The IBC Digital Lifestyles Interviews – Simon Perry – Part II

Second part of on an interview with Simon Perry on the Digital Lifestyles conference theme day at IBC The first section is also available.

SP: If you think back to things like a normal non-video editing suite. The ways that you can drop in videos and get it to expand the time line drop isn’t something, it’s not – you have to learn to do it that way. It is not a natural way that people will work or think.

FL: It is not stopping Dixons from selling dozens of video cameras per branch per day.

SP: Yes. Well I think it is going into people’s cupboards. I think it is sitting in the chest of drawers in the lounge and it is being brought out at Christmas and the equivalent of boring people with photo slide shows well that is happening again now. There is a resurgence of that, but, it is content that is just sitting there that isn’t being fiddled about.

 Now we know the processing power of computers is huge now. No problem whatsoever in manipulating video. It takes a long time to actually learn to use the tools, but, it also takes a long time to understand the language of video and how to get a cohesive piece of video together – to present something.

 Before you asked me for some examples – Talking Lives – BBC

 It is BBC funded and it has grown out of a project in Cardiff and it is in Hull as well and it’s really what they call digital story telling and that sort of shows the difficulties involved with it. Because everyone who goes along to create a digital live story goes on training, I think it is five or six days worth of training, where they might turn up with no idea of what they want to talk. Some people have got a very clear idea, lots of people do not have idea and they will be tutored by media professionals, for want of a better phrase, who teach them how to tell a story, pull the pertinent parts of the story out and drop the other parts out and they create a two / three minutes piece about something in their lives and it’s some of the most emotional content I have ever seen on a TV screen. It is so personal.

 Some of the pieces have been about people’s difficulties but some things have been about people’s relationships or people’s joyful events that have happened to them and it draws that something out. The results are a real contrast to the way TV media is at the moment – sanitised – you don’t have the true emotion of someone expressing their own story. That’s a fantastic example.

FL: We have a convergence industry and people will quite happily go out and spend £1500.00 on a video camera but will not then take the tiny extra step of actually learning how to produce the content with it. The only evidence that I see of these billions of pounds that are being spent on convergence media appliances – well actually the standard of clips on You’ve Been Framed is just as bad as it has always been.

SP: I disagree that it’s a small extra step. There is the significant barrier that video editing isn’t simple. It is currently very easy to go out and shoot a piece of video and, as you say, spend £1500 on a Camcorder or even significantly less than that these days. You wander round and you point it at someone and you get them to talk. The results of which can be either well framed or not and there is a certain at traction in both, but, it is the barrier of making the editing process simple that I don’t feel has been conquered.

 There were moves with some video cameras of trying to do the editing on camera and this is something that is now being re-visiting with the DVD Camcorders, DVD-recording Camcorders where you can do editing on the machine. But, you know what it is like editing video. That is not the right interface. You have this tiny little screen that’s got touch screen on it and you are trying to drop pieces of video and do that kind of stuff. Not idea, but worth exploring.

FL: So the alternative – for people to actually produce a DVD at home – I think that’s currently beyond their reach if they can’t edit AB track video, they won’t be able to alter a DVD.

SP: I think there is a huge market for it. As we have discussed, all of this stuff’s been shot. There’s hours of it sitting in people’s cupboards. Surely they are going to get to the point where just say let’s make something of this. Maybe it is the point of retirement and that is the space where producing edited home videos are going to be cut together and home videos are going to be massive?

 Well there are a lot of people now retiring and they have got Camcorders and they shoot their kids or grand-kids and are editing things together. That could be an interesting trend.

FL: What for you is the most exciting form of convergence? Is it in mobile phones? Is it in enabling people to do things? Is it in what it means for broadcasting?

SP: I really think the user-generated content is an exciting area.

FL: Do you generate much digital content yourself?

SP: Photos, yes, I have given up on video because I don’t have the time to edit it as does take a lot of time to do it properly. I have 12/13/14 thousand images, not all of them brilliant images and this is something I want to pick up when you were saying about photographers. I think that in digital photography we are going through a remarkable time at the moment. I have heard two sides of this argument. My personal feeling was that there are images being created today which are as good as the professional photographer can take because people have a freedom in taking images with digital cameras. In effect, many people early on when they get their digital cameras take as many images as they can to get the value out of their digital cameras because, they’re having to buy films and, therefore, feel they have got to make up the cost of buying an expensive camera: The difficulty is – and this is a thing of education over a period of time – is that not everyone has a strong eye and so won’t necessarily have an understanding of what is a strong image and what isn’t. So I think probably there are far more amazing images being taken today. Whether we will ever see them, whether they will sit on a crashed hard disc or backup CD/DVD’s somewhere and never get dragged off is another matter.

 The opposing argument is on the side of professional Press photographers. Where they’ve been taking a series of photos and deleting all their images that they don’t want, that they don’t think are relevant. So those moments that were previously caught in time, such as Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, frozen for a camera, will disappear because professional images are huge, 15 MB, and they understand that sorting through 14 thousand images is a total nightmare so they immediately pare down as they shoot.

FL: This means that each of us generates a mass of data throughout our lives, much of which we are not even interested in, which will probably be deleted when we die or whatever.

 Do you think that there will little archives around individual people in the future and that’s really where it lies?

SP: Yes, and I think blogs are the first step towards that.  A person’s blog or URL is their zero index. Their reference point.

FL: But who is going to curate that?

SP: The individual.

FL: When they’re gone it all gets washed away.

SP: To a lot of people, them living beyond the time that they are around is quite important. So I guess for those people they will spend quite a lot of time preening and displaying what they want to display to the world after they’ve gone.

 I think it is tremendously exciting to think that you could have access to any piece of music, video or TV show or film. A huge potential to stimulate. What is disappointing about the way it appears to be going at the moment is that you won’t be able to use that content yourself to generate further content yourself. That’s the way that most of the media is going, with the notable exceptions like the BBC, with their Creative Archive project they are opening the doors for a new form of creativity.

 I have thought of another one of those user-generated content pieces – One Minute movies.

FL: One Minute Movies – BBC.

SP: Yes, when people – and this is something that we thought was going to be exciting on TV was the idea of very short form content for mobile devices and creating a piece of content within one minute is an incredible challenge. It is very difficult to get everything across that you want to say within one minute.

 There is also the side of what is going on with the mash up video as well.

FL: This is just sampling. It is not creating new kinds of content.

SP: No. That is true. It is sampling but it is just using more complex tools to do the sampling.

 We were talking about open source and an open source platform is an interesting idea. One of the real expenses of creating video content for Broadband distribution to a number of platforms or any platform is that there is tremendous cost involved in versioning different sizes and different resolutions as well as colour depths as well as the programming side of making the content interactive. It becomes very expensive.

 So the idea of having a defined European or UK platform where small groups of content producers can get together and create content that they know will go to a platform is quite exciting.

 We’ve talked about user generated content. The upshot of this in another exciting area. Very small production companies, micro production companies, creating content. The equipment is cheaply available, so the means of production of video content are within the hands of people who have the skills to do it now. There are lot of people involved with TV whose dream has always been to make a TV show. These tools for creating TV are now within the hands of people. They don’t have to go cap in hand to production companies and say “Please let me make this”, they can just go off and do it. That becomes more and more attainable. This raises one of the big unanswered questions, that we touched on at IBC last year – how will people find the content when there will be so much of it around? When you have got websites full of 1,000 videos;  people’s blogs with say ten movies on them; two of which may be interesting looking over say 1,000 blogs. How do people get navigated or navigate themselves to the point of finding that content and seeing it as – getting to see the tool. When you have got thousands of movies and hundreds of thousands of music pieces – finding access to those is very difficult.

 You find interesting stuff and you become the trusted guide to content and certainly that is undeniably a great way of finding content. The disadvantage with that is you may chose the people who are guiding you to content because you like them and they think in the same way as you, but, that is just one person’s view of the world. So you would have to be quite conscious about thinking well I am going to start picking people that have got a completely opposite view to me but I still – there is a core something that I like there but the rest is completely bizarre. Otherwise you start getting bizarrely – because the frustration of having so much content available to you – your consumption becomes more and more narrow.

FL: This is something that was a fear for a while really. If people could customise a newspaper to things that they were interested in it would mean that their interest areas would then become so narrow they would never find out about things which would otherwise appeal to them.

SP: There are bits of software around that create highlights of content for you.

FL: You need that random seed though.

SP: Perhaps in the future we’ll take our net and scrape the bottom of the media ocean and just see what comes up. You say – give me random – and you sit down there for an hour or however long and you just go through it marking how much you like it with thumbs up and thumbs down on your controller.

FL: Like TiVo I suppose.

SP: With the recommendation from other people who have bought other content you are looking at you get back to that thing of possibly restricting the type of content you are going to see. But, if you just said – using Google as an example – give me results from the last 1000 searches that Google has had literally the last 1000 around the world. Just display all those video pieces me end to end and I will decide to either have the software sitting between which does a quick summary of the video content that has been searched and retrieved. That is of absolutely no interest to me whatsoever. You just basically have gradations of whether is it interesting or not. You can obviously then use that to then gather other information but you still get back to that point of having your view constricted.

FL: That brings me on to horrible topic metadata. Where is metadata in all of this?

SP: Metadata is everywhere.

FL: It should be everywhere but it is not. That is the last thing on people’s minds. They make their content.

SP:  It is a big problem. It has got to be in the production process but that is not what a production budget is to pay for and that is the problem. Hopefully it will get resolved after a number of years – as people understand just how important it is – they will find the budgets to put it into the production budget. At the moment I don’t think it is going to be archived any other way.

 Before we reach that point there is anciliarary way of doing it. Post-broadcast metadata. Individuals creating their own metadata around a broadcast TV programme. I think it’s another fascinating area. If we look at what has happened with radio three website recently where they are putting markers in for each radio show that is created. There is now a place on the web that has a constant URL for it. I don’t know how far they are going to open it up but potentially any content that anyone thinks is relevant could be tied to that URL, either through them creating their own blog entries and then tracking back using a trackback mechanism back to the BBC site or; whether it is all just held within the BBC site and in such a way that anyone can gain access to it.

 When people are able to, through out a broadcast, drop metadata in whether they are able to put markers in a time line to say – OK the point that this was mentioned here, here is some additional information. Stuff that in the early days of interactive Broadband video people were doing – putting in text or photos or additional video clips that can then drilled down in to becomes very interesting.

 That is anther thing that is great about convergence.


Simon is chairing ‘The missing piece – Getting paid for content’ session between 11:30 and 13:00 at the IBC conference on Sunday, 12th September in Amsterdam. Register for IBC here

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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?