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We're All Broadcasters Now
Got a web page yet? Know your IPRs from your intangible assets? Plugged in for Metadata? Christina Fox advocates taking a wide angle view of information technology and discovering what it can do for you.
This article was published in Zerb Autumn 2001 - The journal of the Guild of Television Cameramen.
Reading through Zerb, the Guild's newsletter and the forum, it would easy to think that the future is bleak for cameramen. Journalists are being taught how to use cameras; wobblycam, once the preserve of yoof TV, is used in primetime; even the term cameraman is seen as a turn off to the new blood the Guild hopes to attract into the fold. What is a poor cameraman/woman/person/operator to do?
Well, don't reach for the man-size Kleenex just yet. I believe there are more opportunities for cameramen than ever before. But (there's always a but), if the times are a changing then so too must we. This shouldn't be difficult for a group of professionals who have seen large numbers of changes in technology and working practices, but it is easy to see why cameramen are getting worried: anyone and everyone thinks they are a cameramen.
It's a cliché that the average person doesn't know how to set the timer on their VHS. But, I bet the same people can learn to record a picture with a video camera within ten minutes of getting it out of the box. Link this with Apple's iMac that is simple to use and being sold as a desktop video system and you have a generation of 40-something parents and teenage wannabe film makers who can make their own home movies.
Apple's free iMovie editing software has been designed to be so intuitive you shouldn't need a manual to work out how to use it. So long as they don't make me watch them, I'm all for people editing their own home movies, because it gives them a better understanding of how TV programmes are made.
For those kids leaving school hoping to get into our industry, this may be one of the best ways they get experience. I know many of you reading this are cringing at the thought. When I was interviewed at the BBC in 1983 I brought along a portfolio of my best six still photographs - today, as an employer, I'd be impressed if a kid gave me a website address to log onto to watch the streaming video they'd shot.
Interestingly, while some cameramen are worried about losing their jobs - some people are using this low-cost technology because they don't want to join the established broadcasters. Undercurrents and i-Contact make their own videos because, they say: "A tiny minority decide what is and isn't seen on television. i-Contact want to make it as easy as possible for anybody to make programmes. We advocate genuine public access to TV and individual empowerment."
Like the Guild they have a mailing list to share ideas. "This mailing list is intended to support video makers working in the domain of Human Rights, Environmentalism and Community Video etc. […] As you probably know the mainstream media is inadequate at reporting what is going on so it falls to us DIY video makers/Video Activists to set the record straight." Take a look at their archive to see the type of projects people are getting involved in.
Undercurrents compiles its own news items on VHS and sends it out to like-minded individuals and news organisations. It also runs courses, teaching other activists how to shoot their own stories and put together a strategy for their campaign, whether it's to stop a supermarket being built on the local playing field or motorway through ancient woodland.
Groups like Undercurrents are one of the reasons I believe cameramen can be more optimistic for the future. They have shown that people want specialised programming.
Ok so, Undercurrents and i-Contact may feel a little extreme for your tastes. But setting your own news agenda is already here on a small scale. 'My BBC' and 'My excite' allow me to list the news topics I want delivered to my computer. If you don't want sport, you don't get it. If you want health and technology stories, there they are. It's a small step to becoming your own scheduler.
In the States there is an audio version called Command Audio. It delivers a re-purposed on-demand media service to mobile (mainly car bound) subscribers in the US. CEO and founder Don Bogue offers a service that allows his subscribers: "To hear what I want, when I want, only the programmes I want, just the parts of the programmes I want, in exactly the sequence that I want, whenever I want, and wherever I want."
On a panel I chaired at IBC 2000 he explained that his listeners don't have to wait for the top of the hour for the news. If they get in their car at 18 mins past the hour, no matter, "because it is prime time all the time." Imagine being able to sit in the car and have someone give you only the stories you're interested in. "The only media that is more popular than the material we bring over from TV is what we bring over from print. But what [our subscribers] like is for someone to read them the principle stories." And it is a frightening prospect for advertisers - this is a subscription service, there are no adverts.
So, I can read or hear only the stories I want - will there come a time when I can schedule my own programmes?
Werner Lauff, president of the Bertelsmann Broadcasting Group gave a keynote speech at Streaming Media 2000. He believes television is inconvenient. It's a time problem. "No one dictates when I have to read a newspaper or play a CD or start a new book. But if I want to watch a documentary on TV, I have to live by the clock. I have to be in the mood for entertainment when Channel 5 wants me to. I have to want to learn whenever the BBC transmits a language course. Even my visits to the rest rooms are dictated by the commercial breaks - luckily there are enough of them," he joked.
"Wouldn't it be lovely if they could transmit everything at the same time. The Bahamas video for someone who is flying out to the Bahamas tomorrow and the health tips for the flu victim. But it is just not possible. This is going to change. Interactive TV will enable the transmission of several different special interest programmes simultaneously via one channel at low cost and without the danger of being uneconomic."
Of course being my own scheduler can have its downside. It's the John Wayne Bobbit effect. Let's say I choose to have stories on politics, technology, business, and entertainment (no sport, I'm not interested) on "My BBC". I wouldn't ask for (and it doesn't offer) stories on penile mutilation. So, I could have missed out on the whole Mr Bobbit bobbed by Mrs Bobbit story. Now maybe my life is richer for not knowing. But, wait a minute here I am on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Chris says OK for one million pounds who won the world cup in 1966. It's only easy if you know the answer, if you've been fed a varied diet by the TV and newspapers. You wouldn't know the answer to the question if you, like me, had filtered sport out of your own news agenda. There are also implications for democracy. How will people know who to vote for if the only news they receive is of soap stars and celebrities.
But, Werner Lauff is right, I should be able to watch French language programmes two weeks before I go on holiday, not when the BBC decides to schedule them. The nearest I got to self scheduling was while on holiday in the States. I brought my laptop and logged on (free) with compuserve to watch the news from the UK. The BBC's streamed 24-hour news was available but tiresome because it timed out just before the sports news. For three weeks my husband never did get any sport out of the BBC - but that is nothing new. Channel 4, on the other hand, cleverly offered us the option of watching the whole programme or individual stories in any order we liked. There's still a long way to go.
My apologies if you're wondering why I think these developments are good news for cameramen. Because so far they're not. For the future to look bright we need control. If everyone's tastes are to be catered for, the broadcasters are going to need a lot of content. Mmmm…. Content. Now you're talking. Cameramen are definitely good at content. But, it is like sand through our fingers because we don't have control over what we shoot.
Last year Peter Bazalgette gave an interesting keynote speech at BCM2000: "My company has been accused of watching paint dry, water boil and grass grow." Yes he's the guy that brought us Changing Rooms, Ready Steady Cook and Ground Force. Besides programmes in the UK and around the world, there are also books, live shows, magazines and merchandise, which he believes is a perfect example of the intangible assets that are going to drive the content economy.
Ten years ago, he owned no rights. The broadcaster owned them "and did bugger all with them." Today that situation has changed, now he shares rights with the broadcaster. This is an important change in thinking and doing business in the industry. "Intangible assets are going to be very important. It's the way the new media economy is going."
Terms and conditions
Perhaps cameramen should follow Bazalgette's lead. I've found it interesting to read through the sample terms and conditions the Guild has been publishing in the newsletter. There is the usual stuff about how many hours equals one day, expenses and payment terms. Perhaps, in the future we need to include a clause about our intellectual property rights. We have to start thinking about rights to what we shoot. When did we give them away? More importantly, why do we give them away?
When I joined the BBC in 1984 I had to sign away my rights. The BBC as my employer owned everything I created. I was so grateful for a job I'd have given them the rights to my first born. In those days most cameramen were employed by the big broadcasters. But things have changed; more and more of us are freelance, but we're still giving away our biggest assets, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), as if we're still employees. Remember when the Hollywood studios "owned" the actors who worked for them - look what happened when the industry changed and the stars effectively became freelance. They were in control, they called the shots!
It's 2001, I have my own website, I'm freelance now. But, the BBC still wants complete control of my IPR. The following are extracts from a contract the BBC wanted me to sign…
Clause 9.1. In consideration of the payment of the Fee, the Company and/or Consultant hereby assigns to the extent to which it is able and otherwise agrees to assign to the BBC absolutely (and waives all moral rights irrevocably to the extent permitted by law) and with full title guarantee, all IPRs (both existing at the date hereof and in the future) in the Deliverables and in the products of any Services in all languages throughout the Universe for the full period of such rights (including all rights to renewals and extensions thereof).
Clause 9.2 The Company and/or the Consultant hereby grants the BBC a non-exclusive, royalty-free, irrevocable license to use and sub-licence any IPRs in any Deliverables or any products of any Services under the Agreement, which it has not assigned under this Clause.
Clause 9.4 The Company warrants that the Consultant has irrevocably assigned to it all existing future copyright in the Deliverables or the products of any Services provided or to be provided by the Consultant to the BBC; and shall procure that the Consultant and/or Company signs if requested by the BBC, an assignment of copyright in similar form.
Basically, they want it all and they want it forever in this Universe. I'm not getting at the BBC. If I was them I'd do the same. But wait a minute, actors get repeat fees, Photographers are paid each time a picture they took is booked out of a photo library, and Peter Bazalgette uses the IPR he hangs onto to make more money from merchandising. You have to ask 'if these guys can keep on milking the cow then why aren't we?'
Now, I can see a few hands shoot up at the back of the class. Just supposing you get to keep the rights, it will be impossible to police. But in this digital age it is getting easier thanks to metadata. The internet savvy amongst you will know that a good web page has important information hidden from the viewer's eye. This metadata can include keywords and descriptions of the page or site. They can be read by search engines to help you find sites dedicated to DigiBeta. (If you want to read a site's hidden data just go View > Source from your browser's toolbar.)
But metadata isn't just for web sites. The latest camcorders from Sony can have built-in GPS satellite receivers, so that it will log exactly where each shot was recorded. That metadata, as well as the cameraman's unique identifier (if you haven't got one yet, don't worry, you will), the name of the production, profit centre, reporter, etc., will be stored on the broadcaster's (or production company's) digital asset management system, along with information about who owns what rights to any individual shot, so that material can be repurposed, reformatted and output on the Web, on demand, or used in a documentary in 50 years.
With metadata, every time someone somewhere (in this universe) uses the pictures that you created - you'll know about it. Even if the metadata is striped out somehow, there are now systems (such as that from Contentwise), which can just look at an image and recognise it, and tell the BBC or CNN (who both use it), if their material has just been broadcast by someone else. The BBC, in a nice display of honesty, uses it to identify agency material so it can pay for it. (Did I just hear a cow mooing back there?)
Perhaps the reason we have never bothered about IPRs is because we wouldn't know what to do with them if we had them. Well, you'd sell them of course - through an agency. One of the pioneers was TVNewsweb. Unfortunately at the time of writing TVNewsweb were in financial difficulties. This is depressing because they provided a much needed service to cameramen - helping them to find new markets for their pictures. But still allowing them control over those images.
On their web page titled HOW TO SELL VIDEO. It said…
You're in control
You retain full copyright control over any material you submit to TVNEWSWEB.
We offer a one-stop global sales and marketing platform for your footage.
You concentrate on the pictures - we'll market and sell them for you.
Global reach, global platform
Not sure how to get your material to us? One call to our intake desk and we'll do the rest. All the TVNEWSWEB editorial team have years of field and news desk experience. We know what it takes to move video around the globe.
Once it's in the TVNEWSWEB Video Shop your work can be seen by the world's broadcasters, right around the clock.
Our sales team will actively market your material. With a single story you can make multiple transactions, using our secure e-commerce system.
Music to my wallet, I mean ears. You didn't even need to edit your material. Kerry Stevenson, TV Newsweb's director of sales and marketing, advised content creators at IBC2000 that their customers "…want raw material, not packages." TVNewsweb was educating content suppliers to the needs of content buyers. "Suppliers of the material want content that's saleable. But they don't understand what is saleable. We repurpose that content in order to make it saleable to an international marketplace. But our suppliers don't necessarily want us to make those editorial changes. They want us to take their packages as they stand and sell it to an international market without realising different markets, different regions, need different things. What our customers want to buy is material that is relevant to their region. Regional material is quite key. We are constantly talking to our suppliers and asking them to rethink for a much more international market place not to just think of their material for their own broadcast and their own use. We are also asking them to think about how to make money from the content that they have. It is saleable. It can be re-used. But it is a new process and a new working practice that we are trying to put in place."
Remember photographers have been selling their images through third parties for years. Now its our turn. I hope by the time you read this TVNewsweb has found a backer and is back in business, or some other similar service will arise. Because when we have control of our IPRs we'll be looking around for a company just like them.
Capitalise on your assets
Maybe TVNewsweb was a little too ahead of its time, maybe I'm looking too far ahead, so here is a little step you could take: try this in your next contract. You should insert a clause into your terms and conditions which allows you to retain the right to use, say ten minutes (or X %) of the material you shot - and place it on your website as part of your online showreel. That's not unreasonable is it?
What do you mean you haven't got a website?
So, how many of you have a Website? All of you who shook your head - why not? Do you think this computer stuff is too difficult? Go to http://demina.boom.ru/index.html and see Eugenia Demina's home page (she's 11 years old). Follow the link to her picture gallery (it is really cute), I loved "Sunset Party" http://demina.boom.ru/in/2000new01.html. If she can do it, so can you - even if you don't have an eleven-year-old to give you advice.
Ah, but it's too expensive. Not so. A domain name will cost you from £10-50 per year. Hosting (i.e. somewhere to park your site) around £50 a year. The software, if you use Dreamweaver, can cost up to £300, but I got my first copy of Dreamweaver version 1 from a computer magazine CD costing just £4.99. We're talking about £100 a year - all tax deductible. It's a marketing tool you should be exploiting.
Even if you don't have the rights to use your moving images you can produce a stunning site to show your creativity. Take a look at Alec Ceschi's site www.alec-ceschi.co.uk to understand what I'm banging on about. It is beautiful. The look and feel of his site tells potential clients all they need to know.
And this is my point (no really I do have one): Cameramen can offer "value added" - something a VJ can only dream about. But you have to stop thinking of yourself as only a cameraman. Learn lessons from the Hollywood actors who set up production companies to make their own pet project into a film. Like stills photographers, don't give up your IPR without a cut of the profits. Look at your own projects and see how you could take control and really start to enjoy the power of being a content creator.
You know what this means? We're all broadcasters now.