Flimmer Film, which includes a storyline about about the training of gamers to become drone pilots in the US military.

drone-pilots

I have to say that I’m not a gamer; maybe I just haven’t found the right one. But it’s clear that that’s how many peoples’ brains are wired and the way they want to interact with content. So I know I need to find out more.

Doc filmmakers in particular are being introduced to this theme in many industry conferences.

The long-established Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) changed its format this year to Net-Work-Play with plenty of game- and online-related content and speakers in the sessions. Brave call by Joost den Hartog to turbo-charge the conference this year to appeal a very different crowd.

Games for Change is an annual get together in April as part of the Tribeca Film Festival;  in Malmo, Sweden  the Nordic Game Conference tries to make links between the gaming and filmmaking communities.  The aim is I think to apply principles of ‘gamification’ (rather than always actual games) to factual or fiction ideas – using the ‘mechanics’ of a game to change the way stories are told. On a simple level this could be making a factual story more of a process of first person discovery. But I’m sure there’s more to it than that.

Here’s Morgan Spurlock and Joseph Gordon-Levitt talking about Gamification on the collaborative art/tech show HitRecord on TV. Searching for the answer to what actually is a game, and how competition is compatible with art.

As the market for TV becomes ever more competitive, the audience fragments and public funding dwindles,  you need ways to get the audience to find, love and share your content – games are surely part of the answer. I’d love to be able to find a game-TV hybrid that could work for mainstream audiences on SBS – let me know if you’ve got any ideas!

 

 

 

 

A transfer window for TV production companies?

For me today is going to be a challenge to focus on work while keeping an eye on the info-fest that is Transfer Deadline Day. For those that aren’t into football, it’s one of the two days in the year (the other is the end of August) when the transfer window closes, and clubs are no longer allowed to sign players. The day is covered by the BBC and Sky on TV, text, radio, and probably carrier pigeon too. It’s known as the only business where people still use faxes to send contracts at the end of the window approaches, and no TDD is complete without a story of a last-minute paper jam which prevents a deal being done. Leaving shopping till the last day of the sales is something I can really relate to. I’m never through the doors first, unlike this lot…

The Football Transfer Window has been in place since 2002-3, which coincidentally is just before the acquisitions spree that started with new Terms of Trade being introduced for the UK production sector in 2004. This gave companies control of the righs in the ideas they created, and, therefore, made them valuable. Money poured in from VC and other investors in the UK, and from a cottage industry the production sector suddenly became a business worth billions. (Big thanks to Nick Ware who gave me the idea to connect these two themes for this blog even though he’s not into football!)

nick ware
This man likes documentaries far more than football

Britain’s status as the capital of production  company mergers and acquisitions hasn’t changed. It seems that the main reason now to start an independent company in the UK is to be able to grow it fast and then sell it – it’s business, after all.

For Brits, most global revenues still come from America. At last week’s Realscreen summit, 70 UK producers were in attendance. PACT set up a British Pub in the lobby of the Washington hotel where it all happens. The UK trade association PACT also announced the setting up of a US organisation for UK companies and their US offshoots, – with offices in LA and New York to be set up this year.

British Pub Realscreen

PACT’s figures seem to show that the only full commissions for UK companies over the past two years were from the US – though this doesn’t include coproductions, as there have been plenty of those from elsewhere in the world.

Companies in the US have a struggle to hold onto the IP in the formats they create – the channels try and take as many rights as they can – but in the UK that IP is the foundation of their business. That doesn’t stop UK companies pitching, or investing in US companies – the size of the business there means that companies are still profitable even though the rights position isn’t nearly as good. Arrow Media’s John Smithson has a pithy column in Realscreen magazine and he returns to the theme a lot.

It does of course mean that the development focus for companies is on returnable formats, as this is what those investors want to see to get a revenue stream from the company.  Like transferring a football player for an eye-watering sum, there’s no guarantee of success though; while ideas are still dependent on those capricious commissioners, there’ll always be a big element of uncertainty.

Now, how about a Transfer Window for production companies?

 

The factual shows in 2015 that I haven’t seen yet

I know It might be a bit late to do some predictions for 2015, but here they are anyway. Some thoughts on what I’m looking forward to in 2015. If they exist already, please send me a link!

Something that uses the visceral thrill of stunt bike descents and builds a proper story around it. Clips like this one

 

Something that explains modern France, Now more than ever. A version of this article would be good.

A character as good as market trader Roger Barton in the Indus series ‘The World’s Greatest Food Markets‘, my fave doc series of recent months.

A new title for ‘The World’s Greatest Food Markets’ – I’m a bit of a title fanatic, and this one didn’t draw me in.

An Asian presenter fronting a regular international show. Australia could do with more Asian faces

For lots more programmes from Channel 4 to live up to their great Born Risky tagline

After all the war docs from 2014, and the new swathe of them in 2015, how about something equally compelling about more peaceful achievements?

A series from the Tumblr generation – like TruTV are trying to do.  Kudos to them for doing a full reboot of the channel

A way to get people who watch live sport to watch docs about sporting stories. They never seem to!

An Anime- K-Pop-factual mashup. I went to Seoul for the first time in the autumn, for Docs Port Incheon, and also met Korean producers at the ATF in December. But outside arthouse movies and kids cartoons Korean content is not well known in the West. So how about combining the two biggest genres in Korean pop culture?

And can we all think of a new word instead of ‘arts programmes’ so that programmers don’t keep saying they’re niche and cutting the slots? We all need creativity in our lives. Something to do with Going Out, or Dazzle – anything but Arts!

See you soon, so much media, so little time…