Beyond TV

Channel 4 and the multiplatform environment

Discussions about the television industry cannot seem to escape the inundation of buzz terms and the constant search for the ultimate innovation holy grail. Multiplatform, transmedia, cross-media, connected TV, smart TV, hybrid production – these are all words widely being tossed around to describe the present and future transformation of television.

The terms “broadcasting” and “television” seem somewhat outdated as media companies known as “broadcasters” continue to grapple with how to best position themselves, evolve and connect with audiences.

However, it is not only the use of terminology that needs to be reassessed. The creation of audiovisual content from commissioning stage to distribution stage needs to be approached in the light of digital creativity and multiplatform opportunities. How are TV stations responding to change, particularly multiplatform adaptation?

Channel 4 seems to be grabbing the bull by its horns and taking charge in the new online scenario. In a white paper on Channel 4′s multiplatform publishing strategy, Frank Boyd describes the organisation as “the most innovative and adventurous broadcaster in the UK when it comes to experimentation with multiplatform publishing.” In the 2011 Bafta Awards, three of the four projects nominated for Digital Creativity were in fact Channel 4 productions.

But how is Channel 4 managing change? As quoted in the white paper, C4′s head of online Richard Davidson-Houston believes that “companies need to overcome some of the fundamental assumptions embedded in the professional cultures inherent in different sectors to learn a new approach to development and production”. Similarly, in an interview with Power to the Pixel, Louise Brown, multiplatform Commissioning Lead at Channel 4, talks of C4’s particular remit as a public broadcaster and the need for people to interact with broadcast output.

Channel 4 presents an interesting case study on company change and adaptation. The company’s focus is no longer about being a television station but about delivering content with the maximum possible impact. As expressed unapologetically by Davidson-Houston – television is just part of what Channel 4 does.

The Big Fish Fight multiplatform initiative by Channel 4 is great example of a project that uses the interplay of TV and interactive media across multiple platforms to achieve a concrete goal and audience engagement. The project set-out with two sustainability objectives: to end the EU practice of discarding fish and to encourage consumers to opt for a more diverse range of fish. The project reached far and wide with supermarket chains taking concrete action and political debate in the UK Parliament.

Channel 4 is transforming itself to a converged creative business in its quest to be ahead of the game in digital innovation. The organisation’s work is a reminder that transformation and convergence have indeed happened. A ‘wait and see’ strategy is no longer a viable solution and digital opportunities across platforms are up for grabs.

 

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Pop goes Mozilla

Game changing innovation by the Mozilla Foundation

Up until a year ago, the name Mozilla was to me the name of an internet browser. Then came the excitable tweets from a journalist friend who was in Ravensbourne, London attending #MozFest. The tweets enticed me to find out more about my friend’s discovery.

A year on and several tweets later, I now know that Mozilla is so much more than browser. The Mozilla Foundation is an organisation that has grown over the past fifteen years with a mission to drive change and innovation by enabling the open web. The Mozilla festival organised by the foundation, is a unique gathering for hip geeks enthusiastic about the future of the web and all things tech and shareable. The yearly festival is an opportunity for web developers, journalists, gamers, educators, filmmakers and all those keen to share skills and expertise.

 Mozilla’s cutting edge is its focus on citizen empowerment and the determination to create products that serve the user. Openness and transparency are at the core of the organisation’s mission as expressed in the recently published Mozilla Annual Report:

 “Mozilla’s vision of the Internet is a place where anyone can access information, a place where everyone can hack and tinker; one that has openness, freedom and transparency; where users have control over their personal data and where all minds have the freedom to create and to consume without walls or tight restrictions.”

 Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker, a free web app, is a concrete example of this organisation is creating products with the potential of becoming game changers rather than mere trend setters.

 Web video is rapidly gaining ground, yet until recently it was difficult to create interactive video. With Popcorn Maker users can augment, remix and share web video. The new app allows users to create sophisticated interactive video which can be circulated across the web with great ease and speed.

The TEDTalk by Beau Lotto and Amy O’Toole was augmented by the team Mozilla using Popcorn Maker. This shows how a video or audio file on the web can be enhanced by layering in services and content from the web, using a drag-and-drop interface

Popcorn Maker’s disruptive potential is described in a recent on article FastCompany: “its toylike simplicity is exactly what makes the app as potentially disruptive as YouTube was to video and WordPress was to publishing.”

Change and innovation is about creating possibilities. We have been constantly witnessing how media is changed with the remixing and sharing of simple web tools. However, video was until recently a one way medium – we could make and send web video but not interact with that content. Mozilla recognised that lacuna and worked with the community to create a user-friendly tool to change and innovate video content. 

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Newspaper extinction timeline – When newspapers in their current form will become insignificant

“Australian futurist and entrepreneur Ross Dawson has gone about predicting the death of newspapers according to country, charting out his observations in the map pictured here.

http://futureexploration.net/Newspaper_Extinction_Timeline.pdf

His point is not just that newspapers in their current form will become, as he says, “insignificant”, but exactly when this happens varies from country to country.

The extinction, Dawson predicts, will start in more developed countries, beginning with the US in 2017, followed by UK and Iceland in 2019 and Canada and Norway in 2020. But in most countries, newspapers in their current form will still be around in 2040, so prophetic claims of the death of the newspaper are premature at best. “

(http://designtaxi.com/news/33318/Newspaper-Extinction-Timeline-Read-All-About-it-Online/; access  Nov.5 2012)

Austria has still 16 years to read printed newspapers – and your country? ;-)

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Creative revenue ideas: That print ad just tweeted at me

This series spotlights resourceful ways in which news organisations are branching out in search of revenue.

Remember when print ads could only play video? Now they can broadcast live tweets.

One thousand copies from Time Inc. magazine Entertainment Weekly’s next print run on October 5 will contain an Internet-connected ad, embedded inside two stiff sheets of paper.

The CW Television Network is behind the promotional insert, which will use an Android-powered device with a 3G cellular radio to display looping video and a live Twitter stream (the six latest tweets posted to the @CW_Network) on a mini LCD screen.

The experiment is all about branding. “It’s important advertisers know they can come to us when they want to do something that’s new, that’s never been done before,” Rick Haskins, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Digital Programmes at The CW, toldMashable.

The ad may sound nifty on paper, but whether it heralds a renaissance in print advertising is not yet certain; the followingMashable video reveals it to be slow, silent, lacking in tactility and comparable to a singing Hallmark card.

 

Source: http://www.sfnblog.com/2012/10/03/creative-revenue-ideas-that-print-ad-just-tweeted-at-me

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How to use social media in newsgathering

Social Media is getting more important – specially for journalists. This article describes the use of the most important social media platforms for journalists in the process of news-gathering. How to find sources and stories on the net

http://www.journalism.co.uk/skills/how-to-use-social-media-in-newsgathering/s7/a550556/

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The Pixar Innovation Story – Not a Coincidence

It’s the back to school season and cartoon characters and superheroes have taken over the supermarket shelves – bugs, toys, robots and cars are on merchandise of all sorts. Most of these are the Pixar animation creations that have ignited the imagination of children and adults worldwide.

Pixar is one of the top innovation and creativity power houses. It is a trendsetter known for its distinctive approach to the work place. Since their Toy Story success in 1995, all their animated features have enjoyed blockbuster success.

As the company’s timeline shows, its beginnings go back to 1979 when George Lucas set up a group to explore techniques for digital printing and editing. He hired Ed Catmull, a leading researcher in computer graphics. In 1986 a deal was struck with Apple founder Steve Jobs, who was attracted by the talent of the team and passion to make full-length computer-generated animated films. The collaboration with Disney started in 1991. Pixar would conceive its stories, write the scripts, direct animation, and carry out post production while Disney would focus on marketing and distribution.

Creative success and unblemished track records don’t just happen. Behind this once small company’s success, is a strong understanding of innovation processes. In an article on the Harvard Business Review, Ed Catmull, President and co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and President of Walt Disney Animation Studios, reveals some of the innovation principles and practices which have guided Pixar through the years.

A Community of Connected Creators

 The Pixar culture is one that prioritises the importance of nurturing a creative community. Many companies opt to outsource for economic reasons or practicality but for Pixar in-house creativity is a must. Catmull believes that there should not be a disconnect between the creators and makers of products. The Pixar President champions a stronger connection between creators and production that leads to better products.

Failing to succeed

At Pixar, only after passing through extensive development will a story finally move to the much more costly digital animation phase. Failure is an inherent part of innovation. A feature which takes just over an hour to watch, takes at least five year to get developed and produced. And many other stories don’t make it to production. The company is known to conduct post-mortem reviews of films where teams have the opportunity to share what they would and would not do again.

 Life Long Learning and Spatial Dynamics

Pixar has built a company culture of lifelong learning. The company has even established Pixar University which offers more than 100 courses and employees are encouraged to devote up to four hours a week on their education.

To encourage interaction among different departments, Pixar has created a large atrium at its centre with a cafeteria, meeting rooms, and mailboxes. Innovation in communal space design is used to create a different atmosphere as opposed to conventional office life.

 19 Academy Awards and $3 billion at the box office are not a coincidence. Pixar’s success story so far, has been the result of a deeply ingrained culture of creativity and innovation.

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Innovative Narratives

In the on-going “to be or not be” dilemmas faced by news organisations, the trend has been to focus on how to improve existing products. Much is said about how business models need to change and how the digital age creates new demands for mainstream news products. We hear of the companies which have decided to call it a day or are downsizing radically.

What about new entrepreneurial initiatives? Can new disruptive competitors emerge from outside established organisations? In a city like New York, where media companies come in all shapes and sizes, it is certainly a challenge to stand out and be counted as an innovative news business practice.

The newly launched website Narrative.ly makes an interesting innovation case study. The digital publication does not opt for the standard traditional breaking news format or politics and entertainment stories. Instead, it sets out to undertake high-quality, feature reporting using a multimedia story telling approach.

In a competitive digital environment everyone is rushing frantically to be the first to break news on trending social platforms. It is a constant race for scoops and interviews with the usual suspect politicians and celebrities. Narratively proposes to do pretty much the opposite. Long format and in-depth narratives about New York City and its undiscovered characters, is the format proposed by this publication. It’s not the average 100 stories a day which works for this project but one, multimedia story a day.

The founder of Narratively, Noah Rosenberg describes himself as “a passionate storyteller across all media platforms”.  Rosenberg, a freelance journalist and contributor to The New York Times, started raising funds on the crowd funding platform Kickstarter. At the time of writing, the project had raised almost $54, 000 with backing by over 800 funders.

In the project’s Kickstarter video, journalism professor Jeff Jarvis describes Narratively as a “chance to rethink content, storytelling, and journalism and to leap frog the old media companies that are still trying to figure it out.”

Just a couple of weeks after its launch, it is worth exploring the different features which make this publication particularly innovative and possibly a  model for future journalism:

360 degrees story telling: Narratively focuses on a singular story everyday and on a different city inhabitant. Here it is not the format that comes first, but the story. How can the story best be told? This can vary from a short documentary, to a photo essay, to an audio piece, to the long form article. This approach recognises the changing needs of tablet and smart phone users who want and have an opportunity to discover different content and aspects of a story.

A collaborative approach: The project relies on a network of freelancers, who have worked for leading organisations such as The New York Times and the BBC. These collaborators know the city and share an enthusiasm to tell untold stories of individuals who experience cities in unique ways.

Community engagement: On Narratively, Fridays are devoted to behind-the-scenes coverage and user generated content in the section called The Park Bench. The site engages with the New York community on a hyper local level through the types of stories it publishes. It sets out to engage with users by providing multi-media content, curating comments and crowd sourcing content from residents.

Flexible and adaptable: Each city has its stories, peculiarities and characters. This makes the Narratively format an adaptable one. What has started off as a publication centred around New York, could grow into a  digital brand for city storytelling all across the world.

Whether this innovative concept will reach far and wide, is yet to be seen. However Narratively’s approach to relate stories organically is a promising start and an interesting model for news and digital story telling.

 

 

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A Primer on Innovation: The Case of Storify

“There’s a key difference between journalism and entrepreneurship: Being a journalist is being careful to never make a mistake… Doing a startup is about making mistakes all the time and not being afraid to fail.” This is probably the key message from a chat that Poynter Institute did with Burt Herman, CEO and co-founder of Storify (published in November 2011).

Storify is a tool that allows a user to compile content from various social networks, while for journalists the tool is a help in working on stories. “Learning to curate sources is an essential skill in this age of media overload, and Storify makes sure to always keep attribution to avoid plagiarism”, Herman said.

As Herman noted, “Storify is for telling stories using social media: users can easily search for Tweets, photos and video from social networks to add to their “story.” The story can then be embedded on any site.”  

“What Storify is really about is taking the best of the old and combining it with the new. We do still need the best practices of journalism, but to bring that into the Internet age”, said Herman.

Storify creators are building a platform they wish to be truly social by having a bi- directional relation with social networks – drawing from them and pushing content out to them. For instance, one can crowdsource local news and engage the audience to contribute comments or photos on the same topic using a particular hashtag.

There have been some prominent uses of Storify by media, such as Al Jazeera, which has created a show around Storify, or The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. It has also been used as a tool for Election Day reporting. However, there have been a lot of use of Storify outside of journalism, by big companies, for marketing and PR on social media, as well as political and NGO use.

Passion Stronger than Risk

Before creating Storify as a startup, Herman was a journalist with the Associated Press, after which he went on a fellowship and then spent brief time at AP again. But he really wanted to create a startup. “There was some risk, but I knew this was something that I was passionate about and wanted to innovate by bringing together journalism and social media”, Herman said.

“Given how hard it is to succeed with a startup or any new venture, it’s of course important to be pursuing something that you can’t stop thinking about. You have to be incredibly driven, but also willing to listen to feedback and adjust along the way”, Herman shared his experience.

Tips for journalists turned business people

Herman’s tips for journalists and others who have venture ideas, but are not sure how to start as they are not business people?

  1. If venture capital is involved, one should go after a huge market and solving a big problem. The key is thinking big enough so that the new enterprise will be appealing.
     
  2. It is ok if there is a high chance of failure as investors understand this and that is why they make a lot of bets. Most startups fail, but the investors are hoping to get big gains from a few that succeed. 
     
  3. Team is another key thing. Investors value it often even more than the idea because ideas may change, but a good team will adjust and create a great company.
     
  4. You do need to be really passionate and driven to do a startup, because it is hard work. You are doing something that no one has done before, Herman says.
     
  5. In terms of adequate finances, do not leap blindly off the cliff, says Herman. Take into account your personal situation. Herman had 12 years of working for AP behind him and financial resources that could sustain him for more than a year before his startup got funding.
     
  6. For every startup you hear about, there are dozens of others that did not get that far. 
     
  7. Storify is focusing first on building up a user base and distribution, while it will focus on revenue streams later. They can afford that because they are backed by venture capital. Six months after the public launch, Storify is looking at potential revenue streams, with the plan that the tool always be free for users to create stories. Moreover, they want to find ways for writers to earn money from their work on Storify.
     
  8. How did they develop relationships with the first users – news organisations? They reached out to journalists, as Storify was initially created for them, looking for those who were willing to experiment, such as writers from niche publications or people in charge of more innovative tasks, such as social media editors. Then they listen closely to what the first users had to say about the product, changing and adapting it according to their suggestions. 
     
  9. Most important idea for a journalist-turned-entrepreneur? “There’s a key difference between journalism and entrepreneurship: Being a journalist is being careful to never make a mistake and be accurate. Doing a startup is about making mistakes all the time and not being afraid to fail”, says Herman and adds:
     
  10. “It’s a tough switch to make and a daily challenge, but the key is just to get out there and try something new. Journalism needs innovation!”
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Lessons Learned – The Washington Post’s new interactive video tool

An interesting case study for media innovation comes from The Washington Post with the launch of its new interactive video analysis tool and social media tracking for the media organisation’s video coverage of the 2012 Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

The tool enables users to interact with the video while watching the speeches, to see what part of the speech was the most tweeted, and to view other users’ reactions on Twitter, as well as to see exactly what moment of the speech triggered the reactions. One can also see what the Washington Post had to say about the issues covered in the featured speech. Links accompanying the interactive video allow fact checking and insight into previous news coverage, analysis and opinions, reports Poynter.org. Word clouds show the most words most used by the speaker and Twitter users.  

“We will package these reactions to reveal insights into the nation’s response to the conventions and their most-watched speeches”, says the Post in a piece announcing the project launch.

The tool is a result of partnering with VoterTide, a company specializing in non-partisan social media analysis mainly for political issues, advocacy groups, news outlets and non-profits.

Cory Haik, executive producer for digital news at The Washington Post, provides some useful lessons for media innovators in an interview for Poynter.org. We summarized them and added commentary for the purpose of this article:

  • Develop it fast
    Haik says that the project started a few weeks before its launch. The Post has clearly used the logic of contemporary innovation management – allocate short time to develop the project and abandon it if it did not work out.
  • Do not throw resources at the project
    Only seven people worked on the project, while also working on other things, says Haik. For such a large organisation as the Post, it does not seem to be a big number. The logic would be that it is better to invest the time of few dedicated people than to establish a cumbersome in-house team in the uncertain waters of media innovation projects that can turn out not to be the right thing business-wise. Startup incubators and dedicated innovation labs are a different story, which we covered in one of the previous posts.
  • Mobile, Social and Video
    “Haik said she has three words high in her mind when developing new projects: “Mobile, Social and Video”, Poynter.org reports. This is an example of converging media logic at work in a newsroom, with a much tighter integration of content and social network communication than usual in the case of the interactive video analysis tool meets Twitter.
  • Have both Business and Journalistic Reasons
    “There are business reasons and journalistic reasons that this idea was attractive,” Haik told Poynter.org. Indeed, both seem to be needed for a successful project with a mainstream media organisation which needs to take care of the business aspects of innovation. Following business reasons only could degrade the quality of the content, while a project with good content but with no well-developed business case can have a big question mark looming over its survival.
  • The Business Reason – Engage the People
    Haik explained to Poynter.org that projects like this one have a high engagement as the user spends more time on an interactive than on static content, which is precisely the parameter of interest to advertisers – “time spent on site”. Engaging people is not only good for advertisers, but it also prompts the users to see other content instead of their usual behavior of quickly flying through the online pages, said Haik. 
  • Journalistic Purpose
    Haik says that with this innovation they also produced a new story form. Indeed, it is a new form of digital narrative. She also said that the Post journalists used the speech search tool as a resource to produce material for stories. Therefore, both the general audience and the journalists have the use of the tool.

  • Scalability
    “Scalability” is an issue, Haik says for Poynter.org. If a project is a success, she wants to know that it can have multiple applications.  
  • Big events as Springboards
    The Washington Post launches new projects on the occasion of big political events (such as inaugurations, elections and political conventions) “because political coverage is so key to its core brand”, reports Poynter.org. The video interactive tool will likely be used by the Post for debate coverage, said Haik.

 

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Publishing data – Black Box of Journalism Unpacked

Media organisations are opening up their APIs and data to the public, developers, journalists and audience at large, which should help produce new stories, data visualizations, mash-ups and other forms of digital storytelling.

The Washington Post has launched an API portal for developers who can now build apps using data from the newspaper, reports Eweek.com.

 “Powered by the Post”, the portal hosting the media organisation’s open API’s, makes its APIs publicly available for the first time, including data processed and published by the Washington Post. Data includes presidential speeches, White House visits, campaign finance data and more, reports Eweek.com.

The Washington Post will complement this initiative with hosting Election Hackaton in October, on the occasion of the 2012 presidential election, giving an opportunity to developers to build apps on the spot that use data from The Washington Post, National Public Radio, Sunlight Labs and other sources of APIs, reports Eweek.com.

Visualizations like Guardian’s

If you wish to produce visualizations like Guardian’s, then pay attention to the Miso Project, Guardian’s initiative to offer its own open code for data visualizations to all journalists. The code is published in sequels, in the form of so-called software libraries.

Making the Guardian’s code public will help journalists to tell stories in a visual way, said the head of interactivity at the Guardian, Alastair Dant, for Journalism.co.uk . He also stated that although there is freely available data, there are not many tools for its processing – hence the Miso Project to help fill the gap.  

Dant hopes that media organisations, both large, and small, local ones, will use the open code as what the programming of the code entails can be done by one person, reports Journalism.co.uk.

“The Guardian is committed to Open Journalism and the Miso libraries are part of a process of building a truly open interactive journalism, where we not only make raw data available to the public but also open up the ‘full stack’ – from data processing tools & scripts to the visualization tools used to create the final output.”, says Alex Graul, an Interactive Developer at guardian.co.uk on the Guardian’s Developer Blog.

More about Miso Project can be found on the Guardian’s Blog. The project was started owing to the funding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and in cooperation with a U.S. open technology company Bocoup.

Opening the Black Box

The previous two examples are not the only ones of media organisations opening up their code and data, collected and processed with much effort, so that new and exciting stories and forms of digital storytelling can emerge. The resources are open not only to other media, but also to the public, which presents a great leap from the traditional media paradigm of journalists as gate-keepers to journalists as sense-makers.

In the traditional media world, journalists were practicing independence and distance from users, and users were expected to exercise unconditional trust in media content. What went on within media organisations in terms of content production was a black box for the audience, while they were only the recipients of this process’ outcome.

However, journalism practice has experienced a profound change in the digital era, and the examples of the proverbial black box opening up are many: from the original documents published along with the stories to corroborate evidence, users providing instant feedback to the journalistic work and feeding information into the news production process, to the above explained data sets and tools being offered freely for further use. Unconditional trust is being replaced with the transparency of journalistic work and the ability of users to scrutinize it.

One of the key forces shaping journalism today is technological innovation and we are, in fact, witnessing the history of digital media unfolding, with technological means influencing journalistic and social practice and offering new modes of communication in the public sphere. 

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