Sound and vision blog

19 posts categorized "Television"

19 March 2010

The Yanomamo play tricks on us

Fierce People, BBC Horizon tx. 1 November 1971

Superb stuff from Adam Curtis - The Medium and the Message, not just one of the best blogs out there but a pioneering and innovative combination of documentary, archive and web publishing that is showing one way television could change in a multimedia world:

Here he looks at the different ways in which BBC documentaries have portrayed the Yanomamo people of Brazil and Venezuela (supposedly models for Avatar's Na'vi) according to the temper of the times.

In 1968 they are drug experimenters seen as both corrupted by the world and incorruptible

In 1971 they are shrewd, cunning and highly political

In 1972 they just lie around all day in an idyllic state

In 1977 they are in a continuous state of tension, driven by their genes

In 1983 schoolchildren sing about how they worship animals and trees

In 1989 they are the perfect subject for rock musicians singing about the rainforest (Donna Summer, Iggy Pop, Ringo Starr...)

In 1997 they are the remnants of a shaman civilisation

"In all these examples we in the West - both scientists and TV producers - are projecting our ideas and our dreams and our fears onto the Yanomamo. But the Yanomamo are not just passive in this. Each time they seem to work out what the westerners want and then give it back to them perfectly. Or, as in the case of [anthropologist Napoleon] Chagnon they play with him and trick him in funny ways.

Which makes you wonder. Maybe they are just as sophisticated as us in the west? Or maybe even more so?"

All with the usual telling clips.

More on what Curtis is doing with The Medium and the Message in a future post.

Posted via email from Luke McKernan

16 February 2010

Our moving image plans


The British Library

I’ve already described the British Library’s moving image collection, and I’ll be coming back to particular aspects of the collection in future posts.

But what about our plans for the future?

The collection that we do have is relatively small (if you can call 40,000 titles small) and is very focussed on sound. It makes sense as part of the British Library Sound Archive, which is what it is, but it stands up a little less when viewed as what users of national library need to complement their research across a range of academic disciplines. The BL is keen to give the moving image a higher presence, for the simple reason that we see the future of research (and our business is research) as being ‘media agnostic’; that is, the researchers of the future won’t necessarily care whether something is a book, manuscript, a sound recording or a video – many are just going to want to have the necessary information in one place, in digital form, and easy to use. There must still be cinephiles, bibliophiles and those who cherish a medium for its own sake, but in the digital soup that we are all building it is the subject that is paramount.

Moving images are important for the BL's users, as our Content Strategy identified in 2007. But how are we going to acquire them? The traditional route of establishing a film archive, with all of its accoutrements and issues, isn’t a sensible option. There are many film archives out there already (the UK has around 380 film collections of one sort or another) and we don’t need to add to their number - we would rather work with them. Our intention is to work towards optimum moving image access for our users, underpinned by a core BL capability but working with collections elsewhere, to be integrated with the other kinds of resources that the BL holds.

Our plan has three main elements to it. Element one is to develop the delivery of moving images across particular subject areas. Already, thanks to the work of the Sound Archive, we are strong in areas such as popular music, drama, and oral history. We want to develop such specialisms further, to benefit researchers where we know there is particular need.

Element two is to develop a general moving image service and capability in line with other services that BL offers for texts, still images, maps, etc. By general I mean a service that can offer something for researchers across for many subject areas. To do so we will be establishing a digital video management system (or Video Server, as it’s being called). This will host some of our existing moving image collection, but its main business will be to record television news programmes. This will fulfil a real research need, and with the exciting possibility of integrating such a service with our newspaper holdings in some way.

We will be recording news programmes (television and radio) off-air, using a system called Box of Broadcasts which has been developed by Cambridge Imaging Systems. The intention is to concentrate on 24-hour news channels available through Freeview and Freesat, content which is generally not available anywhere else to researchers post-transmission. The system is being built now, and will be ready to start recording in April. However, it won’t become a public service until late next year at the earliest, not least because we want to have some time to build up a body of content. However, there will be some public tests of the service along the way. Access will be onsite only – we are able to record programmes to deliver access to them at our St Pancras site, but for copyright reasons not on the Web.


There's a lot of video out there, or so it seems

Element three is longer-term, and involves working with other institutions collectively to deliver extensive access to moving image content. You may feel that in an iPlayer and YouTube world that we are awash with video content already, but in truth only a tiny amount is really available for research. Much needs to be done before we are in a position where it is as easy for a researcher to gain access to a film or video recording at any time as it is a book or journal article. We have statutory deposit for the printed word in this country, and that means that – in principle – every book printed in this country now and in the past is available. You may have to go through some hoops to get hold of some titles, but the principle remains.

Moving images are specifically excluded from UK statutory deposit legislation, as are sound recordings. It says a lot about how moving images are viewed in our culture that this is so. There is a form of legal deposit for television, because under the Communications Act the British Film Institute records selected British television programmes from the terrestrial commercial television channels (the BBC archives its own output), but in general there is no guarantee that a film, video or programme that you would like to see for study purposes will be available to you, because no one is able, legally or technically, to keep it all.

But there is much that we can do to improve the situation, by having the major institutions work together. You may have read of the British Library and the BBC signing a memorandum of understanding at the end of 2009. A lot can come out of the signing of such agreements to co-operate.

Here’s a vision of how things could work in the future. You, the researcher, are interested in Hamlet. You want to read the play. You want to look up the critical literature. You would like to listen to interviews undertaken with actors who have taken on the role. You would like to see images of set designs or costumes. You would like to see films based on the play. You would like all of this to appear through one search facility and the results to be delivered to you on one screen. Some of the content would come from the British Library. Some of it would come from other places, identified as belonging to them, but available in this same digital place. You might then want it all on the Web or your mobile as well, and that will be harder to achieve – but on site, we could do it.

This isn’t about making research easy (good research won’t ever be easy). It’s about changing the nature of research, and about encouraging new discovery. If you find the video or the sound recording alongside the text, that leads to new forms of discovery, new conclusions, new research outputs. It’s a goal worth working towards.

05 February 2010

Seeing SeeSaw


I've been testing out SeeSaw, the newest kid on the IPTV block. It's an archive and catch-up service for television programming - currently BBC, Channel 4 (4oD) and Five programmes - and it's very good. Clearly laid out, easy to use, good quality image, smooth playing, helpful programme information, adverts at the start and middle of programmes none too obtrusive - a very polished offering. Before you rush off and follow the link, do note that it is in Beta mode only at present, and only available to test by invitation. But leave them your email, and you may get invited and start spreading the word for them, just like I'm doing.

So, where did SeeSaw come from? Well its history is one of the most interesting things about it. Cast your minds back to 2007 and word started to spread of an exciting new project being developed by BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4, with the curious title of Project Kangaroo. Kangaroo was going to be the future of television (or at least one of the futures of television). It would be an archive of television content on the Web, representing collectively the interests of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and maybe others. However, the beautiful idea ran foul of the Competition Commission after complaints raised by those such as Sky who weren't part of the plans. The debate dragged on, Kangaroo chief Ashley Highfield (who had quit the BBC as Director of Future Media and Technology to take on this new project) left to join Microsoft, and eventually the Competition Commission announced (February 2009) that the project could not go ahead.


Part of the SeeSaw programme details page for Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness

However, money had already been spend on the technology, and in mid-2009 a broadcast technology company named Arqiva stepped in and bought up the Kangaroo technical infrastructure, to build their own readymade IPTV service. The result is SeeSaw (which had been considered as a name for the service during the Kangaroo period). As said, it's an impressive service. Programmes available include The Trials of Life, Shameless, The Ascent of Money, Around the World in 80 Days and Skins, categorised under Comedy, Drama, Factual, Lifestyle, Entertainment and Sport. Moreover there's a catch-up service for recent TV programming (again, BBC, 4oD and Five only), so I've just caught up with the first half of the excellent Tower Block of Commons which I'd managed to miss first time around.

However, SeeSaw faces an increasingly crowded market. We already have BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand Five for the main terrestrial channels. A similar aggregator site offering programming from BBC, ITV and Channel 4 was launched late last year by Microsoft (Ashley Highfield no less), MSN Video Player, which does much that SeeSaw does. Meanwhile, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, British Telecom and TalkTalk have joined forces behind another 'project', Project Canvas. This isn't quite the same as Kangaroo (though would undoubtedly have had a close relationship with it). Canvas is about establishing common standards for IPTV so that web TV and broadcast TV can come together in one glorious package on your television. The result would be the next step on from Freeview (so that's be another set-top box you'll be needing to find space for). The third public consultation by the BBC Trust on Canvas has just ended. It has faced a lot of opposition from other broadcasters, particularly Sky, but a lot is now riding on it.

So what does this all mean for scholarly access to television content? As far as catch-up services like iPlayer and video-on-demand archive TV services like SeeSaw goes, it means that we have marvellously easy access to a rather small body of content which tends to be repeated from service to service. 4oD is taking us beyond recent and familiar programming to make available a large amount of archive content, and we're all waiting to send what the next moves will be from the BBC as it continues to develop its new archive strategy. Access is improving all the while (albeit streamed rather than content for downloading and re-use), but still huge amounts lie hidden, kept so by costs, rights issues, and just the sheer amount of content building up in the archives. Off-air recording services in UK universities working under licence through an exception in the Copyright Act mean that much recent television content is available to researchers on campus, but so much more remains out of sight. It's the hidden content that we need to concentrate on - the market is making the cream available very nicely indeed.

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