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But how? Can independent media makers or the organizations that support them see the outlines of the future before it is upon them? Can they plan for it? What is the emerging new ecology for independent media likely to be, and how can makers, funders, and other organizations in the field adapt to the opportunities as well as the challenges that are the distinctive features of this new environment?

Published by National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture namac@namac.org www.namac.org

This edition of A Closer Look: Media Arts 2004 includes what GBN learned about the future of independent media in the course of this year-long investigation. It is also an overview of the work that GBN and the media groups did together. Most importantly, it is an invitation to anyone in the independent media field today to consider how they will adapt to the opportunities and demands that will define this new era. Those who can will both discover and encourage what could be the next great era for independent media makers and the themes and values that have defined their work.

deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

In 2003, six of San Francisco’s leading independent media organizations came together with the Global Business Network (GBN) to initiate an in-depth look at the future of independent media. They knew that as the world around independent media changes—because of demographic shifts, economic reorganization, political realignment, and accelerating technological revolution—the world of independent media will change too.

deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media


The National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) is the national service organization for the media arts field. Our mission is to: •

strengthen the influence of media arts organizations, making them an integral part of their communities;

cultural communities and geographic regions; •

integrate media into all levels of education and advocate for media literacy as an educational goal;

promote socially responsible uses of and individual access to current and future media technologies;

Contact Organizations: A Closer Look 2004

facilitate the support of independent media artists from all

encourage media arts that are rooted in local communities, as well as those that are global in outlook.

NAMAC fulfills the fundamental purpose of building and strengthening the field’s infrastructure by providing services in the areas of organizational and leadership development, convening the field, research and policy, and encouraging public awareness of independent media. Our programs include Leadership Institute training for media organization leaders; Capacity-Building grant assistance for organizational development; a biennial National Conference and quarterly Regional Convenings which bring together independent media producing participants to share information,

identify issues, and initiate projects aimed at advancing the field; current Research and Information Sharing in The Knowledge Network for the Media Arts (www.namac.org) and through our annual Publications, quarterly Reports and weekly electronic Bulletins; and collaborative efforts with peer organizations to Advocate for the interests of the media arts field in Cultural and Telecommunications Policymaking. The Youth Media Initiative gathers and disseminates research about youth media programs and practices nationwide.

Collectively, NAMAC's members provide a wide range of services in support of independent media, including education, production, exhibition, distribution, collection-building, preservation, criticism, and general advocacy. Our members include media arts centers, production facilities, university-based programs, community technology centers, museums, film festivals, media distributors, film archives, after-school programs, community access TV stations, and individuals working in the field. Combined, these organizations serve approximately 400,000 artists and other media professionals nationwide. The field’s independent producers, who work outside the commercial telecommunications industry, offer Americans a vital alternative to the mainstream media. NAMAC’s member organizations help them overcome tremendous barriers in order to bring personal visions and community-based perspectives to the media-watching public.

www.namac.org National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture 145 Ninth Street, Suite 250 San Francisco, CA 94103 T 415 431 1391 F 415 431 1392 namac@namac.org

Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC)

KQED Public Broadcasting

Judy Holme Agnew, Executive Director 2727 Mariposa St. Second Floor San Francisco CA 94110 415 861 3282 judy@bavc.org www.bavc.org

John Boland, Executive Vice President & Chief Content Officer 2601 Mariposa St. San Francisco CA 94110 415 864 2000 jboland@kqed.org www.kqed.org

Film Arts Foundation Fidelma McGinn, Executive Director 145 Ninth St. #101 San Francisco CA 94103 415 552 8760 fidelma@filmarts.org www.filmarts.org

Independent Television Service (ITVS) Sally Fifer, President and CEO 501 York St. San Francisco CA 94110 415 356 8383 sally_fifer@itvs.org www.itvs.org

National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) Helen De Michiel and Jack Walsh, Co-Directors 145 Ninth St. Suite 250 San Francisco CA 94103 415 431 1391 helen@namac.org jack@namac.org www.namac.org

National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA) Eddie Wong, Executive Director 145 Ninth St. Suite 350 San Francisco CA 94103 415 863 0814 eddie@naatanet.org www.naatanet.org


A CLOSER LOOK

04

deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

By Andrew Blau

Helen De Michiel Series Editor and Project Director Supported by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, and The Tides Foundation


This Publication may not be reproduced without prior permission from National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture 145 Ninth Street, Suite 250 San Francisco, CA 94103 T 415 431 1391 F 415 431 1392 namac@namac.org

Š 2004 National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture ISBN 0-9763403-0-5

A Closer Look annual media arts anthology series is supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Designed by Mission Minded; www.mission-minded.com

To order NAMAC publications, contact 415.431.1391, visit www.namac.org or email namac@namac.org.


deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

Contents

i

Preface

v

Introduction

1

Establishing Shot

9

The New Ecology

by Helen De Michiel

27

Developing Scenarios About the Future of Independent Media

41

Taking Action

53

Notes and Sources

56

Appendix

63

Acknowledgments


NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

Preface by Helen De Michiel

The vast media landscape speeds by in an ever-accelerating blur. The power, the motion, the churn are exhilarating, yet exhausting. Where are we today? Is there a schedule for tomorrow, next week, next year? What if we step aside, look around, and carefully pay attention to what happens? Can we afford to be spontaneous and exploratory?

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deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

The first step towards building an alternative world has to be a refusal of the world-picture implanted in our minds and all the false promises used everywhere to justify and idealize the delinquent and insatiable need to sell. Another space is vitally necessary. First, an horizon needs to be discovered. And for this we have to refine hope—against all the odds of what the new order pretends and perpetrates. —John Berger, The Shape of a Pocket Not everything can be told, nor need it be, just as the artist himself need not and indeed cannot reveal every outline of his vision. —M.F.K. Fisher, Map of Another Town

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ut who wants to look above and beyond their screens while feeling the pressure to get a project off the ground or to meet a payroll for the month? Anxiety creates blinders, even when new perceptions and expectations about an unknown environment would offer possibilities to improvise and to expand the view.

Francisco consortium—the Independent Initiative— were holding regularly. This group, a funder-underwritten project of the public television station KQED, had been formed to make recommendations for ways that independent producers could participate more fully in the broadcasting schedule, and to look at how to prepare the filmmaking community for digital convergence.

Thus, here is a time traveler’s guidebook for determined strategists and media do-it-yourselfers. Deep Focus: A Report on the Future of Independent Media looks ahead to the next decade, proposing a range of itineraries to consider as you reach out towards the edges of the independent media horizon.

Executive directors and station representatives were comfortable with one another, having met consistently since 1999 with the Independent Initiative, and sharing other histories of collaboration. In fact, Film Arts Foundation, National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA) and NAMAC all have offices at the Ninth Street Independent Film Center in San Francisco; and Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), Independent Television Service (ITVS), and KQED share longstanding relationships with the other consortium members, developing projects that support the independent community both locally and nationally.

Enter this world with us, if only as a thought-experiment. Wander around on foot, get lost and take some pictures of places that feel both utterly familiar and uncomfortably strange, simultaneously disembodied yet all too material. Whatever happens as you negotiate this terrain will, we predict, be exciting and transformative. In 2003 and 2004 our project team undertook its own expedition into the future of the field using the technique of scenario planning. Our intention was to describe and understand a compendium of emerging facts and conditions, viewpoints and technologies in order to help make navigating independent media less chaotic and reactive, and more imaginative and bold— and to ask where we practitioners could shape the conceptual framework for the growth and sustainability of our media communities. Our thinking was that, when charged with an informed sense of what lies way out on the horizon, we could respond or behave in ways that best manifest our own cultural values and beliefs. We started working on this project in the fall of 2001. The idea took hold during meetings that our San

Throughout the ’90s, media arts organizations struggled, especially here in the Bay Area, to speed up and embrace the promises of new technologies and digital systems before we really could know or understand what the implications meant for our constituencies, and by extension, the field at large. Physically surrounded by the moneyed offices of the dotcom colonists, we couldn’t help but try to forecast where independent media organizations would land in this emerging economy, and whether this would be an economy we would even want to take part in. We endured the Bay Area dotcom bubble together, and when we began exploring this idea—“Where are we going?”—most new technology companies had already disappeared from the Mission and South of Market districts where our organizations are located. September 11 had just occurred, and the regional arts economy was bracing for yet another of its periodic downsizings.

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

The groups’ leaders had mixed feelings about how to gain more self-determination at this volatile and uncertain moment. We were relieved that the dotcom craziness had subsided, yet numb from the strain of trying to keep up with the noisy claims of digital entrepreneurs who had little knowledge of or interest in the independent media sector. At the time, the engines of technology were moving much too quickly for us to put all the pieces together in a coherent whole. A question always lingered: How can we thrive in a bewildering climate of full-throttle change and still serve our missions as arts and public media organizations? Could we create and agree upon some shared larger picture that would set the foundation for meaningful development when the rules of the game were quickly being shuffled around? This larger, more inclusive field of vision would have to be one where we, as organizations and individuals, could shape our own destinies, while avoiding past patterns of reacting to forces outside our sphere of control. Although we hadn’t tried scenario planning with Global Business Network, we were convinced that their process of gathering outside perspectives (by interviewing a range of individuals outside of or peripheral to the field) and identifying a continuum of looming uncertainties and potential opportunities would give us a boost and a new set of tools for self-determination. By permitting us to step outside of preconceptions and beliefs hardened in the trenches of daily operations, we could look at a predicament which usually offered only one difficult solution: “If we could only capture more capital, we would be fine doing exactly what we are doing now, but better.” That is, never enough funding, always more needs.

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We considered the fact that if we didn’t want our organizations—several which had formed in alignment with the movements for social change of the 1970s and ’80s—to dry up and blow away, we had to face this profoundly changed media ecology. We had to be bold enough to adapt and reconceive our relevancy to a new wave of participants of all ages—from young teens to retiring baby boomers. Through the research and scenario creation process, Andrew Blau and his GBN team gently but firmly questioned our preconceptions of what we thought we were getting into and what we assumed our issues were about. Discussing the current and future landscape, studying the facts, imagining scenarios and analyzing the linkages across layers of dying and emerging media realities proved to be a stimulating and agitating experience. Not simply an informal exercise or academic experiment, the work was very much grounded in the pragmatic conditions of the environment we engage in daily and to which we must be ultimately accountable. We tumbled around the information like rocks in the polishing bin until the messy raw edges smoothed out. What emerged was the thinking Andrew synthesizes here into identifiable patterns that will trigger any number of conversations, inventions, activities, and coalitions across the coming years among new and experienced practitioners. And as the project is now completed, the work is just beginning. After having helped design and hold customized scenario workshops for their own organizational staffs and boards, the leaders of our six organizations acknowledge it will take a lot of concentrated work to understand and test the ideas and suggestions we encounter here—taking into account institutional histories, motives, and abilities to manage risk in the coming years.


deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

This report should stimulate and inspire those who wish to create their own individualized ways of moving around in the landscape that is quickly coming into focus—and on their own terms. As a working document, it is thoroughly malleable, so that readers can create itineraries by collecting and sifting through the recommendations, depending on their interests and needs, and testing them out in their own field of action.

Being able to acknowledge and be ready for the uncertainties that await can be attractive and liberating. How will you behave in the emerging independent media landscape, knowing which factors are probable and which are wild cards? Since we cannot experience all aspects of our field—because media is far too complicated and amoeba-like for that—Deep Focus delivers ample passageways out of and beyond the gates of our everyday conundrums.

I am particularly interested to see how this knowledge will be taken up by communities of producers and supporters far from coastal media hotspots. I would offer that the widely differing scenarios you will read about are already beginning to play out depending on geographical location: While one scenario might already appear plausibly rooted in a Los Angeles or New York environment, another completely opposite one could be ascending in the Midwest, New England, or the South. There is an infinite variety of opportunities for independent media to flourish with geographically, ethnically and demographically distinct voices across cultural and political lines, along with the promise to reach allied supporters transnationally. Deep Focus is an invitation to scout both the visible and invisible before embarking. It encourages you to chart your own course being mindful that unpredictable background factors—politics, weather, war, relationships, economics or any other unpredictable element unique to your situation—is surely guaranteed to disrupt the most elegantly laid out plans and throw them off balance. And then?

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Introduction


deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

In 2003, six San Francisco media organizations came together to initiate an in-depth look at the future of independent media. The six organizations— the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), Film Arts Foundation, the Independent Television Service (ITVS), KQED, the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC), and the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA)—have in many ways been the organizational heart of San Francisco’s independent media community, and are widely recognized as essential contributors to the independent media landscape nationwide.

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As seasoned nonprofits with distinguished track records, all of them develop their own strategies and explore the changes in the world that will affect them and their constituents. Each has its own way of making plans for the future they expect to work in. But never before had they come together as a group to look at their shared future—the future of their field. With the support of The Rockefeller Foundation, The MacArthur Foundation, The Tides Foundation, and The San Francisco Foundation, the groups launched an exploration into the possible futures of independent media. They worked with Global Business Network, a consulting firm dedicated to helping organizations— businesses, as the name suggests, but also public agencies, nonprofits, foundations, and multi-sector or multi-stakeholder groups—think about the long-term future. GBN is best known for its use of scenarios as a tool for creatively considering the possible futures an organization may face and helping clients develop strategies in response to what they learn.

This report is three things: a record of what we at GBN learned about the future of independent media; a report on what we did with the client organizations; and an invitation to anyone in the field today to consider how they will adapt to an era of profound change. The sponsors and client organizations asked us to take a fresh look from the outside in, in order to test prevailing assumptions and help them generate new insights and strategies. The resulting synthesis offered here represents the point of view of GBN’s project team: Andrew Blau (the primary author of this report), Katherine Fulton, Lawrence Wilkinson, Peter Leyden, and Tina Estes. (More on GBN and the project team

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members is in the Appendix.). We hope that it will spark conversation, even healthy debate, about paths toward the next generation of independent media-making. In this spirit, it is also important to note that this effort has been guided by the interest that the client organizations and funders have in discovering new opportunities. By looking ahead to the world as it may be ten years from now, we are in no way abandoning the present, where money and attention are far more rare than many in this field would hope. So, too, the opportunities we were asked to help find remain possibilities, not promises. They are not substitutes for the hard work, financial support, and sustained commitment it takes to make powerful media today. No amount of strategic planning can transport us to a future where every new opportunity pans out and today’s challenges have simply disappeared. But neither can we let today’s limitations cut us off from the opportunities that tomorrow may bring to do the remarkable work of independent media in new and perhaps newly effective ways. This report reflects that. It is well researched, but it is not a classic research report. While it describes some scenarios, it is not a classic scenario report either; the audience is too diverse to accept a single set of scenarios about this broad and changing field. It is a sympathetic but unflinching assessment of the coming opportunities and challenges for all participants in the field of independent media. Scenario thinking looks to the future in order to better understand the present and better illuminate the options that people and organizations have today. We hope this report will contribute to that process for a field that we believe has a future even greater than its past.


deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

By looking ahead to the world as it may be ten years from now, we are in no way abandoning the present.

What is in this report? Establishing Shot is our overview of the field as we see it evolving. This is where we present what we have learned about the future conditions in which independent media will be made, circulated, and received. The New Ecology is a more detailed look. It describes what we now believe will be the underlying forces structuring the field for the next decade or more—the “givens” that every organization, every media maker, and every funder should take into account as they consider their own strategies for the next decade. Developing Scenarios about the Future of Independent Media describes how we developed scenarios by identifying “key uncertainties”— the things that, in contrast to the new givens, cannot be predicted but are very important to how the future will play out. This section also shows how the basic scenario framework developed for this project could be used to tell a range of different stories about the future. (We also include material in the Appendix that people can use to develop their own scenarios, along with pointers to additional resources for those who want to go into further detail.) Taking Action is about ideas for next steps: In light of what the research and the scenario process brought to the fore, what steps can people take now that would prepare them for a range of future possibilities? What capacities or skills can they develop, or what

experiments could they learn from, to prepare for a future likely to be quite different from the present? The section includes GBN’s recommendations as well as a selection of ideas drawn directly from the many people we interviewed. We have put our references to sources and other supporting material in a section of Notes and Sources at the back of this report. The report also has additional material in the Appendix, including: an overview of the design of this project; a guide to how to develop basic scenarios yourself, with pointers to additional resources; a list of some of the most important uncertainties about the future of independent media that we developed for this project, which may be useful to readers as they develop their own thinking about the future of this field; a list of the people interviewed for this project; and additional information about GBN and the people who worked on this project. This report is supplemented by additional resources available online at www.namac.org. One is a compilation of selected excerpts from two dozen interviews we conducted in researching this project. The conversations were great sources of ideas and insights, not all of which could be synthesized here. The other is a “virtual learning journey”—a guided tour of dozens of websites that offers a peek at a set of changes now underway that we believe will characterize the future for media makers of all kinds.

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Establishing Shot


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H

uman beings tell stories. It’s how we learn and how we teach, how we preserve and transmit culture; it’s how we understand ourselves and our connections to others. We use stories to organize our facts, our lives, and our times. The way we have told stories has changed, of course, especially as various technologies have emerged to hold them and convey them. But the instinct to tell stories and seek them out remains an essential part of being human. In the last hundred years, the drive to tell and hear stories has been channeled through various technologies and evolving social forms that have created vast commercial opportunities. Film and video emerged as powerful tools capable of spreading tales farther and with more immediacy than previous storytellers ever could, and commercial enterprises used them to great effect. But there were always some people who used those same tools for different ends: not just to entertain, but to observe, to make connections, or to make change. People who wanted to explore how the medium could be used, how it could preserve histories, create new understandings, or challenge old assumptions. These people rarely found a home in the giant studios that developed the tools of twentieth-century storytelling. They were, at first, artists and inventors, and their successors built a thriving “underground.” In the late 1960s, they came to be called what we know them as today: independents. Independents they may be, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t also deeply rooted in and shaped by the environment all around them—the world they are part of, reflect on, and want to speak to. Societies in the midst of demographic shifts, economic reorganization, political realignment, and accelerating technological revolution shape their storytellers as much as those storytellers shape how the rest of us understand the world and the changing context. And so as the world

around independent media changes, the world of independent media will change too, just as it has for the last generation or more. But how? Can independent media makers or the organizations that support them see the outlines of the future before it is upon them? Can they plan for it?

What is the new ecology emerging for independent media likely to be, and how can makers, funders, and other organizations in the field adapt to the opportunities as well as the challenges that are the distinctive features of this new environment?

What is “independent media”? For the purposes of this project, we have described it as video and film conceived and produced independently of the traditional corporate sponsors for media and made for a wide range of purposes beyond purely commercial considerations. The work may be personal essays, documentaries, media or video art, feature-style narratives, or combinations of them. To avoid tying the subject too much to the physical properties of film or video, and to acknowledge the new digital media that will be neither film nor videotape, we sometimes refer to “motion media” to distinguish it from types of media that are primarily composed of still graphics, text, or audio. 1


NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

Our research and interviews seem to point in two directions at once. On the one hand, no one could miss the enormous vitality that characterizes the field: • Audiences, distributors, and exhibitors are embracing independent documentaries, and total box office receipts have gone up six-and-a-half times in the five years—before Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 became the first feature-length documentary to earn more than $100 million in theaters. • Independent features have attracted money and attention to the point that now all the Hollywood studios have “independent” divisions. • Cable channels like A&E, Lifetime, Sundance, and the Independent Film Channel are joining HBO as high-profile presenters of independent work. • Video art and installations are everywhere in the contemporary arts world. • New forms of interactive electronic art are rapidly emerging, bringing together artists, scientists, and engineers in innovative creative partnerships. • Micro-cinemas are springing up, and film festivals are multiplying in towns large and small all across the country.

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Would we have expected a decade ago that an artist best known for his film and video, Matthew Barney, would not only get major museum shows and mainstream press attention, but be named “the most important artist of his generation” by the chief art critic of the New York Times? Would we have believed even a year ago that an independent documentary would move the Bush Administration to re-open an inquiry into the death of Emmett Till more than forty years after his death helped spark the civil rights movement? Independent media is thriving in the marketplace and in museums, on screens large and small, telling important stories to growing audiences. And as we will see, there is every reason to believe that we are only at the beginning of a decade of surging growth for moving pictures of every kind. Using the Internet as their working platform, media makers and distributors will transform the world of motion media as thoroughly in the next decade as the world of print has been reshaped in the last. Yet in the same period, one of the nation’s most respected media arts centers, the Boston Film and Video Foundation, closed for lack of funding; the Carnegie Museum of Art suddenly shuttered its film and video program; and public and philanthropic funds for media appeared to be in steady decline. Michael Moore, the Oscar-winning director of the most successful documentary of recent times and so perhaps the best-known independent filmmaker in the country, found that the Walt Disney Company wouldn’t release his most recent work, apparently for political and business reasons. For many in the field, the opportunities to make and share serious, substantial work seem as rare as ever, maybe rarer, and the economic basis for doing so seems as far away as ever, maybe farther.


deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

The fact that the field is going in both these directions at once suggests this is a story of deep, epochal shifts, where evidence of growth and decline, opportunity and threat, is not a contradiction but a reflection of different parts of the same story. The field is reorganizing, and the flow of resources and attention is reorganizing with it. Some may hope that through hard work and focused strategy they can restore an earlier era’s patterns of support, growth, infrastructure, and exhibition. That is more than unlikely; it is not even possible. And yet there is great energy, enthusiasm, interest, and opportunity, which suggests that while the last great era of independents cannot be restored, the next great era for independents is unfolding. This doesn’t mean that the people and organizations that thrived in the last era will be the same ones that thrive again. The challenge will be to adapt to the opportunities and demands that will define this new era. Those who can will both discover and encourage what we believe could be a great time for independent media makers and the themes and values that have defined their work.

What we see Based on our research, the interviews we conducted, and the scenario workshops we led, we have developed our own observations about the environment for independent media in the next decade. These observations may run counter to some current assumptions; some suggest real disruptions to the world of independent media today. We believe, though, that whatever discomfort may come from considering them now will be minor compared to the discomfort of trying to navigate them unprepared.

We are entering a period of enormous opportunity for media makers of every stripe. It may not immediately or directly be an economic opportunity, but an opportunity to make and move work in unprecedented ways with unprecedented flexibility. The media landscape will be reshaped by the bottom-up energy of media created by amateurs and hobbyists as a matter of course. The resulting output will overrun the institutions and strategies created to organize and navigate an era of great scarcity of media equipment and products. Images, ideas, news, and points of view will come from everywhere and travel along countless new routes to an ever-growing number of places where they can be viewed. This bottom-up energy will radiate enormous energy and creativity, but it will also tear apart some of the categories that organize the lives and work of media makers. The Internet is the next important platform for media of all kinds. There is a transition well underway toward a new distribution platform, which doesn’t happen very often. It will be home for the coming generation of media makers and viewers. For them, the Internet is neither new nor special, just the thing that connects most of their media choices. The Internet needn’t be an exclusive commitment for today’s makers or institutions, but it can’t be ignored by those looking for new opportunities to connect with audiences. Video on the Internet today is where text was in the early ‘90s—about to experience a huge jump in terms of sophistication of use and widespread accessibility, and as a catalyst for experimentation of all kinds. Video is poised for an era of experimentation and opportunity, where it will be made, shared, watched, and quoted in whole new ways.

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

But the economic prospects for any given media work are more precarious even as the market expands. The ability to create media and the places to experience it are both growing, but production is outpacing consumption and will continue to do so. Every individual work will face far more competition from other work, undermining its economic potential, and the sum total of all the work being created will overrun the amount of time people spend with media. The resulting gap means that even as there are more places to see media, there will be even more work that goes unseen. This has serious strategy implications for individual makers, intermediaries, and funders. When work can be made cheaply, cheap becomes the new normal. In recent years, the range of costs associated with motion media has widened to include higher highs and lower lows: The high-end, big-money productions are more expensive (Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, for example), at the same time that there are more low-end, even no-money, productions reaching audience of hundreds of thousands of people (“Bush in 30 Seconds,” for example). The same thing happened when television entered American homes: The major film studios spent more money on a few big films to better differentiate their productions from the lower-cost work that television was bringing to living rooms for free. At the same

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time, the number of channels for distribution and exhibition is clearly rising faster than the amount of money financing new productions. Filling those channels means finding ways to make or acquire media for less money (including licensing finished work, where the cost is already sunk). The overall effect is that even with a market that includes both higher highs and lower lows, the economic center of gravity has shifted toward a cheaper baseline. So while there will continue to be independent works made for $500,000 or $1 million, the norm that sets expectations for financing and production economics for work of all kinds, including independent productions, will be driven down. The traditional relationship between the noncommercial and commercial media systems is changing. Both the commercial and the noncommercial realms are growing in size and complexity. What is also growing—and growing more complex—is the relationship between them. Widely distributed production tools, easily manipulated images, and an endless maw for “news” or sensation that needs to be fed with eyecatching images, all mark a media culture where commercial channels operate symbiotically with a vast number of nonprofessional “content providers.” Yet the two systems have different standards of success, different dynamics, different stars, and different social functions to some degree. One implication of this is that the noncommercial system is not simply the underfunded version of the commercial system, which it could better imitate if it had more resources. Importantly, in the noncommercial system, the primary role of money is as an input. In the commercial system, its primary role is as an output: It is what the system aspires to make. As a consequence, one cannot use the noncommercial system as a platform from which to compete with the commercial system.


deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

People just entering their twenties are tech-savvy, swimming in connectivity and mobility.

One could, however, use the noncommercial system to launch images and ideas into the commercial system, just as the commercial system projects images and ideas into the noncommercial system. Once material passes from one system to the other, however, it is transformed by its new context. The commercial/noncommercial distinction no longer serves the purpose it once might have. In part, that’s because commercial firms have been getting into areas once thought of as the preserve of nonprofit organizations and noncommercial media. It’s also in part because social entrepreneurs like John Anner (founder of the Independent Press Association) are coming up with ways to support independent media through market mechanisms, not apart from them. For younger makers and younger viewers, who often don’t find these categories useful or indicative of anything, “noncommercial” will no longer feel like an important marker. Independent media will include games, and games will shape independent media. Almost no one in the independent media community seems to see games as part of their future, much less as either an opportunity or a threat. This is a mistake. Games are being embraced as a platform for critique and education, especially by younger artists and creators. They are drawing talent that used to go into media making and drawing audiences that used to spend time with more traditional media. (In 2003, Americans spent more on video games than they did buying movie tickets.) One sign of a growing commitment to “serious games” is the recent $8 million donation to USC’s School of Cinema-Television to create a games-focused master’s program that will emphasize storytelling and writing. Underlying the donation is an interest in raising the level of intellectual credibility and stature for game development to what now exists for film and television (which themselves were long considered trivial entertainments by artists and intellectuals in other domains).

There are significant opportunities for those who connect the energy and communities of one with the other. A social renegotiation of the professional status of the media maker is now underway. Many media professionals are facing challenges similar to those of a host of other structurally displaced workers, whose talents and forms of economic organization are weakened by changes in technology and disruptions in the social and economic practices that had organized their livelihoods. This could hit independents especially hard because they were closer to the lower end of the economic ladder before the bottom-up pressure began to rise. A new generation of media makers and viewers is emerging, which could lead to a sea change in how media is made and received. People just entering their twenties are tech-savvy, swimming in connectivity and mobility, blurring the boundaries between producing and consuming media, gaming, and all the while multi-tasking. The generation born between 1982 and 2000, the Millennials, is as big as the Baby Boom generation, and could easily have as profound an impact on culture and markets as Boomers had when they entered adulthood. But no one should assume they will share their elders’ allegiances, ways of seeing the world, or priorities. This is not to say they won’t care about what those who came before them cared about. It is to say they will express it and organize their responses to it in ways that may be quite different from the ones that previous generations built institutions around.

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

Now, media can be ubiquitous and influential without being economically successful. The media universe is no longer simply divided into small, medium, and large. It’s a market of many half-sizes, many of them newly viable in a way they couldn’t have been a decade ago. These niches can be found, organized, and served in ways that either weren’t economically viable or weren’t even possible before. Attention to media products of every kind will be highly concentrated, so the growing capacity to make more work won’t draw more attention in equal measure. In fact, commercial media providers don’t so much create this; they organize themselves to exploit it, which includes trying to encourage it in their favor. But as blogs have demonstrated, even in the absence of oligopolies and profit-driven conglomerates, people’s attention (and thus dollars) will be highly concentrated, for reasons that have to do with how social networks shape the practices of searching out, opting in, and further promoting work that circulates in public. This isn’t just true online, although it’s very true there. There is a new possibility to rethink subsidy as costs shift, audiences fragment, and distribution options multiply. What is newly uncertain is the amount of attention required for any given work to be economically viable. It certainly used to be—and still is in the world of big budgets—that the threshold was quite high: Unless a work got a great deal of attention, it would need subsidy. So the traditional way of achieving sustainability was to figure out how to increase the number of viewers until a work became successful. This is hard, it will get harder, and it’s a zero-sum game. The possibility is that for a variety of reasons, economic sustainability could require far fewer viewers than ever before, which will change how and where independent makers need subsidy. And if the need for

6

subsidy goes away at a much lower viewership level, then the total number of viable works could grow, which would be good news for makers and those hoping to promote a broad diversity of views. We see elements of this in the music business already. The majors aren’t set up to make money on artists selling small numbers of albums, but that’s not a reflection of the commercial viability of the artist. It’s a reflection of the economics of running a huge record company. Small independent labels are breaking even and turning profits with sales figures that the majors would take as losses and an excuse to dump the artist, and a small but growing number of artists are taking advantage of the new economics to put out their own records. Media makers and supporters have a new choice about what it means to succeed. It used to be that there was a close link between economic success and cultural success. If a work was seen by enough people to be culturally successful, it often meant that it would be economically successful, too. Now, media can be ubiquitous and influential without being economically successful, or it can be economically successful by efficiently reaching small audiences. This raises a new choice: Would it be a victory if independent work could be economically viable without being culturally successful in the classic sense of finding wide audiences? Conversely, would it be a victory if independent work could be culturally successful without the makers being rewarded, or even recognized? Both are possible, and each implies a distinct set of strategies and capacities for independents to choose to develop.


deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

The new ecology for independent media will have more options for what to fund and when to fund it. In other words, the points of philanthropic support can both increase and become more specific as costs shift around within the overall package of the finished work. For example, if production or post-production costs fall, funders may more easily support the creation of work. Other funders may choose to allow shifting costs to enable them to focus on distributing or marketing works that they can already see, just as many commercial firms try to manage risk by getting involved in a project once they can see enough of it to make what they consider to be a well-informed decision. This should allow funders to manage their own risks better, which could have the happy effect of lowering the threshold for new funders to experiment with funding in this area. In the sections that follow, we review the major findings of our research that gave rise to these observations, and offer recommendations about paths for future exploration.

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The New Ecology


deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

T

o make any major strategic move, independent media organizations and media makers need to be able to see the broad landscape around them—the context in which every choice and every action will play out. That landscape will shift in significant ways in the decade ahead. Some of the coming changes will be real upheavals, arriving like abrupt tectonic shifts. Others may be more incremental but, over the course of time, prove to have an equally profound impact. While the specifics will vary, the combination of forces already in play guarantees that a “new ecology” for independent media is already emerging. This new ecology will be the backdrop for every work, every organization in the field today, and every funder or supporter of independent media. The outlines of this new ecology emerged out of our research into the forces and factors that will shape the creation and consumption of visual media over the next ten years. We began by looking at seven broad areas: • • • • • •

the media business markets and audiences demographics trends in arts and cultural policy political culture economics of production and distribution • technologies of production, distribution, and consumption Based on our preliminary scan, we realized that we could organize our investigation around two major questions about the world ten years from now:

Who will make what, and why? Who will watch what, and why?

To develop some sense of the first, we sought out trends in funding (public, private, and commercial); in the technologies of production; in the broader media industries of which independent media is a part and against which it often reacts; and in the social, cultural, or attitudinal changes that shape the subjects of the work and the intentions of the makers. To develop a sense of the second, we went looking for trends in viewer expectations, in cultural attitudes about how people use media, and in the technologies of delivery and reception. We conducted our research along many paths: recent articles or news reports; books about various elements of the media business and the independent movement; academic and general interest essays (both recent and historic); and research reports that touch on either the environment for commercial media or factors affecting independent media. Perhaps even more importantly, we interviewed an array of people in a wide variety of fields who could give special insight into what may happen in the landscape surrounding independent media in the next 10 years. The interviews were largely open-ended and built off each participant’s expertise, though we kept asking them to draw out the potential impact on what we called “motion media,” today’s video and film, which might take new forms over the decade. We also set out to tap a range of voices beyond those normally heard at the conferences where independent media is discussed, in the publications of independent media makers, or on the boards of independent media organizations. As a result, we didn’t set out to interview today’s independent media makers or representatives of the communities normally associated with independent media. We set out in very much the opposite direction: to make sure we heard from people who could tell stories that are different from the ones normally heard in this field. Throughout this section, we have set off brief quotes from the interviews to high9


NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

The Migration of Media onto the Internet Text/Photo

Audio/Video

low bandwidth

high bandwidth

2003

1993 light key points. (A list of interviewees, along with information about who they are, appears in the Appendix. An extensive selection of excerpts from the interviews can be found online at www.namac.org.) Research for scenario projects is importantly different from the research done for more traditional consulting or philanthropic scanning efforts. It has two parallel purposes: to identify the forces already at work that will shape the future generally, and to uncover the most important uncertainties about how the future will play out specifically. Rather than track the conventional wisdom or reinforce what everyone already believes, the research was an effort to uncover views from people who may see the same trends but tell different stories about them, or those who see other trends entirely, which could affect the independent media field in surprising ways. The goal, as the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said in another context, is “not to see what no one has seen yet, but to think what no one has thought yet about that which everybody sees.” As a result of the research, we see the outlines of a new ecology for all media, including independent work. It is an ecology in which media will be pervasive, noisy, inverted in its essential dynamics, fragmented in myriad overlapping ways, and financially reorganized. Each element of this new ecology is in turn fed by trends and developments that are significant in themselves, but which need to be seen together to appreciate the depth and breadth of change now underway. Below we describe each of these elements more fully.

1. Pervasive Motion media will be part of every kind of media. A strong case can be made that if the 1990s were about migrating text and photos to the Internet, then the 2000s are about migrating audio and video media to the Internet. As one of our interviewees, Brewster Kahle, director of the Internet Archive, pointed out, the 10

Text 1990

Photo

Music 2000

Television

Film 2010

parallel between the two decades is quite striking— even down to the analogies between individual years, say 2003 and 1993. In 1993, most Americans had never heard of the Internet, let alone experienced email. Yet innovators and early adopters were starting to experiment with putting text media and some photos online. Many of these efforts were noncommercial. The big text media incumbents, like major newspapers and magazines, seriously resisted moving into this new medium because they thought they had much to lose. Meanwhile, upstart new companies were forming and just starting to get positioned for what might prove to be a big new market. People were just beginning to talk about the vague outlines of what might be possible. By the middle of the decade, the number of people using what by then was called the World Wide Web (text and photos on the Internet) had dramatically ramped up, and the migration of text and photos was burgeoning. Upstart companies like Yahoo! and Amazon were booming, and incumbent print players were rapidly putting their material online. New ideas about how to use text and photos on the Web were popping up all over, creating new experiments that were collectively referred to as “new media.” By the end of the decade, the frenzy of activity leveled off, partly because of the dotcom bust, but more fundamentally because virtually every publication that dealt with print and photos had some presence on the Web: all newspapers, all magazines, all businesses, almost all organizations. The text and photo Web had become a seamless part of the lives of most educated people in the country. It had become the norm.


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z Whatever

else happens, there is no doubt that broadband will be ubiquitous. — Howard Rheingold

That decade-long process is what is just starting to happen in the field of motion media, as television, video, and film start their migration to the new distribution platform of the Internet. Driving this trend is the fact that the tools to make the digital transition are getting cheap enough and good enough for it to become a mass phenomenon. Also, the Internet infrastructure is getting built out with enough high bandwidth connections that the market for such media is starting to hit critical mass. In 2003, we started seeing the audio/visual version of the migration process play out. Innovators and early adopters are pushing motion media into new forms. We’re seeing new kinds of film shorts and video blogs and bottom-up efforts for the creation of digital video content. And while the incumbent players in the television and movie industry are fiercely resisting the migration, some upstart new companies and organizations are catching the wave as it gathers force. In the mid-‘00s, there could well be an explosion of opportunity as new and old players try to define the new forms and the shape the emerging market. It’s hard to predict exactly what will happen, but we expect there will be a free-for-all scramble reminiscent of the mid-1990s. By the end of this decade, give or take a few years, with pervasive if not ubiquitous broadband in the United States, the dust will settle and motion media will be seen as an integral part of the online experience. It will be part of the landscape that everyone will take for granted, a given that all media organizations will have to deal with everyday.

Over the next ten years, broadband Internet access will be widely available, becoming a standard way to deliver all kinds of digital media.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, as of March 1, 2004, broadband is in 39 percent of American homes that have Internet access, a jump of 60 percent in one year; 52 percent of college-educated people under 35 opt for it, and 50 percent of households with income over $75,000 have it, too. If current rates of adoption continue, high-speed access will be widely available and used in far less than ten years, even if it is not universally available for some time. Its wide use—especially among economically attractive groups such as people with high household incomes or young, well-educated people—will in turn foster business choices that will further shape this market around the assumption of widespread access to high-speed connections for digital media. Online distribution is growing even with current bandwidth constraints, and with increased bandwidth to the home it could gain on other delivery systems. According to Wired magazine, “More viewers now see shorts online at the Sundance Online Film Fest, or SOFF, than at the festival in Park City. More than 600,000 unique visitors came to the SOFF site in 2003, each watching, on average, four films.” Shane Kuhn of Slamdance argues in the same article that once adequate bandwidth is more widely available, “the established online festivals will become key outlets for alternative cinema.” Currently, independent work is distributed by OneWorldTV, Underground Films, Atom Films, IndieFilmSpot, and others. But the old model of film festivals may not be the only way that people seek out independent work. Videoblogs—blogs built around links to video, such as vidblogs.com—are proliferating even at current levels of broadband access. These experiments could be the leading edge of Net-based webs that broker attention to media of different types and from different sources, all outside today’s better-known aggregators, channels, or festivals. (They could even become a means for

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

z All this stuff that we have been talking about forever about video over the Internet, it was all kind of hand waving—‘this is possible because the technology will make it possible.’ But it’s now actually happening. This stuff can be done now, not only because the technology makes it possible, but because the markets are moving there. The most important piece of the equation is the ad buyers, and the ad buyers are starting to wake up to it. —John Battelle

decentralizing production as people use blogs to trade snippets of video or piece fragments together from various sources.) And before videoblogs are even commonplace, we are already seeing the first “moblogs”—blogs where people post and link to video clips specifically taken with their cellphones. The work is technically crude and may seem pointless, but it is also an unmistakable pointer to the coming nexus of cheap cameras and cheap decentralized distribution.

Video will become a fully integrated part of other types of media online that are not currently video-based, creating new demand and uses for video production. Traditionally, motion media has been a separate part of the broader media environment. As the tools for making media become increasingly commonplace, and more and more of the communications infrastructure becomes capable of carrying rich media formats, motion media will become a feature of other media rather than solely a media format of its own. Publications or media experiences that we currently experience as text and graphics will increasingly include video as a normal part of their repertoire of storytelling and advertising tools. As video becomes part of all kinds of media rather than a separate category, the demand for people who can skillfully create video materials will rise. At the same time, however, it will become a commonplace craft so that whatever premium was once commanded by those who could use these tools well will be driven down, just as the skilled labor once associated with running linotype machines has been replaced by the much more widespread (although by no means universal) skill of using desktop publishing software and other computer publishing tools. 12

2. Noisy More of everything, everywhere, all the time means more competition for everyone, everywhere, all the time. Even in the lull since the air went out of the tech bubble in 2000, digital technologies have continued to spread, growing in power and falling in cost and affecting every part of the media process where technology is a factor. As a result, digital tools for production and post-production have remade the economics of mediamaking and put sophisticated media tools in a growing number of hands. Digital technology will continue to push technical costs down and capabilities up, factors that will spread media-making equipment to more people and devices. As a result, there will be more ways to make media, more places to present media, more kinds of media, and more competition for any specific piece of media. Industry responses will be to both consolidate and diversify. According to the European research firm Digital Thinking Network, the economic “half-life” of movies— defined as the amount of time before their economic potential decays—has shrunk steadily in just the last five years. The standard sequence of release windows in theaters, pay-TV, and DVD/video have all gotten shorter, as works get very little time to develop in the marketplace before getting pushed to the next distribution platform. More work is coursing through the system, but it is appearing and disappearing faster, replaced by the next wave coming behind it. A related phenomenon has affected the market for independent work. In Peter Biskind’s recent book, Down and Dirty Pictures, filmmaker John Sayles explained, “As the last ten years have progressed, many, many, many more independent features are being made, and so a much higher percentage of them never get a theatrical release.” The clear implication is that the ability and the capacity to create more work,


deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

of surfaces, devices, and screens of all kinds. This is the attention gap, and it weakens the cultural potential—as well as the economic potential—of any individual work. Any work created, distributed, or sponsored in the future will be released into these two growing gaps. the distribution gap

ia ed M

d te ra e en G

dia Me ce n e eri Exp

the attention gap

Quantity

to ys edia Wa ure to M l Expos a u id iv Ind Time

while certainly valuable from the perspective of promoting more points of view and encouraging more voices, also leaves more work unreleased or otherwise undistributed, at least in the traditional ways. In fact, current trends in our ability to create and share media are opening two important gaps. A simple representation might look like the chart above. The first gap is opening because both the amount of media and the places to present media are growing, but one is growing faster than the other. That means that there will be more media produced than can ever be seen. This is the distribution gap, and it weakens the economic potential of any individual work. The second gap is the one growing even faster between the number of places to experience media and the amount of media any individual can experience. Even young people who can multitask in ways that make older heads spin will not be able to keep up with the growing amount of media available on the growing number

The costs for all the technology associated with media production, distribution, and presentation will continue to fall when capability is held constant. As media tools become digital tools, they will benefit from the rising power and falling costs of other digital technologies. Moore’s Law, which describes the steady and predictable rise in computing power at the heart of digital technologies, will continue to drive technology costs steadily downward for at least the next ten years. This is not to say that the aggregate costs won’t rise or that all costs will fall, only that the costs associated with any given level of technology will decrease. Costs are falling in obvious places—cameras, editing gear, and special effects—as well as less obvious places. For example, the cost of digital storage is falling between 40 percent and 50 percent a year. In the early 1990s, a terabyte (a thousand gigabytes, enough to store about 80 hours of DV video) of magnetic disk storage cost more than $1 million; in 2004, it cost well under a thousand dollars, and by the middle of the next decade, it is expected to cost just a few dollars. Ever cheaper and more efficient digital storage will change the distribution possibilities for independent work. For example, Emerging Pictures is using advances in digital storage and digital projection to create its own network of “digital theaters” to present first-run independent/international films, documentaries, and international film festival presentations. 13


NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

z Next-generation

new media is going to phones. And MPEG-4 makes this easy. It’s not like you have to invent a new compression format. It’s already there and it runs on these small devices. —Sandeep Casi

They recently put ten films from the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the nation’s largest festival devoted to documentaries, on a single hard drive and sent them to theaters in five cities, allowing audiences around the country to view festival films while the festival was taking place. Digital replication costs almost nothing compared with striking a 35mm print, and the company founders, as well as the theater owners they work with, hope that very low replication and marketing costs will make a much wider array of independent films economically viable. Citing similar factors, the UK Film Council announced it will equip about 150 cinemas across the UK with digital projection equipment in an effort to increase “the breadth and range of films available to UK audiences.” Theaters that get the UK Film Council equipment will be required to use it to show independently produced or “non-blockbuster” work. But falling costs have their most direct and dramatic impact in how they change how much work will be created.

The amount of visual media being created by professionals, committed hobbyists, and amateurs is soaring and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. The combination of increasingly inexpensive and widely available tools for making, manipulating, moving, and storing media along with the widespread diffusion of basic skills with media making technology in a mediaand technology-saturated society is creating a growing capacity to make and circulate media in the industrialized world, and perhaps even more broadly. This is not to say that there will be more great works of art or conscience, just that there will be more visual media

14

made for more purposes by more people. And that will affect the environment for every other media work by making the total environment more crowded. With simple video tools being added to cellphones, computers, and PDAs, the ability to create, edit, and begin circulating work has a threshold so low as to have been unimaginable ten years ago. For example, the first music video shot entirely on a cellphone was posted online in March 2004. Not only was it shot on a Nokia 3650, it was edited on an Apple PowerBook running Final Cut Pro and the music was recorded with Apple’s GarageBand software. So is one cellphone and one laptop computer the emerging threshold for basic video production? Not necessarily, since it could get even simpler: Nokia announced a cellphone with a 1 megapixel camera that comes bundled with Nokia’s own Movie Director software, which allows users to edit what they shoot, as well as add music and text. It also comes with Lifeblog, Nokia’s software for creating a weblog on the owner’s cellphone and PC made up of any material—audio, video, text messages, or photos—that the cellphone can create or receive. Today in Japan, one can no longer buy a cellphone without a camera in it—they are all bundled that way due in part to the falling costs—so people will increasingly have the capacity to generate simple media even if they don’t seek it out. The same will soon be true in many other markets as well. Not everyone will choose to make media, of course, and we can’t know how many will produce media that they care to circulate beyond a few friends or family. But we are entering a world in which many people will find themselves with cameras and simple editing tools whether they want them or not. And young people will come of age in an environment in which many—even most—of them have digital video cameras of some kind and access to distribution networks at any time.


deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

z In

The range of places and devices where people will receive motion media is growing and will continue to grow, especially at home or through mobile devices designed for personal use. Motion media is coming to mobile phones, PDAs, elevators, the back seats of taxi cabs, passenger cars, retail displays, billboards, and ever more sites on the World Wide Web. People will be exposed to it in many public places, and they will be able to view work in places of their own choosing, on screens of their choosing, and at times of their choosing. The same falling costs for display devices, chips, storage media, and transmission media mean that the capacity to display media will become part of many other devices and surfaces.

the whole independent media context, you have to look at games because games have one of the most fertile producer/consumer ecologies of any media. When a game comes out, there’s not just the game but an editing tool that allows people to create new scenarios, new maps. You can modify the game itself and overhaul the entire game. And really hip products have been made because people have modified the engine. This is done by fans, who may be in teams distributed across different countries. The game companies don’t view this as a threat. —J.C. Herz

The range of new devices, surfaces, and places for video will create new demand for media that can fill those devices, and give rise to any number of new business opportunities. One simple example: With DVD players in a growing number of computers, many airports now have shops that will rent a DVD to a traveler for the flight she is about to board and allow her to return it at the airport in the destination city. A portable device and a cheap and portable storage medium (the DVD) create a whole new set of places where people will get media they choose. These devices will also create material for one another. In April 2004, for example, a group of Japanese companies announced that it had developed a device that allows people to record up to two hours of video from television programming and play it back on their cellphones.

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

zYou can’t fool me. I lived through the ‘70s. There was no Spanish

language television whatsoever. There was no Vietnamese language television whatsoever. There’s been no contraction. The consolidation that’s going on is a desperate attempt to shore up competition from novel abundance, principally from cable and the Internet.… When you look at media as a whole, it’s a freak-out. —Clay Shirky More media created by more people and devices and displayed on more surfaces and in more settings will of course mean many more ways to speak through media and many more places to put that speech. It can’t help but also mean more competition.

Competition for audience attention will further intensify because of the growing abundance of media products. As Walter Parkes of DreamWorks SKG explains, “There are a million other movies and not just network television but cable and video games all vying for the attention of the consumer. And there are more movies. On virtually any given weekend, there are from two to seven releases that you are competing against. You have to pump much more money into the marketing of your movies just to be heard above the noise.” As Parkes and others have noted, the competition is not just among like media experiences. The competition is also among the increasing number of ways that people can choose to have media experiences. The computer is already competing with the television for our time and attention. But the more surprising challenge will come from the expanded array of options for communicating the range of serious ideas and cultural expression traditionally associated with independent media.

Computer and video gaming will grow more popular as a platform for political, social, and artistic expression. Games are becoming a ubiquitous part of the media landscape and the media experience of Americans. Half of all Americans regularly play them, and a nationwide survey found that 100 percent of current college students have played them. The average age of video 16

game players has risen to twenty-nine-years old, and over 40 percent of gamers are women. Americans now spend more time on games than they do on DVDs or videotape rentals, according to the market research firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson. In 2003, Americans spent $10 billion on video games and consoles—half a billion dollars more than they spent going to movies. As journalist Jonathan Dee observed, “To anyone who came of age after, say, the introduction of the first Sony PlayStation in 1995, video gaming is every bit as central to the pop-entertainment universe as movies or music, while to anyone older than that, it seems like one of those strange customs indigenous to the country of the young.” Not only are they now a common part of the media landscape generally, they are growing as a platform for more than just entertainment, drawing audiences and creative talent that might have gone into more traditional forms of independent media. MIT’s Henry Jenkins observes that among media responses to the war in Iraq, for example, “People are using game engines, which are cheap, and using them to play out different political points of view. They’re taking an interface from games and applying a political commentary to it. It has a wicked sense of humor, a real irreverent style. What you see now is blogging and gaming as the dominant ways of commenting on the war.” Author and cultural observer Deborah Solomon argues that video game-based art is a trend of growing importance among younger, media-saturated artists: “In much the same way that Warhol swiped imagery from cartoons and advertisements, many young artists today see video games as the definitive pop experience, a form to cannibalize and critique.” While these forms have yet to dent the sales of the most popular games, websites devoted to more serious or politically oriented games have emerged, such as newsgaming.com, Water Cooler Games, and the Serious Games Initiative.


deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

z People feel, with consolidation, that

reducing their options is fairly problematic . … [But] people don’t think they have any lack of options. They think that it’s all bad, in terms of quality, but in terms of options and access, they ask, ‘What are you talking about?’ —Celinda Lake

Consolidation among media companies through mergers and acquisitions will continue. The corporate response to this noisiness is perfectly predictable. Despite the concerns of many citizens, advertisers, and some in Congress, media consolidation is likely to continue. Consolidation is a basic and unsurprising corporate response to the competition for attention as well as the economic characteristics of information-based products and networked services. This is not to say it is a good thing, just that it is the response one would expect from companies in this business, and both Democratic and Republican administrations have largely allowed it or even encouraged it. There will be political struggles about the rules under which consolidation will be allowed to proceed, and there is no doubt they will affect the rate and degree of consolidation we will see, especially among the very largest companies. But the trend among companies will be toward consolidation, in no small part because it will be the key response among large, well-funded players to the ongoing creation of new media outlets, channels, and products. As veteran journalist Jim Fallows observes, “Media consolidation has been going on for twenty-five years, and the differential change during Bush’s time is modest in that regard. The shift to a pure market model for the media started back in the Nixon era and it has been an incremental rather than dramatic change under Bush. … I view this as an irreversible and longterm process.” But the audience experience is more complex: As Clay Shirky, who studies interactive media, points out, there are still more choices, more outlets, and more information of countless types in the media system of today compared to twenty-five years ago. Everyone we talked to observed that those with views outside the commercial mainstream have more options to reach audiences today, not fewer.

The challenge for any individual media maker or programmer is not the consolidation per se; it is the fact that there is both wild diversification at the program level and significant consolidation at the corporate level. It is the combination of the two that most seriously undermines the bargaining power of the independent maker or programmer trying to get public attention or channel space— at least according to all the old rules of how media and audiences find each other.

3. Inverted From broadcast to broadcatch. The traditional models of how to connect people with media productions are based on two characteristics of the old ecology for media that are no longer the givens they once were. The first is that making media was traditionally quite expensive, and so required a large number of viewers to make it worthwhile for its backers. (This is true whether the backer is commercial or noncommercial, although how much of a priority this is or the way it is measured will vary significantly.) The second is that there were a small number of distribution channels for bringing work to audiences, so the operators of those channels cast work as broadly as possible and competed to draw attention to what they were distributing or presenting. (This is the dynamic of what we know as “broadcasting,” of course, but has also been true of all other forms of mass media.) But in the new ecology, this traditional dynamic—some powerful central force casting work to audiences—will be inverted. The new dynamic will put individuals in the much more active role of selecting from an ever-growing number of streams of material. Channels or brands will be useful, perhaps even essential guides, but more than ever, people will be the “broadcatchers”—creating their own programming lineup from many possible sources.

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

z TiVo does change everything … I like the idea of virtual chan-

nels, like an Asian virtual channel … Your TiVo is out there looking for any middle-of-the-night spectrum that the Asian virtual channel bought to air something. And so you wake up in the morning and you have that program on your hard drive and you can watch it at your leisure. I think for diaspora communities, this development is huge. —Brad deGraf

Broadband and cheap digital storage will change how and where people consume media. The potential for high-speed, on-demand access and ever-cheaper digital storage allows for new levels of flexibility in when, where, and how people consume media. At the same time, the ability for individuals to create software-defined “virtual” channels of programs geared toward their tastes but culled from many sources, or to share their stored media on peer-to-peer systems, will fundamentally change the relationships between people and the media they use, not to mention the organizations that bring it to them. According to a 2002 study about the media industry by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, “by 2006, adoption of key delivery technologies, including broadband, digital television, personal video recorders (PVRs), and recordable and rewritable compact discs (CD-R/RWs), will attain levels necessary to significantly alter existing business models.” (PVRs are the devices, like TiVo, that connect a large hard drive—i.e., cheap digital storage—to a broadcast or cable stream and allow subscribers to record the programs they want based on various criteria. The next generation of these devices will allow users to download video streams from the Internet, too. TiVo, the early leader in this technology, had 1.6 million subscribers in mid-2004.) These are business models for commercial media, of course, but the conditions they describe will shape the context and expectations of a large number of Americans as media users. At the very least, the fastgrowing adoption of broadband will affect the way in which the Internet becomes a mainstream platform for

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distributing full motion video, including independent work. Fast connections that allow users to find and stream (or download) video or share it on a peer-topeer basis will accelerate the many emerging ways in which media of all kinds circulates among people whose own roles in the ecology will multiply: They may act as viewers but also as redistributors or peer-to-peer promoters of the work, or even as remixers, modifying work that is easy for them to find, store, edit, and send. Bandwidth and storage can also substitute for each other in innovative ways. Netflix uses the Internet as a consumer interface; DVDs as a cheap, lightweight, and super-portable digital storage medium; and the postal service as an inexpensive if slow distribution network for many types of film and video, including a growing amount of independent work. It also uses software that allows users to get suggestions for new work based on their viewing preferences and ratings, thereby potentially allowing filmmakers and viewers to get beyond traditional marketing filters. The important point is that Netflix is as much a product of the changes digital technologies make possible as the more overtly futuristic demonstrations of instant downloads of fulllength movies over superfast connections. Another company, Film Movement, is using a similar model (DVDs and the mail) expressly to distribute independent work. Film Movement is a curated subscription service that offers independent films, foreign films, and shorts, chosen from leading film festivals, on a “book-of-the-month” model. The company selects one film a month to send to subscribers, who then own the DVD. Here again, advances in technology that have little to do with the Internet are expanding the opportunities for independent work to connect with


deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

z If you look at people with TiVo devices, something like 70 percent of the television they watch is time-shifted. It’s a massive change in viewing habits. What is primetime? That has significant implications for independent media. For a long time they have argued that what they produce is primetime content. But because of the powerful interests in the distribution chain, they end up in less than exciting positions in the scheduling, therefore nobody watches them. What this offers them is the possibility of a primetime audience based upon the quality of what they create and the compellingness of that. —Daniel Erasmus

interested audiences in ways that would have been much harder and more expensive a decade ago. Cheap storage creates new opportunities like this, but it also threatens potentially severe disruptions. The economic basis for broadcasting (and to a lesser extent, cable) may become unstable if PVRs take off in the way that some people expect. Because PVRs allow people to create their own “primetime,” they undermine the basic rule of thumb for how to price advertising time. While it’s not hard to imagine how advertisers could accommodate that, what is harder to imagine is whether the current market for television advertising would survive if large numbers of viewers could be shown to be skipping ads, which services like TiVo make possible. Forrester Research forecasts that when 30 million homes in the US have PVRs, 76 percent of advertisers will cut their TV ad spending, a quarter of them by more than 40 percent. Whether that fundamentally undermines the economics of broadcasting, or whether it frees up billions of dollars for other forms of media support, is unknown. But many observers worry that the current system, and the assumptions based on it, may not survive another decade.

Globally interconnected networks will affect the market for media talent, media productions, and the scale and scope of audiences. As the Internet increasingly becomes a global platform for the distribution of audio-visual media, it not only creates a widely available mechanism for distributing work at relatively low cost, it also opens the possibility

for a more truly global bazaar for independent media of all kinds, from all places. That means that the market (in the broadest sense) for talent, productions, and audiences can both grow and fragment: Media makers can find opportunities in more places, more work can be shared or selected, more media can be sought out by interested viewers, and more potential viewers can be attracted to individual works. That can mean greater rewards for makers and institutions that can position themselves in this global arena and make sense of it, as well as greater competition for works and for attention for everyone who wants to get seen or heard. That is, it won’t be just today’s makers who can use this new platform to increase their own reach. Everyone will be using it to try to increase their reach, which means that everyone will find the media bazaar more crowded than ever before.

Trusted guides to the overwhelming number of media choices—from recognized expert interpreters to word-ofmouth recommendations—will become more important for individuals making choices, yet the number and type of possible guides will also multiply significantly. Motion media can’t be easily “scanned” or “tried on” beforehand to find out whether it’s a good choice, so if the consumer or viewer is to take a more active role in shaping her own media environment, trusted guides will be more crucial than ever. Those guides can be the established ones, of course—newspaper and magazine critics, film festival juries, regional or national awards, not to mention word of mouth from someone whose opinion you trust. But upstarts can easily come in as well, from online databases like Internet Movie

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

z I was at IBM Research about a year

ago and these guys made the point that within about five years, storage would be cheap enough and small enough that you could record in video every minute of your life and carry it around with you in your pocket. A device the size of an iPod could store continuous video of your life. So start imagining that world. Maybe bandwidth isn’t the service. Maybe you stick your iPod device into a socket in a store and they fill it up with 1,000 videos, which you’ll pay for when you use them. Then all that needs to be transmitted over the wires is which one you’re watching. —Tim O’Reilly

Database, to collaborative filtering like Amazon’s “customers who bought this DVD also bought…” feature, to blogs written by aspiring taste-makers, to individuals like Kevin Kelly, a well-respected author on topics far from film, who created his “truefilms” website to catalogue and recommend works that he and a friend of his like. So guides are important and will be even more so, but there will be many more to choose from than ever before.

4. Fragmented Audiences are fragmenting and organizing in new configurations. Perhaps there were, once upon a time, homogeneous mass audiences who widely shared a small number of media experiences that fostered and reflected their sense of belonging to a single whole. Whether or not that was true, the new ecology is different in almost

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every way. When it comes to audiences, big is getting smaller, small is getting better, and the whole notion of “we” is shifting shape.

Only a few shows, projects, or products will attract big or mass audiences. Audiences have always tended to form around a small proportion of all releases. This is true of commercial works in theaters and commercial television audiences, and it is equally true of independent media. Consider the statistics cited earlier about the recent growth of the market for documentaries and the number of documentaries with multimillion dollar grosses. While good news for the field as a whole, it is worth noting that a very small number of works benefited from it. If we start from the report that the domestic box office revenues for documentaries in 2003 was $49.2 million and that Bowling for Columbine grossed a little over $20 million, then it is possible that it accounts for a significant fraction of that total. (The film was released in 2002 but won the Oscar in 2003, and it is hard to tally how much of its gross is part of the 2003 total for all documentaries.) It’s also worth noting that among the most successful films, Bowling for Columbine earned almost twice as much as Winged Migration, which earned almost twice as much as Spellbound, which earned about twice as much as Capturing the Friedmans. This is a tail that drops off very fast: If the pattern holds, and patterns like it are often observed in these kinds of rankings, the tenth most popular film on that list would have grossed about $45,000, and only five films would have grossed over $1 million. Growing the pool and so increasing the competition will intensify this effect and leave an even longer tail of underappreciated works, rather than


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zOne

thing we’ve found that is very new is the tremendous polarization of audiences. The era of mass media is really over. —Celinda Lake

z The

cause attention to be distributed more evenly. Moreover, it is likely to mean, as we are already seeing, that while only a few works will attract large audiences in the conventional sense, what counts as a “big” audience will also get smaller.

Media with a strong, well-defined political point of view will increasingly attract supportive audiences. Before the summer of 2004, the most commercially successful feature-length documentary of recent years was Bowling for Columbine, a film with a strong political point of view that grossed $40 million in theaters worldwide, earned over $100 million in DVD sales, won the Oscar for best documentary, and helped keep Michael Moore’s books, Stupid White Men and Dude, Where’s My Country, on the bestseller lists.

big point is that this talent is global. What made Silicon Valley the center of innovation wasn’t Americans: it was foreign people who came to Silicon Valley to work. Same thing with Hollywood and LA. This competition is for talent, for people. We assume the United States has an unvarnished advantage, but in fact it doesn’t. —Richard Florida

Then Fahrenheit 9/11 earned more in its opening weekend than Bowling for Columbine did in its entire domestic run ($21.9 million versus $21.6 million). Fahrenheit 9/11 was the top-grossing film that weekend, attracting more viewers than any other feature in theaters. Five weeks later, it crossed the $100 million mark and was still among the top ten films at the box office. Michael Moore may be an anomaly, but the evidence is all around that media with strong social or political points of view will attract loyal audiences. Much of the New York Times bestseller lists for nonfiction books has been strongly partisan titles from both the left and the right for the last year or more, and the strong political view associated with Fox News helped send it to the top of the cable news ratings. Commercial distribu-

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

z We expect that these Millennial kids will make their

mark in institution-building and in some civic rebirth, using technology. There will be some problems that middle-age people today think you could never fix and the Millennials will find a way to fix them. But they will do it in ways that are not necessarily going to promote the agendas of Boomers. —William Strauss

tors and theater owners are already acting on this. In the summer of 2004, a growing number of sharpedged political or social works hit movie houses: Super Size Me and Fahrenheit 9/11, of course, as well as The Corporation, The Yes Men, and The Control Room. Outfoxed, originally released on DVD, became one of the top-selling DVDs on Amazon, and then jumped from DVD distribution to theatrical release in a number of cities. The tradition of journalistic “balance,” which developed in part so that media organizations could serve mass audiences of people with diverse tastes and opinions over wide areas, could easily be replaced by more openly partisan media outlets with clearly distinguished positions, matched to specific audiences and interests. Journalist Jim Fallows suggests how two trends, each already well-established, could combine to make this happen. First, news and information are now primarily market-driven, rather than oriented around a public interest notion of citizenship. Second, American society is becoming more stratified and polarized in terms of income, education, and politics. Given these two trends, Fallows concludes, the commercial media “is going to be more openly and honestly partisan,” creating new opportunities for commercial distribution of work with strong social, political, or cultural points of view. That, in part, will mean a growing audience for media that is sophisticated and critical, presenting challenging themes and pushing formal boundaries. Even if that doesn’t happen everywhere or for all media outlets, it is already the case that strong partisan points of view are finding supportive audiences.

The next generation of producers and consumers will have different attitudes, tastes, and assumptions than the ones that prevail among Boomers and GenXers today. Many people we interviewed urged us not to assume that the next generation of media makers and viewers would organize their social and political allegiances, much less their media habits, the way their elders have. Some of the younger people we interviewed in particular felt strongly that people in their teens and twenties use media differently (much more multitasking while using media) and have far weaker allegiances to categories like commercial/noncommercial or independent/mainstream. Demographer William Strauss, who has studied generational cohorts going back over the last century, argues that people he calls the Millennial generation—those born since 1982 and so coming of age in the first years of the new millennium—are unlikely to emphasize the same social and political priorities as Boomers (who drove the rethinking of gender in our society) or Generation Xers (who put race and ethnicity at the top of their agenda). According to Strauss, Millennials’ social concerns will be less about gender, race, or ethnic identity, and more focused on economic inequality. Navigating cultural differences and increasing crosscultural understanding will still be important, but the Millennials may not organize themselves around the categories or identities that shaped late twentieth century politics and institutions. Millennials are also “more culturally conservative than people think.” According to Strauss, “What we see coming among Millennials is a combination of cultural conservatism and confidence in institutional recon-

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deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

z Someone

who is a technologically savvy media person—either a filmmaker or a musician or an animator, circa 2004—I think more of them view themselves as people who just make stuff. And if that goes up on a website, great. If it ends up as part of an animation festival, great. If MTV is interested, that’s also fine. I think there is less of a hard and fast boundary between commercial and noncommercial, or independent and mainstream. And I think technology is partially responsible for that and in part is a generational zeitgeist. —J.C. Herz

struction that you might, in today’s parlance, call more liberal.… If I were to say what the heart of the generation’s gathering political point of view is, it reminds me of the conservative Democrats of thirty years ago.” One way those new tastes and assumptions will likely play out is in the rhetorics or styles that speak to them. Many observers already see a new style emerging among many of the more popular recent independent works, which combine pop sensibilities or attitudes with strong points of view and techniques borrowed from popular fictional genres. Henry Jenkins of MIT, who has been studying this, observes “a much more playful space and more hybrid space opening up now than in traditional alternative media.… What we’re seeing more are artists that engage with pop culture, the fun part of culture, even for political ends.” Tom Bernard of Sony Pictures Classics similarly summed up the new documentary style as “populist,” noting that the documentaries gaining wider audience attention don’t follow an earlier generation’s “strict documentary authority.” Or, as Henry Jenkins concludes, “The line between Michael Moore and Jackass is a thin line. The line between trying to gross someone out in a shopping mall and confronting Charlton Heston in his house is thinner than we think.”

5. Financially reorganized How independent work is funded and who funds it will change. The support system for noncommercial independent work is changing and will continue to change in ways that may make independent media makers wonder whether they are playing a game of “chutes and ladders”—a new terrain of sudden falls as well as new chances to move up and get ahead.

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

z The structure where you got funding and then you produced something—there will still be some of that, but it will be replaced by things that get produced and get discovered from the bottom up in the same way that somebody could start a new blog or website and have it be discovered. That will be particularly true in the frothy early stages of the digital video revolution. —Tim O’Reilly

Federal and state money for the media arts has shrunk, and the proportion of arts grants that go to media work has also fallen in recent years. The growing pressure on foundations to demonstrate impact may create a new hurdle to funding important but hard-to-measure media projects. As one foundation supporter of the arts recently said about arts funding in general, “The traditional combination of government, foundation, and corporate funding is pretty much shot. … The only area with some potential for growth right now is wealthy individuals, and they are all feeling besieged.” Over the last generation, government funding for the arts shifted from the federal to the state and local levels, which, the RAND Corporation reports, has produced “a corresponding shift from general support for artists and arts organizations to a greater focus on how financial support for the arts can promote instrumental social and economic benefits.” Long-term deficits are expected in the federal budget, and many state budgets are being cut as well. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, thirty states are projecting budget deficits for 2005, with a total shortfall of about $40 billion. (The two states with perhaps the strongest media arts constituencies, California and New York, are the two with the biggest deficits.) Against that background, state art councils have been cut repeatedly in recent years— another 39 percent in 2004—and reports suggest that state budget problems are likely to continue in coming years, making a revival of state funding for the arts in general or the media arts in particular a challenge. (Participants in our March scenario workshop noted that public funding for media work may now be more likely to flow through “public diplomacy” budgets than traditional arts or humanities programs, which is less

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likely to support truly independent or artistic work, almost by definition, since it is being supported specifically to promote government aims.) When Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) analyzed grant dollars for arts and culture, they reported that foundation giving to media and communications fell as a proportion of all arts funding, from 10 percent to 8 percent between 2000 and 2001 (the most recent period GIA has analyzed). GIA data suggest that foundations awarded about $158 million to media and communications programs in 2001, down from $180 million the previous year. Using different data and methodologies, the MediaWorks Initiative concluded that foundations and private donors give about $4 billion to media and communications broadly defined, with most funding going to producing content. Alternative and independent media projects are not “major beneficiaries” of this giving, however. Meanwhile, many foundations are seeking new means of demonstrating impact, effectiveness, and accountability. The context for supporting independent media may change as a result, further solidifying the sense in the field that many foundation funders tend to only fund work that is associated with campaigns or that directly supports other program priorities at the foundation. Challenging work that is unlikely to find significant audiences, or non-narrative or experimental work, would seem less likely to find foundation support in this environment. Other sources of support for media may emerge from grassroots movements and the Internet, however. MoveOn demonstrated that $1.3 million can be raised in less than 48 hours from small donations to support political media. More recently, the Media Venture Collective was created as a means to pool small donations to fund “public benefit media enterprises.”


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But it may well be that the new ecology generates very different funding structures from the ones that emerged in the last generation. As Ravi Sundaram notes, the new technologies have reduced the dependence of many local media makers on traditional sources of money. There are of course still problems of distribution and getting the work seen, but one can get a project off the ground for far less. That means that the traditional model of shopping a proposal around before starting a project—a practice already in decline for practical reasons—could be turned on its head. The money comes after, perhaps especially to help the maker with what has become harder than ever—creating or organizing audiences for the work.

of the very good things, particularly in the south in a country like India, technology becoming cheaper means dependence on the big studios and the big funders is gone. People produce their own films now. —Ravi Sundaram

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Developing Scenarios about the Future of Independent Media


deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

Our reason has capacity enough to provide the stuff for a hundred other worlds, and then to discover their principles and construction! — Michel de Montaigne

T

he “givens” of the new ecology outlined in the previous section will be true in any story about independent media over the next ten years. They suggest a range of new possibilities that will affect every actor in the media environment. Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine ways in which elements of this new ecology could generate surprising futures that would reward different skills and practices than the ones most often found among independent media makers and organizations today. For example: What if the way independent work reaches its audience changes profoundly? As Daniel Erasmus, a strategy consultant, points out, independents have everything to gain from innovative distribution models, while the entrenched commercial players are wary of experimenting because they feel as if they have everything to lose. How might it work? Author Howard Rheingold envisions a combination of collaborative filtering and peer-to-peer digital distribution, which in combination with ever-better and more widely available production and post-production tools would be far better for independent makers than the current system. Walter Parkes’s experience at DreamWorks, where he heads up film production, underscores for him that “nothing takes the place of word of mouth, of someone you know who says ‘I saw this movie and it was fantastic’”—especially now, when much of the audience is deluged with media choices and believes that messages from the studios themselves are “such a complete hustle.” Both Parkes and demographer William Strauss point to mobile phones, digital technologies, instant messaging, simple text messaging, and other tools now in wide use among young people as the mechanisms by which word of mouth can more quickly and powerfully than ever create potentially significant audiences for work.

What if the next major platform for video is the very small screen? Technology researcher Sandeep Casi argues that “the next generation of new media is going to phones.” He points out that the software— MPEG-4—makes this easy, but the hardware is not in place yet. A totally different media experience? Absolutely. Combine it with the new means to share work described above, though, and whole new possibilities emerge for work that would surely have new forms and could create new ways to organize, entertain, and inform large numbers of users outside of today’s distribution channels. What if independent media finds its most devoted and fastest growing audiences outside the United States? Two other factors that are creating new possibilities for American independents came up repeatedly throughout our interviews. One is the growing use and capacity of the global Internet. The other is that for the foreseeable future, the US will be the global hegemon, which means that people around the world will be interested in ideas and perspectives on the American experience. Daniel Erasmus sees “enormous opportunity on a global scale for offering different thinking about American ideals” than what comes through the commercial system today. What if independent media is no longer linked to nonprofit institutions and noncommercial markets? A few of our interviewees speculated about whether the noncommercial/commercial divide should remain part of the organizing framework of independent media over the next decade. We heard this even from less commercially oriented people and those who work with nonprofits. As head of Pacific News Service and founder of New California Media, Sandy Close has worked with nationally recognized nonprofits and littleknown ethnic media groups for many years. Reflecting on her work, she says, “The nonprofit sphere did a great job…but maybe it’s time for something else. I sense a much more pragmatic, entrepreneurial 27


NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

Ethnic media are the public voice of the raw grassroots. They are market-driven because they have to survive out of small business advertising, classifieds, subscriptions, and all the rest of it. But think about how embedded they are in the audience they reach. —Sandy Close

sphere.” According to Close, “Ethnic media are the public voice of the raw grassroots. They are marketdriven because they have to survive out of small business advertising, classifieds, subscriptions, and all the rest of it. But think about how embedded they are in the audience they reach.” Could a thriving, sustainable independent media emerge entirely outside the systems of nonprofits, foundations, and government arts agencies? Could you make strategy against these “what ifs”? Not really, because what may not be obvious at first glance is that each of them could take shape in very different ways and thus have different strategic implications depending on the broader context in which they appear. The new ecology is the essential background against which many possible futures could come to pass, but it will not determine their shape. What will determine what happens against that background is how key uncertainties—the crucial questions that can’t be answered ahead of time—resolve themselves over the same period. Scenarios take their basic shape from the most important, most relevant uncertainties embedded in the issues being explored. By forcing ourselves to think in an organized way about how these uncertainties might play out in different directions that no one can predict, we can see how the new ecology sets up a range of choices and options. In what follows, we outline the process and results of the scenario work done with the six client organizations. (Additional information about creating scenarios, including pointers to additional resources, can be found in the Appendix.) However, the audience for this report is far broader than those organizations alone. Think of their experience as the compass rather than the freight. Our hope is that you, the reader, will see the work that they did, see other possibilities for how these scenarios could work out, and then use some of the materials here to develop your own scenarios: sto-

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ries that shed the clearest light on the issues and challenges in your organization, your region, or your niche within the broader field of independent media. To do that, though, you’ll need to see how scenarios are created in enough detail to allow you to develop your own. What are “scenarios” and how are they created? Scenarios are stories, and scenario thinking is the practice of using stories created in a methodical way to help see one’s options more clearly and to better understand the system one is in. Scenario thinking is designed to help people make choices when other strategy tools failed them: when the future is not an extension of the past, but something far more challenging and uncertain. Under those conditions, the experience and wisdom that allowed leaders to succeed can keep them from adapting to the new conditions that they and their organizations are facing. Pierre Wack, the father of modern scenario planning, understood this well. Discussing the advantages of what he called “decision scenarios,” Wack observed in his classic essay, “The Gentle Art of Reperceiving,” that: …It is almost impossible to break out of one’s worldview while operating within it. When one is committed to a certain way of framing an issue, it is extremely difficult to see solutions that lie outside this framework. Decision scenarios, by being alternative ‘ways of seeing the world,’ are a systematic method for breaking out of this one-eyed view. In a proper sense, such scenarios confer a gift of second sight and can achieve something very precious: the ability to reperceive reality. In times of change there is definitely more to see than we normally perceive—more information potentially relevant to us lying around unnoticed because, being locked into our way of looking, we fail to see its significance.


NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

Scenario planning is a process designed to enable people to envision multiple plausible futures in order to improve the quality of the decisions and strategies they make in the present. At its best, scenario planning forces people to examine their deeply held assumptions and to think through what they would do if the future turns out to be quite different from what they expect. It can do this because it focuses on “outside-in” thinking. Most individuals and organizations are surprised by discontinuous events because they spend their time thinking about the areas they have the most control over and comfort with: their own field or organization. They think from the inside—the things they can control—out to the world they would like to shape. Outside-in thinking starts with understanding the external dynamics and environmental factors and drivers that may affect your work in expected and unexpected ways. It allows for strategies to emerge that might not have been visible if one only looked for the world one would like to create. There are many ways of creating scenarios and many different kinds of scenarios, and in the Appendix we have included pointers to much more detailed information about how to create your own. In brief, the process normally begins by clarifying the decision to be made or the issue to be explored. The process then identifies driving forces, including social, economic, political, and technological factors; predetermined elements, such as demographic patterns already in the pipeline; and critical uncertainties—unpredictable things such as public opinion or the state of the economy. These are then prioritized according to both their importance and the degree to which they are truly uncertain.

deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

These exercises typically culminate in three to four carefully constructed scenarios—a small number because only a few scenarios can be fully developed and remembered. Each should represent a plausible alternative future, not simply a point on a continuum from best case through the most likely worst case. Once the scenarios have been developed, participants identify their implications for the organization and the focal question. This can take a number of forms depending on the needs of the organization. In some cases, participants then identify “leading indicators” that they will monitor—the events to watch for that will indicate which future (or combination of futures) is actually unfolding. The test of a good scenario is not whether it portrays the future accurately—whether it really “comes true”—but whether it enables an organization to learn

Your Organization or Issue

Working Environment

Contextual Environment

Driving Forces: Constituencies Customers Communities Competitors Partners Regulation

Driving Forces: Social Techonlogical Economic Environmental Political

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

Scenario thinking is designed to help people make choices when other strategy tools fail them.

and adapt to changing circumstances. Just as important, scenarios are not the goal of scenario planning. Scenarios are a tool for thinking about options in the face of uncertainty and creating better strategies as a result. They are a platform from which to see new implications, opportunities, and challenges that would not have been visible otherwise. The uncertainties that could shape the future of independent media Just as the research and interviews pointed us toward elements of the new ecology for independent media, they also uncovered a range of important uncertainties about the environment for independent work that could be very important to understanding the future of the field and the players in it. In the course of this project, we identified twenty-two uncertainties that could reasonably be expected to shape the future of the field in important ways. (The full list of candidate uncertainties is in the Appendix to this report.) From those uncertainties, the client groups identified five that seemed most important to them: • Will the social and political culture in the US tend to be more supportive of independent work and themes or less supportive? • Will the use of media by people born since 1980 be similar to what we see now or very different from today’s habits? • Will the dominant aggregators that package and present independent media be traditional (the ones we know now) or nontraditional? • Will the primary support for independent work be subsidy or sales? • Is the transition to a fully broadband world slow to happen or fast to happen?

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A basic scenario framework is normally created by taking two uncertainties from a list such as this, laying each out on an axis (an arrow pointing in two directions) with end points that describe two possible alternative outcomes, then crossing the two axes to create a matrix with four quadrants. Each quadrant should describe a plausible yet challenging future where the two uncertainties together create a more complex dynamic than either could individually. The GBN project team studied the client groups’ responses and considered various possible scenario frameworks that could be created with them. Based on what we were seeing and our experience in developing scenarios with clients, we created a scenario matrix based on two uncertainties about the world over the next ten years: 1. Will the use of media be similar to what we see now or very different from today’s habits? Will media use— both by media makers and media users of any kind— reflect an incremental evolution of what we see now, or will there be a discontinuous change that results in patterns and habits for making, sharing, and experiencing media that will be quite different from today’s norms? 2. Will the social and political culture in the US tend to be more supportive of independent work and themes or less supportive? Will the culture, broadly defined, reflect widespread interest in and support for the work associated with independent media, or will the culture reflect little or declining interest in the work of independent media makers and the themes associated with their work?


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The test of a good scenario is‌whether it enables an organization to learn and adapt to changing circumstances.

Set out as a matrix, the two uncertainties look like this:

US Social and Political Culture Use of

Less supportive of independent media

Media

Similar to today

Following a brainstorming exercise designed to imagine the deep causes that might lead to each quadrant described by this matrix, the group then broke into small groups to develop the logic of each quadrant, the stories of what each world would be like and why, and high-level implications for each scenario. We made sure that each scenario had a different set of drivers and a different set of logics so that the worlds were More supportive of sufficiently distinct to challenge our thinking. We independent thought broadly about the economy, politics, and the media system in each. We thought about the contextumedia al elements, like political shocks, demographics, or social change, and then about developments that might arise in the media business in each environment.

Very different from today

The initial test of a matrix like this is whether the combinations of uncertainties are all equally plausible: that the culture could become less supportive of independent work while media use continued on an incremental path that was essentially similar to today, for example, or that the culture could become more supportive of independent work while media use becomes surprisingly different from today. All four quadrants do seem to describe plausible conditions for independent media makers and organizations. The next test is whether they are sufficiently different from one another to be challenging in four distinct ways, which they seem to be. The third test is whether they imply different choices for people in independent media, which they also seem to do.

The point of scenario thinking is not the scenarios, though—it is to stimulate a strategic conversation. And one thing we have learned about scenarios is that while those who created them may have a strong attachment to them, others may find that the stories have no claim on their imagination. So in the interest of stimulating a broader set of strategic conversations, here are very brief sketches of the scenarios that the six client organizations made for each quadrant, followed by other possible stories that this matrix could generate. The point is not so much to focus on one story or another but to invite you to use this framework to create your own scenarios. What stories would you tell about the world described by each quadrant? How would you respond to each?

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

Imagine a world in which…

US Social and Political Culture: Less Supportive of Independent Media Use of Media: Similar to Today

BFD: A world in which Blame, Fear, and Distrust dominate the social, political, and economic landscape. Investments in media infrastructure go to security, not innovation, and the media system is dominated by a few global conglomerates. Escapist content, delivered pay-per-view, rules. A growing grassroots guerilla network of independent voices, fueled by Boomers and Millennials, is using peer-to-peer file sharing to pass around work outside the commercial system. Indies find new acceptance and markets outside the US because of growing opposition to US power; Europe becomes a safe haven for alternative views.

or

And the band played on: The floundering economy forces indies to rely on a patchwork of meager subsidies and the falling costs of equipment to scratch out familiar work for graying audiences. Independent media is screened for small groups of devotees in a few theaters in some of the major film centers and on college campuses, although it’s the professors turning up at the screenings, not the students. The dominant aggregators from the early ’00s have been severely weakened by the limited opportunities. Many have merged or disbanded, while the Indiewood companies that had once been so hot have been mostly absorbed into their corporate parents.

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US Social and Political Culture Use of

Less supportive of independent media

Media

Similar to today

Very different from today

More supportive of independent media

or

The sorrow and the pity: With fears of terrorism at home still rising, people want to be entertained, not challenged. Nonmainstream work attracts few viewers, so neither broadcasters nor theaters see much point in programming it. State budget deficits drive support for media arts to nothing. In its second term, the Bush Administration proposes to eliminate CPB. When supporters push back, they agree to a compromise: fund CPB for children’s programming, but eliminate support for the Independent Television Service and the Minority Consortia. ”Television has more channels and more programs than ever. Why are we asking taxpayers to subsidize what the market is providing so well?” asks a White House spokesman. The boards of some of the major foundations conclude that with no public support or real distribution options, they should shift their support to projects where they can show they are making a difference.


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US Social and Political Culture: More Supportive of Independent Media Use of Media: Similar to Today

Boomers’ last gasp: A reignited activist culture where Boomers control independent media but stifle innovation as they hold onto their traditional progressive values. Innovation stalls and audiences remain passive. Independent voices come through the traditional channels: noncommercial radio and social issue documentaries distributed through OneWorld, LinkTV, or Free Speech TV. One result is a disconnect between a growing underground youth culture and the “traditional independent” world dominated by boomer values and money.

or

This little indie went to market: As the cultural creatives coalesce and shift the mainstream toward the vales and visions best articulated in independent media, today’s independent media becomes mainstream. What was once called “independent” is what fills theaters, so commercial studios and distributors are working hard to bring independents into the commercial system, and indies thrive on sales into growing markets. The feedback they get from relationships with viewers who support them engages a new generation of makers who embrace the give and take with the audience. The new market dynamics also reward a new generation of distributors who are tuned into this market and know how to deliver great work at low costs so they can thrive on lots of little niches.

or

Unfair, imbalanced, all mine: One legacy of the partisan struggles of the early ‘00s is that more and more Americans want their media to reflect their more politicized values. Media on the left and the right both grow in sophistication and visibility, and Americans are increasingly hungry for independently made work that has a real personality behind it. Because the populace is polarized, the big studios are wary of putting out work that will alienate half the population no matter what they do, but a growing number of donors begin to channel more money to indie media makers and institutions. It’s a new crop of distributors who can get the resulting work to audiences, though, because widespread broadband really changes the landscape for distribution and young people especially have a sensibility that the old middleman can never quite figure out.

US Social and Political Culture Use of

Less supportive of independent media

Media

Similar to today

Very different from today

More supportive of independent media

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

US Social and Political Culture: Less Supportive of Independent Media Use of Media: Very Different from Today

or

A tale of two bulges: A world of feel-good entertainment and “who cares?!” sensibilities driven by the demographic bulge of Millennials as they push the Boomers out of the cultural driver’s seat. Anything goes as long as it’s new and it makes money. It’s a technologically savvy and saturated world, with widespread access to the most sophisticated tools. There are some “independent” media makers, but most of what they do is fantasy and games. What little socially committed media there is tends to be slick—people share short clips on their cellphones—but there’s no money outside the commercial system. Independent media that looks anything like what it did in the early years of the decade lives mostly in the global South.

The chattering masses: A world with lots of video and many voices, freely expressed and widely available, but speaking to ever smaller audiences. People still make independent films, but mostly as hobbyists and almost no one gets paid for it. It’s increasingly like blogging: lots of freedom to express one’s point of view and use the network for global distribution, but little chance to earn a living doing so, and very few are reaching more than a handful. Fortunately, the tools are now cheap enough that it’s well within the reach of most Westerners and a quickly increasing number of people in the global South to shoot video, edit it into a finished product, digitize it, and post it on a website or video blog. A few makers do attract attention, though, and they come from unexpected places.

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US Social and Political Culture Use of

Less supportive of independent media

Media

Similar to today

Very different from today

More supportive of independent media

or

How the Irish saved civilization: Everything is different as broadband catalyzes whole new relationships to media among young people— at home, of course, and even more importantly, wherever they are with their broadband mobile devices. New channels and media tastemakers that have credibility with younger audiences (Von Dutch, Camper, and Burton) reshape every bit of the media landscape. They’re not interested in traditional indie subjects in any recognizable way. In these lean times, a small group of dedicated funders supports independent work that speaks to what they see as essential issues. There may not be much of an audience today, but the hope is that they can preserve for future generations the tradition of thoughtful storytelling and the idea of media committed to great ideals.


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US Social and Political Culture: More Supportive of Independent Media Use of Media: Very Different from Today

Perfect populism: An energized, idealistic, if often chaotic world where there more media, more forms of media, more ways of consuming media, and more models for making media. Indies are focused on political and social issues and are mostly supported in the market. People can find what they want and pay makers directly. There are many more producers at every level of the media ecosystem, and media consumers and independents are huge and made up of Boomers and Millennials with shared interests.

or

US Social and Political Culture Use of

Less supportive of independent media

Media

Similar to today

Very different from today

or

Independent media is dead, long live independent media: Independent media as it has been supported and distributed withers due to fragmented audiences and an industry structure that can’t connect the old indie work with the new audiences. What is rising in use and power, though, is media that serves strongly cohesive ethnic communities. It’s supported from the grassroots with funding that developed through small-scale markets, not public or philanthropic support, and it appears to exist in parallel with the mainstream media with little interest in breaking into the larger discourse. It’s truly independent: serious, sustainable, and wellregarded by its loyal audiences. Overall support is great, but each community is a separate universe, with almost no crossover among the enclaves or into the wider world, which remains largely unware that these niches exist at all.

Never blog anyone over thirty: Millennials use and connect the many media devices and platforms they have in new ways, with very different rhetorics and relationships to the mainstream than Boomer or Generation X media makers. They embrace the commercial world, the better to spit in the eye. They end up laughing all the way to the bank while older critics and cultural leaders fuss over whether any of it contributes to democratic discourse and argue whether it’s really in the independent tradition at all. A new crop of distributors has emerged to package and present work (some online, but also through informal networks of micro-cinemas and nontraditional spaces), while young adults trade “ring-shots” (the visual equivalent to ringtones) and video messaging clips.

More supportive of independent media

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

These six San Francisco media organizations have in many ways been the organizational heart of San Francisco’s independent media community, and are widely recognized as

Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC)

Film Arts Foundation

Independent Television Service (ITVS)

FOUNDING DATE

FOUNDING DATE

FOUNDING DATE

1976

1976

SPOKESPERSON

SPOKESPERSON

Judy Holme Agnew, Executive Director

Gail Silva, President

MISSION

MISSION

In order to level the playing field, support the creation of high quality independent media, and develop current and future media makers, BAVC’s mission is to be the nation’s most advanced noncommercial media technology access and training center.

The mission of Film Arts Foundation is to support the creation and exhibition of independent film and video.

In 1988, Congress passed legislation directing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to negotiate with a national coalition of independent producer groups to establish ITVS. In 1991, ITVS opened its doors.

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Film Arts’ primary constituency is Northern California’s large, diverse, talented and iconoclastic independent filmmaking community, known internationally for social issue media that crosses the genres of documentary, narrative and experimental work. Film Arts’ full range of services— access to low-cost equipment, seminars and workshops, bi-monthly magazine, website, exhibition program and annual festival, grants and fiscal sponsorship program, mentorships and resource center— allows Film Arts to serve as both an incubator of first and second time filmmakers as well as a primary support organization for experienced, award-winning artists.

SPOKESPERSON

Sally Jo Fifer, President and CEO MISSION

The Independent Television Service (ITVS) brings to local, national and international audiences high-quality, content-rich programs created by a diverse body of independent producers. ITVS programs take creative risks, explore complex issues, and express points of view seldom seen on commercial or public television. ITVS programming reflects voices and visions of underrepresented communities and addresses the needs of underserved audiences.


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essential contributors to the independent media landscape nationwide.

KQED Public Broadcasting

National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA)

National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC)

FOUNDING DATE

FOUNDING DATE

FOUNDING DATE

1954

1980

1980

SPOKESPERSON

SPOKESPERSON

SPOKESPERSONS

John Boland, Executive Vice President and Chief Content Officer

Eddie Wong, Executive Director

Helen De Michiel and Jack Walsh, Co-Directors

MISSION MISSION

KQED provides the people of Northern California with consistently high quality, non-commercial media that informs, educates, and entertains. Through the creation and acquisition of programs, the leveraging of our multiple media assets, and strategic partnerships, KQED delivers television, radio, and Internet content that makes people think, feel and explore new ideas. Our programming and services reflect the value we place on human dignity, lifelong learning, and the power of ideas, and on the importance of community service and civic participation.

To tell stories which convey the richness and diversity of the Asian Pacific American experience. We do this by funding, presenting, exhibiting, and distributing Asian Pacific American film, video, and new media to the largest audience possible.

MISSION

NAMAC is a national association of organizations and individuals committed to furthering diversity and participation in all forms of the media arts, including film, video, audio, and new media. In order to strengthen and integrate media arts organizations into their communities and increase public awareness and appreciation of independent media arts, NAMAC works closely with networks dedicated to specific initiatives in the areas of advocacy, production, exhibition, distribution, education, and preservation.

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

BAVC: Participating in the scenario planning project helped clarify issues, answer puzzling questions, confirm strategic decisions, and left us with a conceptual framework that will help us account for and respond to uncertainty in both short- and long-term planning.

What did you learn from participating in this project that you hope to use in your organization or your work?

Several key insights came out of the sessions that we can apply to current program design efforts. For example, we’ve long believed that computer gaming offered independent artists a unique opportunity for creative innovation and audience expansion. Now we know that it is not just an opportunity but a necessity for independent artists to use the medium. More importantly, we see how crucial it is that organizations like BAVC, designed to support innovation in technology-based arts, take the lead in providing the technology and training for artists to realize the potential of gaming as an art form and communication tool. The process confirmed for us the accuracy of our decision to put significant resources toward youth programming. As GBN research indicates, the media arts field desperately needs to increase the involvement and influence of youth in order to remain a relevant force in society. We see our youth program as a service to the field as much as to the young participants. With production technology becoming less expensive and more accessible to independent producers, we continually question the value or necessity of our role as an equipment access provider. Has the commercial technology industry solved the problem we were created to address? At the same time, other needs among video makers have emerged, and we are developing programs to address those changing needs.

BAVC: The perspectives of the outside experts who were inter-

What interested (or surprised) you most about the scenario planning process and working with partners outside your organization?

viewed as part of the process were provocative and stimulating to all of us. Given the size of the Millennial generation, it was surprising that the participating groups had not done more to assess the habits or interests of this group and incorporate that information into their business planning. It was also surprising to see how closely we all feel tied to political outcomes at the national and regional level, as opposed to consumer trends.

FAF: For close to three decades, most of us in the media arts field have faithfully used forecasting as a planning tool. As a concept, scenario planning gives us a whole new tool kit with which to work; by imagining multiple futures, perhaps we can move towards proactive planning rather than reactive planning. It’s always great to have peerto-peer collaborative discussions, however it was surprising to see how out of touch many had become with the current and future constituents of their communities.

BAVC: Our work was enhanced by conducting the effort as a

What advice would you give others interested in creating scenarios for their organization or the media field?

group. We recommend this approach to others who work in a field that also has a broad variety of stakeholders. As far as advice we’d give based on our experience in the GBN process: 1. Be open to information, ideas, or concepts that challenge the world you take for granted; 2. See uncertainty as a positive state, knowing that with the right tools and smart thinking that’s where you’ll see the real opportunities.

FAF: Ensure that you have stakeholders from all levels of your organization as part of the planning process, especially the constituents you seek to serve;

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deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

FAF: Film Arts Foundation is an organization that has adopted a more generalist approach to supporting filmmakers, and as such is in a position of strength to respond to the future needs of our constituents if we recommit to our mission and core services. Recent stresses in keeping pace with changing technology, coupled with the economic challenges have stalled our planning rather than allowing us to create new opportunities for our organization. We received validation that ideas that we have been germinating were in alignment with the results of the research and re-affirmed our societal importance, giving us renewed optimism to take action.

ITVS: We learned the value of looking at a much broader vista in the future landscape—that is, looking at factors farther out in terms of time and seemingly direct impact, but that, nonetheless, will utterly determine the environment for independents. Working with the longer time frame of scenario planning allows us to strategize more effectively, and to actually shape the future rather than just react to it. We also thought it was valuable to hear from experts from other sectors, such as technologists and others working in the computer and gaming industries. We appreciated that the project’s funders, along with GBN and NAMAC, have given us the opportunity to learn the scenario planning process, and that the report will be widely disseminated — giving the field provocative and fresh ideas from outside sources.

NAATA: We learned that preparing for an uncertain future requires building upon our core strengths and addressing our organizational deficiencies. Scenario planning reaffirmed the idea that community support is fundamental to our stability and future success across a variety of the scenarios we created. Expanding community support involves reaching greater numbers of people, addressing diverse interests, and building brand identity and trust. Although we often do not have the resources to mount large marketing and branding efforts, we must start by leveraging the work we do by connecting with more organizations in our field and among our communities. NAMAC: We began to understand better how, given the political and social realities of this period in the US, we can cross our borders and look internationally for like-minded colleagues to share our vision and voice. Independent media can be globalized, and an organization like NAMAC can build new pathways abroad to strengthen the field. The process also reaffirmed for us how important it is to accept that change is inevitable and constant, and that the agility to respond to new conditions is what lets us look far out on the horizon, yet remain grounded.

KQED: We plan to utilize both the results of this scenario planning project and the techniques of scenario planning in refining and implementing KQED’s own strategic plan.

ITVS: We were fascinated by the methodology and the process that could pull together and make sense of disparate input from our partner organizations and outside experts from different sectors. It allowed us to study the factors that determine our future, while giving us a chance to tease out the areas where we might have the most leverage to act as agents of change.

KQED: I was amazed at the range of plausible scenarios that were developed in a short period of time. Working with colleagues from different but related media fields broadened my view and enriched the results. NAATA: The most interesting thing about the scenario planning process is that while it may bring you back to themes you may have identified as priorities through other strategic planning projects, scenario planning takes you to so many other unexpected places. Instead of just going from A to B, one goes over the mountains and through the woods, enriched by the beautiful landscapes and enlight-

ened by the new possibilities. What surprised me the most was that we must understand our audiences— domestic and international— if we are to meet them at the marketplace.

NAMAC: We were able to see how easily we could arrive at common ground among the partners. It was remarkable to bring together our peers for sustained creative thinking with those experts who offered new perceptions to old problems. It was fascinating to notice that while our challenges were similar, the solutions developed were creatively tailored to each organization’s specific history and needs, and all fit into pieces of the bigger puzzle. Most importantly, we saw clearly how valuable we are as a field that offers a clear alternative to mainstream media; and that we don’t have to become the mainstream to see results of our efforts in the culture.

There are no quick fixes: this is a lengthy commitment and as such should have the requisite resources dedicated to it. Allocate sufficient time to internalize the results of the scenarios presented and build it into your internal strategic planning (2-year endeavor);

KQED: Start with a strong base of data and a range of expert commentary as we did in this case, and engage insightful individuals from outside your organization and/or your media discipline as part of the process.

Don’t be intimidated by the scale of the task ahead, and act on the lessons learned sooner rather than later.

NAATA: Scenario planning is just a tool to start you thinking about

ITVS: It is important to be clear about the target group of experts interviewed. You must make sure that you are getting fresh perspectives outside your world, but also include those who have a fundamental understanding of your field and the economy in which you work. These experts become important ingredients in the process because the quality of the planning reflects the quality of the depth and scope of their thinking as well as that found within the organization.

ways to envision the future of your organization in the context of a much larger media field. It is not a road map. Key points from various scenarios that may emerge and be relevant for your organization must be tested and massaged in the course of your ongoing work.

NAMAC: Use these scenario planning tools to shed your assumptions and preconceptions, and let your wildest imagination run free to dream up and consider all the “what if’s” before you return to the daily practicalities of organization building. The collective creative energy will unleash amazing possibilities. 39


Taking Action


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I

f there were a way to predict the future—to know what the future of independent media would be like—then making recommendations and acting on them would be easy. Unfortunately, even after the research and investigations, the workshops and the scenarios that were created, there is no way to know what the future will bring. Hopefully, the process has created, if not certainty, then new clarity about directions to investigate or steps that one could start taking now to prepare for a range of possible futures. As noted at the outset, scenario planning uses stories about the future to help us think about our options in the present. Based on the work we have done with our clients and what we have learned from the scenarios, the research, and the interviews, we have a handful of suggestions about what individuals and organizations committed to independent media can do to prepare themselves for the most likely futures that seem to be on the horizon. These suggestions would be useful in any of the scenarios described, but would also require additional investigation and the development of new capacities that do not seem to be widely available in much of the independent media field today. The recommendations below are an invitation and a challenge: an invitation to take steps now to prepare for what may lie ahead, and a challenge to shake off the comfortable habits and long-held preferences that may be what have attracted many people to this field. The next great age of independent media seems likely to reward people and organizations with the skills and appetite to do at least four new and interrelated things: • Develop a greater facility with market-based transactions, where people who value independent work can support it directly as either sponsors or consumers

• Rethink how community can be built around media experiences • Redefine success such that this new environment of many half-sizes and special niches supports many opportunities to be successful rather than many new ways to fall short of outdated expectations • Take advantage of the new economics of making and sharing this work to reorganize how independent media is funded, with an eye to helping funders better manage their risks and to creating openings for new funders to experiment with funding media work Many of the people we interviewed also had suggestions about experiments to try or directions to develop. Their ideas are included here as a set of things to consider and test against the scenarios you might develop yourself. Which of them would work in which futures? What are the assumptions built into each about how the future will turn out, and which ones could be an excellent strategy in some futures but not in all?

Recommendation 1: Wade into the market The media arts and independent media have a complex relationship to the commercial market. They are often conceptualized as the alternative to a commercial media that serves the public interest ever more poorly, so practitioners in these fields tend to see the commercial market as that which they are working against or correcting for. But as the traditional public and philanthropic resources dedicated to media decline, and as new technologies allow for new ways to develop direct transactions with interested viewers, there remains the possibility that one can engage the commercial system without assuming the values of large commercial entertainment firms. To do that, though, may require slipping the leash of the sector’s history and traditional assumptions. 41


NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

Independent media as it comes down to us today emerged in the 1960s out of strands of philanthropic decisions, public policy and funding, technological developments, and social interest in media. As Jon Burris notes, the media arts are importantly different from other arts in that there was no commercial market that public and philanthropic money was complementing or expanding. And the RAND Corporation study of the media arts noted that media artists were especially unlikely to cross from noncommercial to commercial work and were particularly critical of colleagues who did so, compared to artists in other disciplines. That, too, has a long history: In 1968, Jonas Mekas, a leading independent filmmaker in the 1960s and founder of the Anthology Film Archives, reflected an essential part of the early spirit among independents when, in describing the relationship of his generation of independent makers to Hollywood and commercial film distributors, he observed, “The things that we considered outdated, even harmful, we left to their own inevitable and solitary death by not cooperating with them, by keeping ourselves out.” When Peter Biskind writes (in Down and Dirty Pictures) of the “granola Sundance”—Sundance before the 1990s—this is what he is referring to: an independent movement that wanted to be seen but was profoundly ambivalent about, even opposed to, the commercial market, and supported by cultural subsidies that didn’t bear any necessary or direct relationship to audience interest. In this era of superabundance of media and limited public or philanthropic resources for it, the approaches of the passing era need to be rethought in light of the realities of the coming time. As the economics of video making and distribution become more like the economics of magazines, for example, looking at how independent print media has navigated its own changing marketplace can be very useful.

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A company like Big Top Newsstand Services has pioneered ways to enter the commercial market on behalf of independent media without being consumed by commercial market values. Big Top distributes seventy independent magazines—including Mother Jones, The American Prospect, Sojourners, Color Lines, Tin House, and Razorcake—and provides them with marketing, billing, and collection services. Big Top is owned by the nonprofit Independent Press Association, carries independent magazines exclusively, and has a mission to increase diversity on the newsstand. It pursues that mission by using commercial distribution strategies and negotiating with major newsstands to bring commercial attention and viability to independent magazines and the voices and visions behind them. The organization also helps the magazines affiliated with it learn how to better present themselves to their desired audiences. One of the interesting cleavages in independent media is that the independent print media has always been primarily commercial, even if it lost money, while the alternative electronic media has tended (at least since the late ‘30s) to be primarily noncommercial. These strategies, then, may be an easier reach for print media, which has little of the ambivalent legacy of electronic media in this regard. But it is a model worth exploring, especially as the economic and audience patterns in independent electronic media begin to look more and more like their counterparts in the print world. Another strategy worth looking at is the developing symbiosis between health food stores and a select set of magazines devoted to health, spirituality, politics, design, and other topics. While some themes are more clearly connected to what brings people to a health food store (health, wellness, food), others are further afield. Magazines such as Utne Reader, Tricycle (a nonprofit quarterly created “to spread the dharma”), Bark (a lifestyle magazine for dog owners), and AdBusters


deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

have no intrinsic connection to what people are doing at Whole Foods, for example, but the insight is that people who are in that store share many characteristics with people who are interested in the subjects of those magazines. Health food retailer Wild Oats regularly stocks 250 titles on its magazine racks, and 25 to 40 percent of the newsstand sales of specialty magazines such as Shambhala Sun or Animal Wellness come through health food stores. To do this for independent media would require something that no one seems to have right now: an accurate picture of who the audience is or who might likely be interested in independent work. This is distinct from who the makers hope to reach or who they think the work speaks to or for, but would be rooted in an empirical analysis of who makes up the current audience (or audiences) for independent work. Based on that data, some market segmentation could be developed that would allow the independent media community to accurately identify the characteristics of those most likely to be interested in independent work of various types: the things they do, support, subscribe to; the places they go; the things they value; the organizations they trust; their education, income, location, age, etc.; as well as the considerations, perceptions, or prejudices that keep people from choosing to watch independent work that they might like. From that, increasingly accurate portraits of potential viewers could be developed, from which much better guesses could be made about where they might be found. Using the health food store example, one could imagine an experiment where a modest selection of independent movies on DVD could be placed on racks near the check-out of a chain like Whole Foods or Wild Oats, if one believed that the people who shopped there were likely to be interested in independent films. Given that people tend to buy DVDs rather than rent them, and that DVD packages are small and not terribly

expensive to make or display, it’s not hard to imagine trying to position various titles as something like an impulse-buy to go along with food, health, and simple home products. Health food stores are just one example, but there are other venues that might also be potential partners for independent media distributors. The clothing retailer Putumayo, for example, developed Putumayo World Music, which sells CDs of upbeat international music through a growing network of nontraditional retail channels. Putumayo World Music (now owned separately from the clothing company) sells hundreds of thousands of CDs each year through a network of book, gift, clothing, and coffee retailers, as well as record stores. Putumayo World Music is now entering the DVD market, hoping to sell two to four releases a year through the channels it has developed. On a related note, Starbucks has become a retail channel for music as well, creating compilations, branding musical selections, and selling musical experiences as an accessory to coffee at Starbucks and through its affiliated chain, Hear Music. The point isn’t that independent work will find its audience at coffee shops or health food stores rather than more traditional outlets where people go to look for media. Rather, the point is that people have been experimenting with different methods and channels of connecting non-mainstream work with people who might be interested in it but are not finding it (or even aware of it) through traditional channels; that there is a diversifying array of means to enter into direct, transactional relationships with current and potential audiences and allow people to support independent work directly that are not tied to Hollywood benchmarks or basic cable economics; and that there is not enough data to know who the real market for these works is or

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NAMAC | A CLOSER LOOK 2004

could be and what channels could be found or created to reach that market. Being willing to enter the market also means recognizing that the costs of production and distribution are changing in complex ways, but certainly in some ways that break open the traditional constraints that kept non-mainstream fare in the margins. Economic sustainability is not necessarily about creating markets large enough to support media work in the old style—it will increasingly be built around balancing the costs of production with the size of the audience willing to support the ideas or experiences conveyed in the work. Unless we believe that there really is no one interested in exchanging money for the experience or ideas in the work, the chance to enter the world of more direct transactions that support independents should be good news for both makers and audiences. This does not imply that no subsidy will be needed or offered, but the subsidy will be a complement to the more direct exchange with people who value the work, not the replacement for it.

Recommendation 2: Rethink the communal experience around media One traditional component of independent media (or all motion media for that matter) is the communal experience of watching it. As Andrew Taylor has compellingly argued, what traditional exhibitors of cultural work are really selling is not the content per se; it is the experience of the content in a specific setting, including the sense of who else is there. Classic activist documentaries like The Hour of the Furnaces had title cards between sections that instructed the audience to turn off the projector and discuss the issues raised before moving on. P.O.V., one of the most distinctive and successful presenters of independent work on public broadcasting, developed P.O.V. Interactive and Talking Back, two ways to encourage this sense of connection

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among viewers by allowing them to create conversations with one another and with P.O.V., even though they watched at home. But one of the long-term and apparently irreversible trends is toward the concentration of cultural consumption in the home and/or on personal devices controlled by the user, in terms of both time and money. This has been going on for well over twenty years in every realm of the arts where it is possible. In the future, both economic and cultural success are likely to be substantially built around finding ways to get into the home or onto mobile personal devices. That said, there are communal experiences that can be developed for the benefit of independent work. They just happen to lie on either side of the act of experiencing the work, which is where the focus of marketing traditionally has been. The opportunities for developing strong constituencies will be less about the experience itself and more about the period before the experience and after it: the word of mouth that generates interest and creates demand; the discussion forums that allow for dialogue, not just with the filmmaker but laterally among members of the audience; perhaps even the ecology already visible in video games where the game makers encourage the users to add on to or comment on the game, thereby extending its reach and increasing the broader sense of imaginative engagement with the work (even if traditional authorial control is loosened). Michael Moore and MoveOn have already pioneered some of the early stages of this, and social network websites could be brought into the mix, too. Moore and his distributors began mobilizing audiences before Fahrenheit 9/11 was released, in part through MoveOn. MoveOn members organized 4,600 “house parties� hosting 55,000 people to encourage people to see the movie and then to organize voter registration drives around it. Clearly, Fahrenheit 9/11 has some unique advantages in terms of free publicity, but the underly-


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ing idea is worth considering for other independent works. How could independent media makers and organizations tap existing online communities or create them to promote their work more effectively than they do now, in essence inviting the community or network to become a friendly filter for independent work?

Recommendation 3: Redefine success As noted above, the traditional economics of mass media required any given work to reach a large number of people before it could be considered successful, either commercially, or (to a lesser extent) culturally. The new economics of niche media—the falling costs for basic production and distribution capacities and the ability to exploit online communities to develop awareness of and interest in work—mean that much more work could be economically sustainable (in terms of covering its costs). Whether or not these new possibilities will even partially replace or complement the primary economic incentive created by information-based goods or services—creating as large an audience as possible—depends in part on the extent to which those committed to independent media as makers and funders can redefine what it means to be successful. The new environment will present independents and those that support them with a conundrum, because the traditional link between cultural success and commercial success has been broken. In the current environment and even more so in the future, work could be culturally successful—that is, it could gain widespread public attention, shape debate, even affect the course of current events—without being commercially successful. This is likely to be particularly true of those independent or unaffiliated media makers who develop the talent of creating fragments of media that can be circulated widely on the Internet and then picked up and amplified by the mainstream commercial media.

(This may describe a new class of independent media maker or artist—those who rip and mix media from current events, repost it, and allow it to circulate freely without compensation, or even attribution in many cases, and who, as a result, are able to recast debates or reframe conventional wisdom.) Similarly, in the emerging environment, one could develop or aggregate niche audiences over wide areas that would cover the costs and return a profit to the makers or funders of independent work without the work itself ever becoming widely known. Growing numbers of niche audiences are generating surprising amounts of money for offbeat productions being sold directly over the Internet to interested consumers. Thus the traditional link that has connected cultural influence, economic success, and aggregate audience size has been broken in ways that raise new questions for makers and funders: Would it be a victory if independent work could be economically viable without being culturally successful in the classic sense of finding wide audiences? If we accept that this work is a niche taste and always will be, and that it could be sustained at that niche level, who would be satisfied? Conversely, for makers especially, if some agree to work in new ways that exploit that mass media’s hunger for novel images, and thereby have a real public impact without getting compensated or perhaps even recognized, would that be success? There is, of course, no right answer, but it is a question that makers, support organizations, and funders will need to consider, if only to know what will count as success to them. Perhaps even more strategically, funders and makers should be actively engaging one another about how to redefine “success” so that they can support one another’s goals more effectively. Most funders probably already know that there are many more ways to reach key audiences than a spot on PBS or cable, but that may still be in the background as the

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“gold standard” for success in the work they fund, especially when reviewing their grants with their own boards. Can new measures of success be created that will allow makers to be acknowledged as succeeding when they are not visible in any of the mainstream channels or reaching mass audiences? At the same time, can makers break the grip of the old definitions of success in their own work?

Recommendation 4: Reorganize funding streams The explosion of media products and the growing number of media venues and channels means that the prospects for economic or cultural success of any single work are more tenuous than ever. There is simply more supply than ever before and more competing channels in every sense, so that there is more horizontal competition for every work (that is, work that is at about the same level of quality but has a different style or appeals to different tastes) and more vertical competition (work that is at appreciably different levels of quality) at the same time. As a result, those who fund individual works will find that more than ever they have no way to manage the risks associated with sponsoring creative goods. In particular, the funder of a single work is at a disadvantage compared to funders who can spread their support across a number of works. In the commercial context, the goal of a “portfolio” approach is for one success to cover the costs of the ones that don’t succeed. In the noncommercial context, the goal may be to avoid focusing too much attention on any single effort when every single work is facing so much more competition. Some may suggest that this situation calls for massing investments to allow at least a few highly supported

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works to cut through the clutter. While tempting, this is also how funders (commercial as well as noncommercial) get committed to “ten-ton turkeys”—projects that fail despite the extraordinary amount of money that has been into them. Instead of overcommitting to a small number of works, especially at the beginning of the production process when the work itself is far off, it may be a better risk-management strategy to find ways to mimic the strategies that have evolved in commercial settings to address exactly this uncertainty, including segmenting the creative process into its component parts—development, pre-production, production, post-production, distribution, etc.—for funding purposes or creating portfolios of related works where the portfolio’s success is more important than any individual work in it. One aspect of the funding environment that should be cultivated is the explosion of donor advised funds, giving circles, and other sources of noncommercial support outside of traditional foundations. Given the constraints we expect to see on foundations and public funding agencies for the foreseeable future, and the ways in which many funders are under increasing pressure to demonstrate their “effectiveness” in ways that could diminish their appetite for funding individual media works, it may make more sense to find methods of cultivating newer, younger funders not working through foundations. There have been a handful of such attempts, including efforts such as “Investing in Media that Matters” at Sundance. But the preponderance of attention is still going to the relatively small number of traditional funders of media, when there is a larger, as yet undeveloped audience of potential funders with fewer constraints who themselves may be more interested in media per se than foundation boards and more willing to support “risky” ventures. (One highly visible example: eBay cofounder and new billionaire philanthropist Jeff Skoll recently launched Participant Productions to develop “socially relevant,


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Makers may have more to gain by breaking out of the current system rather than in seeking to perfect it.

commercially viable feature films” with budgets of between $5 million and $40 million.) The difficulty of reaching into this community cannot be underestimated, but it would be a mistake to focus attention exclusively on funders who have supported independent media to this point. Especially as the initial production and post-production costs fall for many types of work, there may be possibilities to allow funders to sponsor work in ways that they can manage more actively. For example, in commercial contexts, the options contract, committing production funding, and the distribution deal are three ways to segment the overall risks associated with sponsoring creative projects. There are analogues to this already in the noncommercial sphere, but the new economics associated with production and distribution could allow funders to segment their own funding more actively. That would allow some funders to see finished (or nearly finished) works before committing to them, while others could focus on development. One possible side effect is that when funders can manage their own risks better by creating portfolios to invest in, they may be able to initiate more projects if they care to. But just as commercial studios end up shelving some projects, noncommercial funders seeking specific kinds of outcomes may need to be willing to do the same. This is not a great world for individual media makers seeking to earn a living solely as noncommercial creators—the amount of work out there and the amount of noise in traditional channels will likely only push down on the economic prospects of most makers. On the other hand, as noted above, makers may have more to gain by breaking out of the current system rather than in seeking to perfect it.

Other ideas from the interviews In our interviews with outsiders, we heard many ideas for what people in the independent media community could do to position themselves for the next era. While the ideas themselves were all over the map, the thread that connected them was optimism—the strong sense from many quarters that while there were many challenges ahead, there are many opportunities for independent vision and energy to thrive in the next decade. Many of those ideas have been woven into the suggestions above, which we believe are worth considering in any scenario. There are a range of additional ideas in the full interview summaries (available online as a separate document at www.namac.org) that people should consider as part of the larger strategic conversation about what independent media might be like in ten years. They are reproduced here in short form, in the words of the person who suggested it.

Consider what media makers really need: connections and working capital If I were a PBS or NPR in the future, I would be like a venture capitalist. People don’t need your studio, or your channel. But if you could give them something to live on, and encouragement, and access to people who could give them advice, that would be helpful. (Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs and Virtual Community)

Put work online The Internet is starved for video and the question is why. I think it’s the perceived cost. The perceived market is a few people in Hollywood. Independent media can break the log jam. And we [the Internet Archive] are here to help make it cost them nothing. If they can pay something, or we could go with them to their funder, then great, but we don’t need that to start. We can get thousands of hours, tens of thousands of hours, 47


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Anytime there is a new media and new channels, it’s a time of opportunity.

hundreds of thousands of hours of their video up, usable, multiple formats, high res, low res, catalogued, captioned. We can get these materials online very, very, very inexpensively. (Brewster Kahle, founder, The Internet Archive)

The smartest thing they can do is experiment, because they have different content and they can crack this puzzle. The big guys are not going to risk this. (Daniel Erasmus, European strategy consultant and founder, Digital Thinking Network)

Do it first Anytime there is a new media and new channels, it’s a time of opportunity. There’s a rare opportunity in the early stages of a market when there is not that much product: to be first. There’s that wonderful book called The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, by Al Reis and Jack Trout. The first law is: “It’s better to be first than it is to be better.” And the second law is: “If you can’t be first in a category, then set up a category that you can be first in.” … We’re going to have a race in this area on the Net. I’m saying there is a really great opportunity in the early stages of a market, the first three or four years when it’s still a phenomenon to do these things. You don’t think the first full-length documentary available for free on the Net for downloading is not going to get some attention? There’s going to be a lot of opportunity for visibility just because you are first in the new medium. (Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO, O’Reilly Media)

…And create a business model for it We’re at the stage where some people are beginning to believe that a video Internet is possible. … I think we are waiting for companies in the video arena to break out and create a compelling business case for this. We already know there is a lot of video out there. It’s only a matter of time until someone comes along and takes advantage of this. (Sandeep Casi, researcher and member of the Interactive Media Team at FXPAL, the technology research center for Fujitsu Xerox)

Experiment with distribution over the Internet… For the independent media, of course, the Internet opens massively different distribution channels. More and more, the possibility for independent media to release their material in more intelligent ways is phenomenal. The entrenched commercial guys are grappling with the problems of free content, etc. They have everything to lose from innovative distribution models. On the other side of this, the independent guys have everything to gain from innovative distribution models.

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Develop an independent games structure We’ve got a generation coming of age for whom games are a more important medium than film, or than television. If you talk about the younger generation, games are the preferred medium. Right now our perception of games is fairly narrow. That’s the challenge that something like Serious Games poses. We think of games as lightweight entertainment, as fun, as escapism, mostly people’s perception emphasizes violence, because that has been disproportionately represented in the public debate about games, but games as a medium can do much more than that. There is nothing intrinsic to the medium that prevents it from asking hard questions, presenting this with an aesthetically different look and feel. The challenge is to develop an independent games structure. There are independent games festivals going on that encourage games made outside the corporate games space; there is lots of interesting work done by amateurs; there are smaller companies moving into this space that might be thought of as filmmaking collectives. So it looks to me


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like the pieces are starting to fall into place. This is a medium that very much is where future generations of media artists will communicate ideas. (Henry Jenkins, Director of Comparative Media Studies Program, MIT)

Create a SimCandidate and launch a media phenomenon If I had the time and the resources, I would create a SimCandidate. You know the SimCity games. I would create a simulated candidate, and I would make him really cool. But I would use it as a tool to get out a bunch of new ideas in politics. Every time that Kerry and Bush debate, within twenty-four hours I would rebroadcast the debate on the Web, having inserted my person as the third person saying, “Well, actually, you’re wrong on this, and you’re wrong on that, and here’s a better idea.” And I’d create this media phenomenon. Because what’s interesting about the Web is that wild things take off. (Ted Halstead, founder and director, New America Foundation)

Consider the global opportunity for US based independent media If you look at independent media, there is an enormous opportunity on a global scale for offering different thinking about American ideals. The success of Hollywood is in its ability to export American values to the planet. I can’t see any reasons why independent media, with different distribution channels, would not have the same kinds of successes. For example, a young journalist [Alexandra Pelosi] made a film of Bush by following him around the primaries with a DV handicam. That film was hugely successful in Holland. All that has natural interest on a global scale. And it’s good that the world sees more of America’s internal criticism and sees more of the independent and other perspectives on the American experience than what is put through at the moment. People are dying for this kind of content, but it is not available. (Daniel Erasmus)

Go totally global: media that has no country What the world really needs is truly, truly global media, where people don’t have American flag lapel pins on. It’s an abomination for CNN and Fox to say they are global news outlets. They are trapped in these gravitational fields of national states. So I think that the outsourcing of news—one could only welcome it. I think the independent media people really ought to go totally global and cut loose from the American umbilical cord. And I think they would be much better received if they do that. This is a whole area of invention that has not been addressed yet. No one has set up a media outlet that has no country. (Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley)

Create it with a worldwide network of young media makers I’d hire 200 young people, pay them $35,000 a year, give them cameras, set up a website, get a cable channel, and start shaking and baking. These 200 people would be from all over the world. Seventy-five percent of your stories might not pan out or wouldn’t be shot well and it would not matter. You’d have the best editors, the best producers, the best assignment people in the world. A lot of these young folks speak five languages; they’re intrepid. So that’s what you’d do. But how are you going to pay for it? That’s what I don’t know. (Orville Schell)

Tap into blogs I think blogging is really key because of what blogging does. It’s kind of a grassroots aggregate power to make things visible. No one blog is going to make that much of a difference. It’s the accumulated mass of blogs that can move traffic in decisive ways. So tap the blogging communities. Understanding how to use blogging to publicize your work is key at the present time. (Henry Jenkins) 49


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Develop organizing skills I think independent work will get out there, but the need to do community organizing around the content will be important. So connecting with meetup.com services, or websites that are communities of interest, will be an important element of that. The Web will let people do grassroots organizing around this in a way that was not possible or economical before. So the challenge to the filmmaker won’t just be to get the money to get the film made, it will be tapping into those communities. There will be, in theory, many more paths to get that material out, but it will heavily rely on organizing skills to get through the noise of this already very cacophonous society that will only get more cacophonous as the range of media choices grows. (Rob Glaser, founder and CEO, Real Networks)

Create the media version of book clubs To have it be more than just the occasional film that’s meant to support organizing and is really integral with an organizing campaign, you’d have to have a different way for people to relate to the events. For example, book clubs happen. People read books; they get together to talk about books. It’s quite possible that various entities like MoveOn could try to establish a video-of-the-month club or whatever where you do have another circuit for these alternative offerings. (Wes Boyd, co-founder, MoveOn)

Find new partners and understand what they need to be able to help you I have not yet found a single corporation where there weren’t people who have an ideology close enough that you could find common ground to get them to go out of their way to help you. Barnes & Noble donated

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almost $350,000 for the promotion of the IPA [Independent Press Association] every year. They gave us free racks in all their super-stores, and they let us pick the magazines that went in. All we had to do was meet all their very rigid delivery deadlines. Because we had built the capacity to do that, we could guarantee them that the magazine would get there on time and in the specified quantities, and at the exact locations, and so on. And after that, they were fine. (John Anner, founder, Independent Press Association.)

Bring ethnic media and nonprofits together Ethnic media are the public voice of the raw grassroots. They are market-driven because they have to survive out of small business advertising, classifieds, subscriptions, and all the rest of it. But think about how embedded they are in the audience they reach. So I see them as the public voice of the raw grassroots. This is not an either/or between nonprofits and these groups. I think the exciting thing would be to bring them together. (Sandy Close, founder, New California Media)

Bring people with media skills into NGOs directly The truth is a lot of our students wouldn’t mind working for a Non-Governmental Organization because many of the things NGOs do are very journalistic. Human Rights Watch is doing the work that journalists should be doing. Big fat reports on massacre, war, prison situations all around the world. Our Graduate School of Journalism is providing the good DNA for good reporting. I send students every year to do human rights work. They are impeccable in their research. It’s one of the best experiences they could have. (Orville Schell)


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Because even if the old world of independent media is becoming unsustainable, the new world and its ways are not yet invented.

Creating a cultural innovation aimed at the next generation The next generation is waiting for something different. They’d be a very ripe audience for independent media, but you need some way to get to them. The Web offers you the ultimate leveler, right? You can compete head-on if you can create a big buzz. You can compete with the big boys. It’s not about creating documentaries. It’s about some new breakthrough cultural innovation that speaks to young people. (Ted Halstead)

Get more active in key public policy debates The biggest opportunity, which is online distribution of digital media, is threatened by enclosure: There’s digital rights management, broadcast flag, trusted computing, extension of copyright, the political regulation of spectrum as a scarce resource based on the technologies of the 1920s, not because that is the best way to use the spectrum, but because the incumbent license holders wield political influence. Those are all part of turning us into passive consumers whose only choice is which of 500 channels to tune into, not active users, like the people who shaped the PC and Internet revolutions and the Web. The ship is sinking and you need to do something about that. (Howard Rheingold)

Extend the benefits of the creative economy People look at the rise of the creative economy today and they see gentrification and displacement. They don’t see the real challenge, which is how do we extend the fruits of the creative economy much further? How do you make artists and other creative people, or those not connected to this economy, or people in the personal service industry—how do they benefit? We don’t have this conversation in our country. We need to create an environment that supports and

extends the benefits and fruits and the participation in the creative economy. We are going to have to raise those wages, give people more opportunities. The independent media needs to become a way to harness this creative energy and provide opportunities. (Richard Florida, author, The Rise of the Creative Class)

Don’t hold back the tide All companies who try to hold back the tide actually depress their own possibilities for the future while somebody else figures out the poll position. (Tim O’Reilly)

In conclusion As noted in the introduction to this report, there are no promises here, only possibilities. We believe there are steps that people in the independent media field can start taking now to prepare for the future, whatever surprises it has in store. Looking at the future doesn’t allow us to dictate a single path, though. If anything, it reminds us how dangerous forecasting a single future can be. What an extended, well-researched look ahead should do, and what we hope we have done here, is create a new confidence—and a new urgency—to guide a set of experiments that everyone can learn from. Because even if the old world of independent media is becoming unsustainable, the new world and its ways are not yet invented. They will be created through countless experiments among those who are seeking a better way to achieve their timeless goals. The result, we hope, is that the incredible opportunity of this coming era is harnessed to the flow of ideas and views that enables a society to know itself, to see itself, to rule itself, and to renew itself as the society it aspires to be.

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Additional Resources

These additional resources are available to extend your involvement with this report at www.namac.org:

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“Looming Shifts in the Landscape: Insights from remarkable people inside and outside the independent media field.” Interview summaries by Peter Leyden.

“The New New Media: The Internet Gets Ready for Prime Time: A virtual learning tour exploring the future of motion media.” Created by Peter Leyden.


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Notes and Sources

Introduction

http://www.davidsonsfiles.org/index.html.

The GBN project team included Andrew Blau, Katherine Fulton, Lawrence Wilkinson, Peter Leyden, and Tina Estes. Andrew Blau was the project director. Katherine Fulton and Lawrence Wilkinson shaped the project initially and provided strategic guidance throughout every stage of the work as well as editorial guidance for all the materials prepared in the course of this effort. Peter Leyden conducted most of the interviews we used to inform the project and prepared the interview summary that is a companion piece to this report. He also created the tour of relevant websites—the virtual learning journey—prepared as part of this project. Tina Estes provided essential research and helped coordinate communication between the GBN team and the clients.

Besides the interviews we did for this project, many articles document the enormous vitality in the field today. For example: “Nonfiction Films Turn a Corner: 'Fahrenheit' Shows Approval of Audiences and of Distributors,” by Sharon Waxman, in The New York Times, July 5, 2004, page E1; “Made for TV, but Shown First in a Theater,” by Anne Thompson, in The New York Times, May 10, 2004, page C7; “Back to Reality,” by Blake Morrison, in The Guardian, March 5, 2004, available online at http://film.guardian.co.uk/print/ 0,3858,4872436-3181,00.html; “Movie Stars, Swimming Pools, and... Cinematheques; The Alternative Cinema Boom in L.A.,” by Steven Rosen for IndieWire, December 16, 2003, available online at http://www.indiewire.com/ onthescene/onthescene_031216laac.html; “Documentary Films Show Surprising Drawing Power in 2003,” by Michael Booth, in The Denver Post, October 16, 2003, page F1; and “The Exhibition Revolution: Coming Soon to a Microcinema Near You,” by Joel S. Bachar and Taso Lagos, in MovieMaker Magazine, Winter 2001, Issue 41, available online at http://www.moviemaker.com/issues/41/microcinema.html.

Establishing Shot There are many good histories of the development of film and video as commercial industries, and many histories of the artists, inventors, and idealists who created underground film, alternative media, and independent media. One very useful starting point is Gerald Mast’s A Short History of the Movies (Longman, 2002), now in its eighth edition. The online archive maintained by video artists Steina and Woody Vasulka, which includes more than 27,000 pages of documents, is an excellent source of material about the emergence of the video arts and media arts in the 1960s. The archive can be found at http://vasulka.org/search/search.php. See http://vasulka.org/Kitchen/ K_Essays.html, for example, especially Marita Sturken’s “Private Money and Personal Influence: Howard Klein and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Funding of the Media Arts” (originally in Afterimage, volume 14, number 6, January 1987). Davidson Gigliotti has created The Early Video Project, a collection of documents and references for those interested in the early years of independent video and video art. It is available online at

Michael Kimmelman hailed Matthew Barney in a profile called “The Importance of Matthew Barney,” in The New York Times Magazine, on October 10, 1999. The story of how two documentary films motivated the Bush Administration to reopen the investigation into the death of Emmett Till was told in many newspaper stories, including “US Reopens '55 Murder Case, Flashpoint of Civil Rights Era,” by Eric Lichtblau and Andrew Jacobs, in The New York Times, May 11, 2004, page A1, and “Directors Elated by Plan to Revisit 1955 Murder,” by Felicia R. Lee, in The New York Times, May 12, 2004, page B4.

Museum of Art’s decision was reported in “In Cutback, Carnegie Drops Film, Video Unit,” by Patricia Lowry, in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 8, 2003, available online at http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/ 20030108carnegie1.asp. Disney’s refusal to distribute Fahrenheit 9/11 was widely covered, including in “Disney Is Blocking Distribution of Film That Criticizes Bush,” by Jim Rutenberg, in The New York Times, May 5, 2004, page A1. More generally, the chronic difficulties facing independent media makers and media artists in recent years was thoroughly documented in a report that Don Adams and Arlene Goldbard prepared for the Rockefeller Foundation in 1997, “Film/Video/ Multimedia Fellowships Evaluation.” For more on the donation to USC to create a games-focused master’s program, see “USC Gets a Boost; Electronic Arts Donates $8 Million to the School of Cinema-Television to Develop a Pipeline of 'Next-Generation' Talent in Video Game Design,” by Martha Groves, in The Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2004, page B3. An extreme example of how falling costs could change how and where independent filmmakers need subsidy is Tarnation, a film created for $218.32, mostly for videotapes, which The Guardian called “the surprise hit” of the Cannes Film Festival. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/ uk_news/story/0,3604,1219070,00.html.

The story of BFVF’s closing was covered in “Citing Fiscal Pinch, BFVF to Dissolve,” by Loren King, in The Boston Globe, February 11, 2004, page D2. The Carnegie

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The New Ecology The Pew data about broadband adoption can be found online at http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Broadband04.DataMe mo.pdf. The Wired article about online film festivals is “Online Festivals Nurture Film,” by Jason Silverman, January 15, 2004, available online at http://www.wired.com/ news/digiwood/0,1412,61921,00.html. For examples of moblogs, see http://www.textamerica.com. The conversation with John Sayles appears in Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film, by Peter Biskind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004), page 474. The book also includes a number of relevent observations by other leading figures on the more commercial side of independent film today, such as directors Ethan Coen and Kevin Smith and actor Ethan Hawke, on pages 470-479. For more on Emerging Pictures, see “Have Hard Drive, Will Travel,” by Sharon Waxman, in The New York Times, April 1, 2004, page E5; see also http://www.emergingpictures.com. Information on the UK Film Council’s “Digital Screen Network” program is at http://www.ukfilmcouncil.org.uk. The first music video shot entirely on a cellphone can be viewed online at http://ghettron.textamerica.com/?r=455355. The next, completed a few days later, can be found online at http://xfya.textamerica.com/?r=480272. Information about Nokia’s Lifeblog can be found online at http://www.nokia.com/ lifeblog. The BBC posted a story about Lifeblog called “Log Your Life Via Your Phone,” by Mark Ward, on March 10, 2004. The story can be found at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3497596.stm. Information about the device that allows people to record video from television for playback on their cellphones can be found online at http://www.dottocomu.com/ b/archives/002559.html. 54

Jonathan Dee’s observation about the cultural place of video games appears in his story, “End Game: Quest for Global Domination” in The New York Times Magazine, December 21, 2003. Deborah Solomon’s essay appeared as “The Year in Ideas: Video Game Art” in The New York Times Magazine, December 14, 2003. Newsgaming.com can be found online at http://www.newsgaming.com, Water Cooler Games at http://www.watercoolergames.com, and the Serious Games Initiative at http://www.seriousgames.org. Velvet-Strike, the famous anti-war “mod” to the game Counter-Strike, can be found at http://www.opensorcery.net/velvetstrike. The PriceWaterhouseCoopers study is its Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2002-2006. The executive summary is available online at http://www.pwcglobal.com/e&m/outlook/Outlook2002_ ExecSummary_Final.pdf. Netflix offers a growing library of independent work. In 2004, P.O.V., PBS’s showcase for independent, nonfiction films, struck a deal to distribute P.O.V. programs one day after they air through Netflix. See http://www.pbs.org/pov/ utils/pressroom/2004/Netflix/pressrelease.doc. Kevin Kelly’s annotated guide to what he calls “true films” is at www.truefilms.com. Clay Shirky has written a fascinating essay, “Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality,” about how audience attention becomes highly concentrated in the absence of media monopolies. He shows how this comes about through diversity of program options and freedom of choice among viewers. The essay is available online at http://www.shirky.com/ writings/pwerlaw_weblog.html. Andrew Taylor, whose “Artful Manager” blog on ArtsJournal (http://www.artsjournal.com) is a superb source of thoughtful commentary on the issues facing leaders of arts institutions, commented on Shirky’s essay, noting how the dynamics it describes complicate common notions of whether a work is “independent.” Read

those comments at http://www.artsjournal.com/artfulmanager/83294.php. Michael Moore discussed the success of Bowling for Columbine and the growing interest in political documentary just before Fahrenheit 9/11 was released, in an article on indieWIRE: “Michael Moore on Fame, Non-Fiction Films, and ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’” by Eugene Hernandez, posted June 24, 2004, available online at http://www.indiewire.com/people/people_040624moore.html. Tom Bernard’s quote comes from Anne Thompson’s New York Times article, “Made for TV, but Shown First in a Theater,” cited above. The foundation supporter of the arts is Robert Marx, vice president of the Fan Fox & Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, quoted in “Soft Financing Causes Arts Groups to Make Hard Choices,” by Stephanie Strom, in The New York Times, June 19, 2004. The article also looks at the limited prospects for state arts funding in the future. The RAND report—an invaluable report and essential guide to the media arts today—is From Celluloid to Cyberspace: The Media Arts and the Changing Arts World, by Kevin McCarthy and Elizabeth Ondaatje (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2002). The quote appears on page 17.

Developing Scenarios About the Future of Independent Media The quote from Pierre Wack comes from one of the essential guides to scenario thinking, Wack’s “The Gentle Art of Reperceiving,” which originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review in two parts: “Scenarios: Uncharted Waters Ahead” in Harvard Business Review, September-October 1985, pages 72-89, and “Scenarios: Shooting the Rapids” in Harvard Business Review, NovemberDecember 1985, pages 139-150.


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Taking Action Jon Burris’s essay, “The Power of the Purse: Public Funding and the Aesthetics of Video,” is long out of print but worth tracking down. (It appeared in a collection entitled “At Arm’s Length: (Taking a Good Hard Look At) Artists’ Video,” edited by Barbara Osborn and published by the New York State Council on the Arts in 1990.) It is an excellent overview of the peculiar conditions in the culture, in public funding, in technology, and at a handful of key foundations that encouraged the independent media arts to emerge in the late 1960s. From Celluloid to Cyberspace notes several “historical features” of the media arts, including “the clear and often critical distinction media artists drew between the type and artistic quality of the work produced in the independent and commercial sectors,” and the fact that “media artists, unlike their performing and literary counterparts, were unlikely to cross between sectors and were highly critical of those who did.” To better understand the range of financial transactions associated with the arts, including the media arts, see Creative Industries: Contracts between Art and Commerce, by Richard E. Caves (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000). The book is an extremely helpful guide to the distinctive economic properties that surround the creation, distribution, and exhibition of the arts today, and helps explain the kinds of institutions (forprofit and nonprofit) and contracts that have emerged to support and promote artistic works. Robert McChesney provides an eye-opening account of how unions, churches, and other noncommercial entities were effectively pushed out of mainstream broadcasting in favor of commercial firms in the 1930s. Robert McChesney, Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for Control of US Broadcasting, 1928-1935 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

Knowing where to find likely audiences and how to reach them is the basis of the recent success of “Mormon Cinema”— films made by and for members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, a traditionally marginalized group as creators, subjects, or audiences. Filmmakers and distributors depend in part on the ability to locate Mormon households, identify areas of geographic concentration (Utah, of course, but also Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, for example), book theatrical releases in the targeted areas only, and support the release through related media, including the Internet. Andrew Taylor’s essay is “Pandora's Bottle: Cultural Content in a Digital World,” in The Arts in a New Millennium: Research and the Arts Sector (Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 2003), edited by Valerie B Morris and David B. Pankratz.

Photo Credits Page iv: From 2002 Community Leadership Awards, a video by Bay Area Video Coalition for the San Francisco Foundation (courtesy of Bay Area Video Coalition)

Courtesy of Film Arts Foundation Courtesy of KQED Inc., photo by John Blaustein

Page 37: From American Aloha: Hula Beyond Hawaii, a film by Lisette Flanary and Evann Siebens (courtesy of the filmmakers) From Journey of Honor, a film by Stuart Yamane (courtesy of the filmmaker) Courtesy of National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture

Page 40: From a.k.a Don Bonus, a film by Spencer Nakasako (courtesy of the filmmaker) Page 43: From Be Good, Smile Pretty, a film by Tracy Droz Tragos (courtesy of Kat Tragos/ITVS) Page 44: From Refugee, a film by Spencer Nakasako (courtesy of Scott Tsuchitani/ITVS) Page 46: From The Weather Underground, a film by Sam Green and Bill Siegel (courtesy of the filmmakers) Page 49: From The Corporation, a film by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbot (courtesy of the filmmakers)

Page vi: From La Mina, a five-channel video installation by Hannah Collins (courtesy of the artist) Page viii: From La Mina, a five-channel video installation by Hannah Collins (courtesy of the artist) Page 2: Courtesy of Bay Area Video Coalition Page 4: Courtesy of Bay Area Video Coalition Page 7: Courtesy of Film Arts Foundation, photo by Amy Hicks Page 8: From My America…Or Honk If You Love Buddha, a film by Renee Tajima-Pena (courtesy of the filmmaker) Page 26: Courtesy of Film Arts Foundation, photo by Amy Hicks Page 36: Courtesy of Bay Area Video Coalition

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Appendix

Appendix A: The design of this project This project was designed as a year-long effort. It launched in August 2003 with a meeting with representatives from all six independent media organizations. Following that meeting, GBN began the design phase and the initial research. In December 2003, GBN convened a small group to identify some of the important uncertainties that could shape the future of the field (see Appendix C), outline a series of trial scenario frameworks, and discuss and refine the project strategy. Participants in this meeting included a team of top scenario thinkers at GBN— a company co-founder, the two leaders of GBN’s scenario consulting practice, a senior GBN practitioner who is also on the board of LinkTV, and the project team—along with Sally Fifer of ITVS and Helen De Michiel of NAMAC. In March 2004, the six client organizations came together again, each represented by their executive director and one other person, either a staff member or a member of the organization’s board. Also present were a handful of outsiders selected to bring additional perspectives and offer provocative views from outside the daily experience of the groups’ leadership. Working as a team, the group developed a set of scenarios and explored what they might mean both for the future of the field and for the strategies of the client organizations.

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In April 2004, GBN presented its research findings at a workshop with Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media at the Council on Foundations’ annual conference in Toronto. The goal was to brief funders interested in media about the emergent trends and issues that GBN had identified in order to encourage a discussion among funders about the implications of the project’s findings for their own work individually and as a group. Throughout the spring and into early summer, GBN conducted individual strategy sessions with each of the client organizations, and organized its most important research findings into this report.


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Appendix B: How to develop your own scenarios —Describe the technology in use: devices, platforms, connections.

There are many ways to develop scenarios, but most require following a few basic steps.

—What does “independent media” look like? What genres are thriving by attracting substantial audiences? What formats are dominant or on the rise?

First, review the research in this report and get a feel for the new independent media “ecology” that it describes. You don’t have to accept every point, but identify the givens that you will want to make sure can be accounted for in any scenario you build.

—Who are the primary audiences? —Will most people have a passive or an interactive relationship with their media experiences?

Next, review the list of uncertainties that were identified in the course of this project (Appendix C), and add any that you think are missing. Be sure to include events that are truly unpredictable, events or developments outside your control, and anything you believe could be important to the future of your organization. If adding your own, be sure that the new uncertainties have clear end-points that capture how each uncertainty might resolve. Now consider which uncertainties are the most important and the most uncertain for you and your organization. Get it down to the three or four that rank highest in both uncertainty and importance. Next, experiment with crossing two uncertainties against each other, and see if the axes this creates are truly independent of each other. Test for pairings that on review create four truly different worlds, so that no quadrant is logically impossible or so unlikely as to be a dead end for exploration. Once you have a matrix with four plausible worlds, work through the following questions for each of them: •

Why would this future come about? What could cause this to happen?

Imagine it is 2015 and the world described by the quadrant you are working on has become the current reality. Write a couple of sentences on the theme, “This is a world in which…”

Next, dig deeper to describe what’s going on in this word in 2015:

—Who are the primary makers? —Where will the primary support for independent work come from: subsidy or sales? —What is the relationship of independent media to the commercial mainstream? —Who will be the dominant aggregators that package and present independent work? •

By way of summary, think about these questions. In this future: —What are the critical success factors if you are a maker? An aggregator or distributor? An exhibitor? A funder?

which quadrant you are in. You can also use the scenarios you develop to test your current strategies. Would they work in all these worlds that you can imagine, or do they work best in only one or two of them? Are your current strategies built on assumptions about the future that you now see as possible but not inevitable? If so, what are your alternatives in case the future you have been betting on is not what happens? And are there things you are doing now that wouldn’t make sense in some or all of the worlds you have imagined? Creating scenarios works best when it is done in a small group, because that is how surprising, challenging ideas about how things might unfold are most likely to surface. While people can do this individually, having a few people doing it together ensures that you will hear more than just the story you already know how to tell about the future. There is an extensive literature to help you if you want to develop your own scenarios. Here are two short but very useful works that can help you if you are interested: •

“How to Build Scenarios,” by Lawrence Wilkinson. In Wired [Scenarios 1.01 Special Edition], September 1995. Available online at http://www.wired.com/wired/scenarios/build.html. A very short, step-bystep guide to developing scenarios.

What If? The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits, by Diana Scearce, Katherine Fulton, and the Global Business Network community. July 2004. Available online at www.gbn.com. A longer, more indepth treatment of scenario thinking and scenario building created especially for nonprofit leaders.

—What could be the surprising opportunities for independent media (markets, supporters, audiences)? Once you are done, try and give your scenario a name—hopefully, an easy shorthand that will help you remember something essential about the world it describes. After completing all four quadrants of the matrix, review your work and consider these questions: Are there common threads that come up again and again? Are there some clear choices that depend on which future really plays out? Things that come up again and again are good candidates for directions you might start exploring soon; they are options that seem to be worth a look regardless of

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Appendix C: Key uncertainties for independent media Here are twenty-two of the uncertainties identified in this project. They are not presented in any order. Which ones seem most important and uncertain to you? •

Is the market for independent work saturated at the current level of production and consumption, or is it capable of growing significantly?

In ten years, will the dominant aggregators that package independent media be the traditional ones we know now, or will they be nontraditional ones not currently associated with this activity?

Will audience attention be primarily built around programs and products or aggregators and channels?

Will the primary support for independent work be subsidy or sales?

Is the market growth for independent work more likely to be global or local?

Will the US economy be primarily characterized by prosperity or scarcity?

Will independent work and media makers lean into the mainstream or lean away from it?

Will the Internet evolve toward an open model that values free speech or a controlled model that values convenience and entertainment?

Will the social and political culture in the US tend to be more supportive of independent work and themes or less supportive of independent work?

Will people look for entertainment and learning in the form of packaged goods or experiences?

Is the transition to a fully broadband world slow to happen or fast to happen?

Will independent media makers tend to see their interests as more aligned with open source content and licensing or commercially controlled content?

Will the relationship that most people have to the media they consume be passive or (inter)active?

Will ethnic media markets be primarily served by mainstream media or niche media?

Will the cultural energy around media production tend toward work that is highly professionalized or highly democratized?

Will the preferred media experience tend to be escapism or challenge?

Will the main identity of independent media be apolitical or strongly political?

Will the primary emphasis of those drawn to making independent media be art or advocacy?

Will the use of media by people born since 1980 be similar to what we see now or very different from today’s habits?

Will the generation of people born between 1980 and 2000 be notable for their idealism or their apathy?

Will the US political climate become more polarized or more unified?

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Which will grow faster in the next decade: supply of media or demand for it?


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Appendix D: Interviewees The following people are quoted in this report:

John Anner Executive director of the East Meets West Foundation, and former executive director and current board member of the Independent Press Association, a nonprofit that supports independent publications committed to social justice and a free press. John Battelle One of the cofounders of Wired magazine and the founder and publisher of The Industry Standard and thestandard.com. John is also a columnist for Business 2.0, and currently at work on an upcoming book on Google and search engines titled The Search. Wes Boyd Co-founder of moveon.org. Wes is a longtime technology entrepreneur and cofounder of Berkeley Systems, known for its screensavers and computer games. Sandeep Casi Researcher on the Interactive Media team of FX Palo Alto Laboratory, for Fuji Xerox Ltd. Formerly worked for George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic. Sandy Close Executive director of the Bay Area Institute/Pacific News Service. Sandy also founded YO! (Youth Outlook), a collaboration between writers and young people, and New California Media, a network of ethnic news organizations. In 1995, Sandy received a MacArthur Foundation “genius award” for her work in communications.

Brad deGraf Founder of the Media Venture Collective and director of the Animation Archive for the Internet Archive. Brad is also an investment analyst for digital media for the International Finance Corporation (a venture subsidiary of the World Bank). He has been a leader in computer animation in the entertainment industry since 1982. Daniel Erasmus Co-founder and director of the Digital Thinking Network, a European strategic consulting firm in Amsterdam, and fellow of the Rotterdam School of Management, where he teaches MBA courses on scenarios and strategies for the Internet. Jim Fallows National correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, and author of Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy. Jim was also a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and the editor in chief of US News & World Report. Richard Florida Author of The Rise of the Creative Class: How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, and Everyday Life, and professor of regional economic development at Carnegie Mellon University. Rob Glaser Founder, chairman, and CEO of Real Networks, a pioneering company in audio and video streaming over the Web. Rob formerly served as Microsoft’s vice president of multimedia systems. He also funds independent media through the Glaser Progress Foundation. Ted Halstead Founder and president of the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank not aligned with either party and geared to discovering next generation thinkers. Ted is coauthor of The Radical Center: The Future of American Politics.

J.C. Herz Author of Joystick Nation: How Videogames Ate Our Quarters, Won Our Hearts, and Rewired Our Minds. Joel Hyatt Founder of Hyatt Legal Services, and former finance chair of the Democratic National Committee during Al Gore’s presidential bid. Joel is currently working with Gore on starting INdTV, a news and information channel aimed at 18-34 year olds. Henry Jenkins Director, Comparative Media Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Henry is also the co-director of the Media in Transition series and a professor of literature and comparative media studies at MIT. Brewster Kahle Director and co-founder of the Internet Archive, the largest publicly accessible, privately funded digital archive in the world. Brewster invented the Internet’s first publishing system, WAIS (Wide Area Information Server), which was sold to America Online in 1995. He also co-founded Alexa Internet, which was sold to Amazon.com in 1999. Celinda Lake President/CEO of Lake, Snell, Perry, and Associates, a national public opinion, research, and strategy firm. Celinda serves as a senior adviser to dozens of Democratic incumbents and challengers at all levels of the electoral process, and to democratic parties in several Eastern European countries and South Africa. Tim O’Reilly Founder and president of O’Reilly & Associates, thought by many to be the best computer book publisher in the world.

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Walter Parkes Director of motion pictures for DreamWorks SKG, and head of its liveaction division. Walter has produced Gladiator (Academy Award for Best Picture 2000), Men in Black, and Minority Report, among many other films. Howard Rheingold Author of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, Transforming Cultures and Communities in the Age of Instant Access. Ravi Sundarum A media scholar in India and co-director of Sarai, a program of media in the city in New Delhi. Ravi is also a fellow at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies. Orville Schell Dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, an expert on China, and the author of eleven books, the most recent of which is Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La from the Himalayas to Hollywood. Clay Shirky Consultant, teacher, and writer on the social, cultural, and economic effects of Internet technologies. Clay is an adjunct professor with NYU’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program. William Strauss Co-author of Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation; Generations: A History of America’s Future; and The 13th Generation.

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Appendix E: About GBN and the project team Global Business Network (www.gbn.com) specializes in guiding organizations creatively through a changing environment, and is internationally known for its leadership role in the evolution and application of scenario thinking—a tool that combines research, insight, and ruthless curiosity in order to imagine possible futures. Founded in 1987 in the San Francisco Bay Area, and now a Monitor Group Company, GBN has worked with top companies from virtually every industry and continent, as well as with many national governments, nonprofits and foundations. We are committed to increasing long-term responsibility and the ability of organizations to adapt more effectively to growing complexity and uncertainty. GBN’s services include membership, training, and consulting:

Membership: GBN’s WorldView program offers a unique blend of experiential learning, compelling content, personal connections, and innovative tools and methodologies for enhancing professional and organizational capacity. GBN’s unique membership network currently includes dozens of the world’s leading global corporations and more than one hundred invited individual members from science, industry, the arts, and academia who contribute remarkable insights, perspectives, and experience. Training: GBN offers training programs around the world to help individuals develop the tools to navigate in a changing world. We offer introductory courses on scenario thinking, planning, and strategic conversation as well as advanced seminars on leading scenario projects and moving from scenarios to strategies. Consulting: GBN works with organizations and multi-stakeholder groups across sectors in customized consulting engagements. Typically we use scenario thinking and other tools for collaborative learning to help organizations develop long-term strategy.

GBN is working to apply the tools of futures research, strategy, and innovation to increase the capacity and improve the strategy and adaptiveness of individuals and organizations working in the nonprofit and public sectors. This work takes place primarily in customized consulting engagements, using scenario thinking and other tools that GBN has pioneered. Applications include: developing forwardlooking issue and country strategies to address emerging program and geographic needs; facilitating strategic conversations for staff and board leadership; and providing workshops to transfer processes for future-focused thinking, action, and innovation in the noncommercial organizations. The GBN project team for this study included Andrew Blau, Tina Estes, Katherine Fulton, Peter Leyden, and Lawrence Wilkinson.

Andrew Blau, a practitioner at GBN and one of the leaders of its philanthropy and nonprofits practice, is a strategist specializing in work with organizations developing programs for social benefit. Once an independent media maker himself, he has spent nearly twenty years analyzing media, the Internet, telecommunications networks, and digital technologies. He is best known for his work helping foundations and nonprofits develop strategies that recognize the trends and pressures of the information age and their effects on public interest values. His report on the challenges for nonprofits and foundations created by digital technology, More Than Bit Players, has been called “required reading for all leaders in the sector.” Previously, Andrew was program director at the Markle Foundation and a member of the management team there. Prior to joining Markle, he directed the Benton Foundation’s program in Communications Policy and Practice, where he led programs on the future of public service

media, the use of technology in education, the digital divide, and many other areas. Andrew also analyzed federal and state telecommunications and Internet policy for leading public interest groups, and contributed to the strategy to establish ITVS. He is the president of the board of WITNESS, an international human rights organization that helps activists around the world use video to fight for human rights, and he has served in leadership roles at media-oriented nonprofits including the Alliance for Community Media, where he was chairman, and at the Manhattan Neighborhood Network, where he was a founding director and vice-chairman. He has also served as a NYSCA media panelist, as a juror for the Media That Matters film festival, and as a member of the advisory council at mediarights.org.

Tina Estes is a practice associate at GBN. She is involved in the production of Learning Journeys, as well as research, production and management of scenario projects, and speeches in such areas as sustainable development, telecommunications, corporate ethics, philanthropy and leadership. Recent projects include producing Learning Journeys on clean technologies, on the evolving role of the corporation, on rebalancing power, profit and principles, and on industrial biotechnology. She is currently working on several projects on the future of terrorism, security, and intelligence for diverse government agencies as well as a project on the future of consumer electronics. She has lived and traveled in Europe, Africa, and Central and South America.

Katherine Fulton is the president of The Monitor Institute and a partner with Global Business Network. She has worked with leading organizations in both the private and public sectors, representing such diverse areas as publishing, financial services, education, health care, social services, telecommunications, broadcasting, consumer products, and philanthropy.

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She has also taught scenario planning at Harvard University’s executive programs. Katherine has extensive experience in writing, editing, teaching, consulting, and leadership development, in both commercial and nonprofit environments. Before joining GBN, Katherine spent more than three years based at Harvard and Duke Universities. At Harvard, as a recipient of a Nieman Fellowship for journalists, she deepened her interests in organizations, new media, and pluralism, and organized two major national conferences on the future of journalism. At Duke, she developed new courses on the future of leadership and organizations, the future of communications media, and the future of democracy. Her innovative teaching was featured in Time magazine. Previously, Katherine co-founded a business, Carolina Independent Publications, that published the newsweekly Independent, which won many national prizes for investigative and literary excellence. In 1987, in the middle of her tenyear tenure as Independent editor, the Lyndhurst Foundation tapped her for one of its $90,000 prizes reserved for “selected individuals who have made significant and distinctive contributions in the arts, particularly writing and photography, and in community service and leadership.” Katherine has written for many national publications, including the New Republic, Columbia Journalism Review, and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. She has also held a number of leadership positions in nonprofits and worked as a consultant on new media to major foundations.

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Peter Leyden is GBN’s knowledge developer, helping to identify and share key ideas emerging within GBN and its extended network. He is coauthor of What’s Next? Exploring the New Terrain for Business (Perseus/Wiley, 2002) and The Long Boom (Perseus/Texere, 1999). He is a contributor and on the advisory board of Business: The Ultimate Resource (Perseus/Bloomsbury, 2002) as well as a contributor to Best Practices: Ideas and Insights from the World’s Foremost Business Thinkers (Perseus/Bloomsbury, 2003). Peter was the former managing editor and a longtime senior editor at Wired magazine, covering digital technologies and the new economy in the 1990s. He watched the rise of Asia as a special correspondent for Newsweek magazine in the late 1980s. During his fifteen years as a journalist, he wrote for many publications, including The New York Times, London’s Guardian newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Lawrence Wilkinson is chairman of Heminge & Condell, a strategic advisory and investment firm, and was one of the co-founders and former president of GBN. He also serves as vice chairman of Oxygen Media, Inc., a diversified media company that he co-founded in June of 1998 with partners including Geraldine Laybourne, Oprah Winfrey, CarseyWerner-Mandabach, AOL, and Disney. He co-conceived the company, led Oxygen’s planning and corporate development efforts, and oversaw Oxygen’s West Coast operations and alliances.

At GBN, Lawrence specialized in strategy work in the media and entertainment, communications, marketing, publishing, professional services, and finance/financial services arenas. Lawrence also served as a director and as chief architect of Wired Ventures, the partnership that built and managed Wired magazine, Wired Digital/HotWired, and other ventures. From 1984 to 1990, Lawrence was president of Colossal Pictures, an award-winning film and television production company. Lawrence was responsible for all activities of Colossal, its USFX division and Big Pictures subsidiary, and its affiliated companies (e.g., Pixar and Konnick) globally. He was also the executive producer of Crumb, which won both the Best Documentary Feature and the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance in 1995.


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Acknowledgements

In a project of this length and complexity, there are of course many people to thank, without whom the project would either not have existed or been much the poorer. Those people include the sponsors of this work: Joan Shigekawa, associate director of the Culture and Creativity program at the Rockefeller Foundation; Elspeth Revere, director of the General Program, and Kathy Im, program officer in the General Program, at The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; and John Killacky of The San Francisco Foundation. It also includes the leaders of the client organizations who came together to launch this work and develop it with us: Judy Holmes Agnew of BAVC, as well as Tamara Gould, who headed BAVC at the beginning of this project; Gail Silva of Film Arts Foundation; Sally Fifer of ITVS; John Boland of KQED, as well as DeAnne Hamilton and Diane Nelson, both of whom were instrumental partners at KQED for us in the early stages of this work; Eddie Wong of NAATA; and Helen De Michiel and Jack Walsh at NAMAC. Special thanks to Helen De Michiel for agreeing to be the coordinator of the group of clients, and to Helen and Jack for their efforts to raise money and administer the grant support that made this project possible.

Thanks to the external participants in the scenario workshop, Becky Bond, creative producer at Working Assets; Tony Deiffel, former director of the Institute for Public Media Arts; and Clarence Ting, a media maker who co-produced Rise to the Challenge: African Americans at UC Berkeley, and Panorama, Texas. Thanks also to the additional participants from the client organizations who joined the leaders named above and gave their time and creativity to that workshop: Mindy Aronoff, director of creative services and media services at BAVC; Dan Gomes, technology coordinator at Film Arts Foundation; Michael Isip, executive director of Television Programming & Production at KQED; and Woody Wickham of the ITVS board. Thanks to David Haas, Chairman of Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media (GFEM) for considerable support and advice over the course of this project, including the invitation to share our results with GFEM. Thanks also to Sarah Armour-Jones for invaluable assistance in organizing the GFEM session.

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Thanks to the dozens of people we interviewed, formally and informally. Apart from those identified in the list of interviewees that appears in the Appendix to this report, our understanding was improved and our thinking clarified through conversations with: David Bank, reporter for the Wall Street Journal covering technology trends; Tania Blanich, director of the Program for Media Artists at National Video Resources; Gillian Caldwell, executive director of WITNESS; Karen Helmerson, director of the Electronic Media and Film program at the New York State Council on the Arts; Paul Katz, senior vice-president of New Business and Visual Media, BMG; Kevin McCarthy and Elizabeth Ondaatje of the RAND Corporation; Christopher Palmer, a film maker, media artist, and teacher of art; David Rosen, author of Off Hollywood: The Making and Marketing of Independent Films and convener of the “Digital Independence� conferences; Ronna Tanenbaum, a consultant on web interface design and the creator/founder of StoryMixer; Andrew Taylor, director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and Steven J. Tepper, formerly deputy director, Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies and now associate director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University. Thanks also to Patricia Cogley, the project coordinator for Youth Training Programs at BAVC, who organized an opportunity for GBN to interview three young media makers at BAVC: Theo Ellington, Juanita Recinos, and Evette Navarro, whom we also thank for their willingness to share their perspectives on media and media making.

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And thanks to all those at GBN beyond the project team who contributed to this effort: Chris Ertel, co-head of practice, and Gerald Harris, a senior consultant, for participating in and improving our December workshop; Diana Scearce for collegial advice on countless occasions; Jenny Johnston for editorial assistance with this report and the interview summaries; Nancy Murphy for editorial assistance with the virtual learning journey; Lori Shouldice for administrative support throughout the project; Lynn Carruthers for designing the templates used in the workshops, for preparing other display materials, and for graphically recording the first workshop and the last workshop; Kelly Kauffman for help with presentation materials and slide decks; and Anu Ponnamma for her work developing the original proposal that helped get this off the ground.


The National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) is the national service organization for the media arts field. Our mission is to: •

strengthen the influence of media arts organizations, making them an integral part of their communities;

cultural communities and geographic regions; •

integrate media into all levels of education and advocate for media literacy as an educational goal;

promote socially responsible uses of and individual access to current and future media technologies;

Contact Organizations: A Closer Look 2004

facilitate the support of independent media artists from all

encourage media arts that are rooted in local communities, as well as those that are global in outlook.

NAMAC fulfills the fundamental purpose of building and strengthening the field’s infrastructure by providing services in the areas of organizational and leadership development, convening the field, research and policy, and encouraging public awareness of independent media. Our programs include Leadership Institute training for media organization leaders; Capacity-Building grant assistance for organizational development; a biennial National Conference and quarterly Regional Convenings which bring together independent media producing participants to share information,

identify issues, and initiate projects aimed at advancing the field; current Research and Information Sharing in The Knowledge Network for the Media Arts (www.namac.org) and through our annual Publications, quarterly Reports and weekly electronic Bulletins; and collaborative efforts with peer organizations to Advocate for the interests of the media arts field in Cultural and Telecommunications Policymaking. The Youth Media Initiative gathers and disseminates research about youth media programs and practices nationwide.

Collectively, NAMAC's members provide a wide range of services in support of independent media, including education, production, exhibition, distribution, collection-building, preservation, criticism, and general advocacy. Our members include media arts centers, production facilities, university-based programs, community technology centers, museums, film festivals, media distributors, film archives, after-school programs, community access TV stations, and individuals working in the field. Combined, these organizations serve approximately 400,000 artists and other media professionals nationwide. The field’s independent producers, who work outside the commercial telecommunications industry, offer Americans a vital alternative to the mainstream media. NAMAC’s member organizations help them overcome tremendous barriers in order to bring personal visions and community-based perspectives to the media-watching public.

www.namac.org National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture 145 Ninth Street, Suite 250 San Francisco, CA 94103 T 415 431 1391 F 415 431 1392 namac@namac.org

Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC)

KQED Public Broadcasting

Judy Holme Agnew, Executive Director 2727 Mariposa St. Second Floor San Francisco CA 94110 415 861 3282 judy@bavc.org www.bavc.org

John Boland, Executive Vice President & Chief Content Officer 2601 Mariposa St. San Francisco CA 94110 415 864 2000 jboland@kqed.org www.kqed.org

Film Arts Foundation Fidelma McGinn, Executive Director 145 Ninth St. #101 San Francisco CA 94103 415 552 8760 fidelma@filmarts.org www.filmarts.org

Independent Television Service (ITVS) Sally Fifer, President and CEO 501 York St. San Francisco CA 94110 415 356 8383 sally_fifer@itvs.org www.itvs.org

National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) Helen De Michiel and Jack Walsh, Co-Directors 145 Ninth St. Suite 250 San Francisco CA 94103 415 431 1391 helen@namac.org jack@namac.org www.namac.org

National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA) Eddie Wong, Executive Director 145 Ninth St. Suite 350 San Francisco CA 94103 415 863 0814 eddie@naatanet.org www.naatanet.org


But how? Can independent media makers or the organizations that support them see the outlines of the future before it is upon them? Can they plan for it? What is the emerging new ecology for independent media likely to be, and how can makers, funders, and other organizations in the field adapt to the opportunities as well as the challenges that are the distinctive features of this new environment?

Published by National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture namac@namac.org www.namac.org

This edition of A Closer Look: Media Arts 2004 includes what GBN learned about the future of independent media in the course of this year-long investigation. It is also an overview of the work that GBN and the media groups did together. Most importantly, it is an invitation to anyone in the independent media field today to consider how they will adapt to the opportunities and demands that will define this new era. Those who can will both discover and encourage what could be the next great era for independent media makers and the themes and values that have defined their work.

deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

In 2003, six of San Francisco’s leading independent media organizations came together with the Global Business Network (GBN) to initiate an in-depth look at the future of independent media. They knew that as the world around independent media changes—because of demographic shifts, economic reorganization, political realignment, and accelerating technological revolution—the world of independent media will change too.

deep focus A Report on the Future of Independent Media

Deep Focus: A Report on the Future of Media Arts  

Bold and imaginative, Deep Focus offers a rare preview of the likely new ecologies emerging for independent media. It offers aninvitation to...

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