Everyone wants to be on TV

ColdicuttheadshotRachel Coldicutt has been creating and commissioning digital content across the arts and entertainment sectors since 1997.

She has previously worked for the BBC, Endemol, the V&A and the Royal Opera House, and is now a director at Caper, specialising in digital innovation and the arts. She blogs at fabricofthings.wordpress.com

To accompany her presentaton at the AMA digital marketing day on Thursday 10th November this post asks searching questions of the desire to put our arts organisations on TV…


Everyone wants to be on TV

Like pretty much everyone else, arts organisations tend to get very excited by the idea of being on TV. It seems pretty irresistible – The fame! The lights! The public adulation! – and since the prospect of self-broadcasting, via IPTV services like YouView, hoved into view, it’s got even more exciting.

But the reality is that, for many arts organisations, developing a Connected TV strategy is still an irrelevance. There are probably more immediate digital challenges that need to be solved and more effective means of achieving your organisational goals.

That isn’t to say there aren’t preparatory steps to be taken now, or that there isn’t a collaborative opportunity across the sector. But Connected TV will not be revolutionising the arts sector in the next twelve to eighteen months. And quite probably not within the next three years.

There’s also a good chance the landscape will change significantly before a useful IPTV partner launches a shareable, public-facing service.

Getting into the Living Room

If you do want to get your content into the living room, you might be better off thinking laterally. TV is not a panacea for your organisation’s digital problems, but a fragmenting medium facing plenty of its own challenges.

You could, for instance, partner with a games developer to co-create a game. Although this wouldn’t be a trivial undertaking – it might be a more interesting one, enabling you to reach a wider audience and develop a deeper level of engagement. All broadcasters start with a sense of the audience and it’s foolish to go into this space without doing the same.

But if getting into the living room is your ultimate goal, the most important thing you can do now is start to look for partners, to share expertise, skills and resources. If major media companies are having problems cracking the opportunity, it’s not one for an arts organisation to consider embarking on alone.

There is also the matter of digital housekeeping to consider – but I’ll come to that later, after addressing some sobering facts.

Obstacles

Content is not automatically advertising. The right kind of content strategy can help you deepen audience engagement and widen your audience – but it’s not automatic. Creating longer form content that no one can find on a shared EPG may just create more, and different, marketing challenges.

Cheryl ColeGood TV programming is relatively expensive and difficult to make. The comparatively tiny BBC4 has a greater level of subsidy (£54.3m) than any NPO, despite having a schedule that appears to be full of repeats and access to the fabulous BBC Archive. And that budget is under threat. For an indication of popularity, last week, Sky Arts reached 0.7% of the viewing public, BBC4 4%. These are not figures that have “the future of the arts” written all over them – and if the BBC is looking to move out of a market, it seems unlikely to be a new opportunity for unsupported content makers.

There’s not yet a convincing IPTV or web TV partnerthe launch of YouView is disappearing further into the future and See Saw has recently closed. Meanwhile, for those thinking of making their own technology solution, it’s worth remembering that the BBC iPlayer is staffed by a team the size of a symphony orchestra.

Meanwhile, the shared family TV is losing its dominance in the living room – who wants to share when you can sit with your own screen, watching your favourite programme with your friends? Programmes such as X Factor and Frozen Planet are exceptions to this rule, but their production budget per episode could probably run a small arts organisation for a year.

But I still want to be on TV!

If you still feel enamoured of the small screen, there are a few things you can start doing now to make it easier. But remember, TV is a hungry beast. There are 168 hours in a week, and having a bank of 30-second theatre trailers is not going to make those go past any quicker.

Archives

If you have archives of video content of any kind, start clearing the copyright now. It will almost certainly take longer. There is already an archive of Arts Council England films that could kick start a terrific video-on-demand service for the arts, but they’re currently only cleared for academic use.

Logging

If you’ve ever done any filming in your organisation, it is likely that someone has a pile of tapes or hard drives sitting under their desk, or lurking at the back of a cupboard. Find out what’s on them. Create a useful catalogue so you can find your general views of the building and the interviews with your biggest stars. Otherwise you’ll kick yourself when you spend your budget doing those things again and again.

Skills and Materials

Film making is an art. If you want to be good at it, you need to invest in good people.

As a start, you need someone who can hold a camera while asking an intelligent question. They also need an instinct for lighting and the ability to find their way around Final Cut Pro. This is the very bare minimum. You also need someone to look after logistics (equipment hire, call sheets, insurance, clearance forms). And someone with a sense of what your audience wants, an idea of the story you want to tell, and a general creative overview. You probably also want a commissioner, keeping the overall strategy on track and commissioning third parties.

To future proof, you also need to be capturing material in the best format you can. It’s better to record less material in HD than have thousands of hours SD footage that you find you can’t use. And if you can, invest in good lighting and sound. You want your audience to see and hear as much as you possibly can.

Bigger Picture

If this sounds expensive, it is. If you’re serious, you might need to change your organisation’s overall output. A truly extraordinary piece of documentary – one that features cleared archive footage or allows the film maker to spend months with their subject – might cost the same as a major exhibition or a new piece of theatre. If you feel that is your organisation’s destiny, then don’t bolt it on – give it serious artistic and financial consideration and make it as good as it can possibly be.

Rachel Coldicutt

Picture: Singer Cheryl Cole attends The Brit Awards 2011 held at The O2 Arena on February 15, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

2 thoughts on “Everyone wants to be on TV

  1. John Wyver

    Very good post, Rachel – but one of the other things that arts organisations might do if they’re still enamoured of television in its many forms is talk to sympathetic independent producers with experience of working with the arts.
    You’re right that good people are essential, but there are options other than bringing those people in-house – the right kinds of collaborations, either on a one-off or continuing basis, with the right experienced producers can be very productive. Not that the independents have any guaranteed access to funding or distribution, but they may be able to offer guidance and assistance.
    Having said which, such conversations are exactly what Illuminations does regularly (http://www.illuminationsmedia.co.uk) – and occasionally these lead to productions that work well both for the arts organisation, for the production company – and hopefully too for the commissioners.

  2. Chris Unitt

    I was on a panel with someone from the BBC at British Dance Edition last year and we were talking about dance’s multiplatform future. Most of the Q&A afterwards was taken up with people asking ‘how do I get on the BBC?’ As tactics go, it’s like fixating on winning the lottery (only with less certain benefits).
    I’d be interested in hearing how you think the likes of Digital Theatre and Tendu TV fit in with all of this. Would you put them in the category of ‘collaborative opportunity across the sector’ or are you thinking of something more centralised or not-commercial for that?
    Nice to see a comment from John at Illuminations too – the link round-ups on their blog is usually worth a read.

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