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Creative Industries Strategy: Write up from the recent Industry Panel Discussion at the RSA, London

This guest post is submitted by Tom Campbell, a Creative Industries KTN Associate.

At the London briefing event on September 30th for the Technology Strategy Board’s 'Cross-Platform Production in Digital Media' and 'Frictionless Commerce' competitions, an industry panel discussed some of the major issues and innovation challenges they are facing.

Chair: Frank Boyd, Creative Industries KTN; Simon Hopkins, Creative Industries KTN; Martin Alltimes, The Imaginarium Studios; Amanda Boyle, Director at Film, TV, Experimental & Branded; Chris Doran, Geomerics; Marc Goodchild, Syncscreen,TV

The Chair Frank Boyd began the session by asking the panel to describe their ‘moon shot’ – their high-level vision of what they want the industry to look like, and the challenges they would most like to be addressed over the next few years.

Martin Alltimes began by describing the work being done at Imaginarium Studios, which he saw as indicative of his vision for the future. Here, the very latest technologies, such as depth-perception cameras and real-time rendering, are being used to enable, rather than replace, creative expression.  Martin looks forward to a time when, whether it’s a fantasy film or a video game, an actor’s performance and a director’s vision can be captured authentically, unencumbered by unwieldy and complex equipment.

With a focus more on television and online production, Marc Goodchild described how in the course of a more than a decade of making cross-platform content, particularly for children and young people, he has been struck by the quality, innovation and range of ideas. But the sector is still struggling to make these a reality, and remains hobbled by long-standing problems, ranging from conservative commissioners through to skills shortages.

Echoing Marc, Amanda Boyle felt that many of the creative elements are already in place, with talent across the arts and technology sectors, from theatre and literature through to software. The challenge is to develop the storytelling structure that can draw all of this together, and the commissioning space that can make it happen.

Simon Hopkins gave a vision of the future based in part on his experience from the music industry. It is thought that there are over 22 million individual pieces of music on iTunes, a figure which may well reach the hundreds of millions. This is a fabulous thing for anyone who loves music, but also presents new challenges in how people can navigate and access so much content. Whether it is an issue of meta-data, interface design, platform proliferation, inter-operability or intellectual property regulation, much needs to be done before the market for all audio-visual content, functions effectively.

Chris Doran was more focused on production, outlining a long-held wish for content creation tools to be powerful enough to make console games and feature films, but with the same simplicity to use as Minecraft. When people are able to create their own worlds without having to become experts in highly specialist production tools and software, then a new point will have been reached in unlocking the creative powers of artists and storytellers.

Frank observed that for most of the panellists it was storytelling, rather than technology, that remained the central impulse. The panel agreed and, over the course of the discussion and Q+A session, identified a number of barriers that are currently holding back C21st storytelling:

  • The great ambition is still to achieve genuine ‘interactive storytelling’, in which advances in natural interfaces and navigational perspectives, and other technologies, can give people a compelling experience of shaping their own narrative.
  • Too often, people (and especially commissioners) want to know ‘what it will look like’ at the beginning, rather than the end, of a production. This inhibits innovation and a more agile approach to managing a creative project. While well-known formats (such as TV shows) can be demonstrated to potential commissioners, it is much more challenging for cross-platform productions.
  • Getting development finance for innovative cross-platform productions remains difficult – indeed, is arguably harder than it was five years ago. Commissioners still tend to favour the form they are most comfortable with (e.g. television), and rely on the writers and producers they know best.
  • Collaboration is becoming increasingly vital, as no single organisation has all the answers. The Technology Strategy Board competitions are an important means of encouraging this, particularly with research institutes – but ultimately, these kinds of projects must be business-led.
  • The relationship between Technology Strategy Board and Creative Skillset is to be welcomed, as the creative industries struggle to develop ‘multi-faceted producers’, who are confident across a wide range of technologies and platforms.
  • As well as technology and skills, the right business models and funding streams need to be in place, so that spaces can be developed for experiment, collaboration and risk-taking. 

The Cross-platform Production Tools and Frictionless Commerce competitions are now open for application. Full details about both of these competitions including scope, application process, key dates and further briefing events are available here.

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