Building Capacity – is the Internet bothered?

BBC Television Centre Wood LaneI’ve been attending a few Culture industry conferences over the last couple of months, firstly the “Arts & Community Media” event organised by the Community Media Association and the “Building Digital Capacity for the Arts” in London, organised by our UK Arts Council England with the BBC Academy. More recently, Digital Futures In Dance at the lovely Pavilion Dance venue in Bournemouth. (beans on toast excellent, as reported to my Twitter friends)

A theme of all of these events was how the arts and culture industry can broaden it’s scope and reach by embracing the opportunity afforded by the current and evolving technology of broadcasting.

People who are exposed to my regular rants, will know I think it’s high time the funded arts sector woke up to these opportunities. After producing my Gene Pool podcast (and now radio show) online for over 5 years, it’s only been 12 months since my download statistics were accepted by ACE as valid evidence of there being real people listening via the internet. This number is now at 35,000 and I can still barely get anyone in the arts interested in addressing an online audience of that number.

The heart of the problem, in my opinion, is that we’re struggling with an industry populated by people with a very traditional Theatre-based thinking. Success for them being marked by bums on seats, footfall and Guardian reviews. There’s a prevailing comment, even from the National Theatre who are leading the way in the UK with live streamed performances, that the actual experience of being in those plush seats to see the performers in the flesh is simply better than anything else. I’ve yet to hear anyone attempt to define why that is, but the looming spectre which seems to hover over the shoulder of our traditionalists, is the thought that “Perhaps The Internet doesn’t care

A post-HiFi generation has now grown up listening to mp3’s through crappy “ear bud” headphones. Compared to the rapture inducing experience of hearing a full quality recording played via a top end sound system, the mp3 listening experience doesn’t even count. But, for the many people who do it, this quality of experience is satisfactory. In the Music world, the compressed, data-reduced sounds people listen to everyday has been given a certain “good enough” functional role – it’s what you fill up the silence of your mind with while you’re on the train.

Now there I go – off on one yet again.

Anyway, back to the point: Could the space formerly occupied by a quality evening of live performance also have fallen to the same fate as the music world ? Is television drama or even, YouTube now the “good enough” experience for the audience formerly known as Theatre-goers?

But if it is, shouldn’t the experts in producing engaging, quality expressions of ideas and emotions of our time be putting themselves on this platform ? No question really, of course they should.

Although there’s a whole generation of multi-platform thinkers out there, the Culture industry still seems, frankly encumbered by people who cannot think outside of their cosy Theatre spaces. The problem we seem to be facing is more or less the same one as the Music Industry faced, and lost 10 years ago. The outcome for them, and in result us as artists, was an over 50% loss of their paying audience as the culture shifted to a digital base.

Let’s hope that the Arts dinosaurs don’t take the Culture industry down with them, like the slow witted Music Execs of the 90’s did with their industry.

PS: On the upside, I got to go to BBC Television Centre in Wood Lane, which was cool beyond anything








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