Category Archives: Media 2.0

Olympics in the age of corporatism

The industrial revolution arrives in the UK in an Olympics Opening Ceremony depicting Milton’s Pandæmonium. (Image from UK Government collection accessible on flickr.)

So, who watched the Olympic opening ceremony? According to the BBC the UK audience was 27 million and the global audience was ‘guesstimated’ to be anything from 1 to 4 billion. All these figures are notional of course – I suspect that the actual number of viewers for the full four hours was a lot less. The ceremony itself was interesting I think for two reasons. The first was the way in which it engaged with national typing – both in the selection of  ‘British’ images and, to a lesser extent, the ‘self-typing’ of the various national sporting bodies that selected the outfits their athletes would wear. The second aspect was the sense of fun that Danny Boyle and his team injected into the whole thing and how much it helped to shift the emphasis away from the horrible corporatism of the whole event. The politics of the opening event are well-covered in Anthony Barnett’s impressive essay on the Open Democracy website. He says most of what I would want to say about how the opening ceremony undercut the corporate capitalist imagery of the rest of the games. I’d only add that in all the praise for Danny Boyle, it’s worth pointing out that one of his most astute decisions was to invite Frank Cottrell Boyce on board as the show’s writer. I’m sure that those children on NHS beds were a product of collaboration between Danny and Frank.

After a week of watching snippets of coverage from many of the different Olympics events, my overall feeling is that the enthusiasm of the support and the performances of the athletes has so far managed to lift the games above the negativity many of us felt given the corporate nature of the event. The branding requirements of the official sponsors is one of the worst crimes but it was at least some relief to learn that campaigns to shame corporations like McDonalds and Coca Cola into foregoing some of the tax breaks they might have exploited as part of their sponsorship.

We’ve used the Olympic Games as a case study for various media studies topics in previous editions of The Media Student’s Book. It’s almost as if each games signals a new development in media use. The London Games is smaller in scale than those of Beijing, but arguably bigger in terms of media coverage. Here are a few observations that media teachers might follow up:

Too much coverage?: How do media outlets balance the games coverage with other news and entertainment material over the fortnight? The BBC has coverage on four TV channels plus three radio channels – and its website. Place the front page of the Guardian next to the front page of its Olympics Sports Supplement and each day the same or similar full page images mean that you have to look carefully to distinguish which is which. Civil war in Syria? – you need to look carefully inside.

News/sport commentators – are they the same?: The BBC got a bloody nose over the Jubilee coverage because it was deemed to have used ‘entertainment’ presenters without the knowledge or skills to deal with outside broadcast events. The Olympics coverage has meant some ‘news’ journalists fronting sports programmes and some sports journalists appearing on breakfast TV in ‘news/current affairs’ slots.  So far this seems to have worked out very well. I’d pick out four women who are having a great games. Hazel Irvine is an Olympics veteran and the ultimate professional sports journalist. Breakfast TV improved immensely when she co-hosted this week. Gabby Logan and Clare Balding have nothing to prove as presenter/interviewers and it’s time that they permanently replaced some of the less dynamic male sports presenters (on Match of the Day for a start). The real surprise for me has been to see one of the BBC’s top newsreaders Mishal Husain doing a very good job fronting sports coverage.

Fans – how far can they go?: The corporate nature of the Olympics extends over a wide range of issues. One concerns the relationships between fans and athletes. Bringing professionals earning millions into the Olympics in sports like tennis, football and basketball inevitably brings with it the scandals and celebrity gossip attached to millionaire players. At the same time, prominent track athletes and cyclists are now celebrity figures in the UK are now sponsored and their image is exploited in advertising contracts. However, the Olympics also implies a more personal relationship between athletes and fans and a sense that “they are doing it for us” or “for our country”.

Twitter is one of the relatively recent innovations in Olympics coverage and it features heavily in in commentary and interviews with athletes. Does this improve coverage? Perhaps, but the Twitter bullying of some athletes is unacceptable. Most of the victims in British sports this year have been millionaire footballers who perhaps bring it on themselves, but others (Fabrice Muamba?) deserve protection. Diver Tom Daley has a celebrity profile – does he deserve abuse?

Facebook and Twitter are distractions for athletes – one Australian swimmer has blamed her lack of concentration and focus on ‘over-indulgence’ in social media. How much privacy should athletes have – and how much attention should they pay to the fans who have paid so much to see them? This is the basis for the media story about the swimmers with their headphones who block out the noise of the crowd with their own choice of hip-hop or other music. A sensible aid to focus, an insult to the fans or simply a function of the modern corporate games?

British athlete Maureen Gardner at the 1948 Olympics in London – in the era before corporatism and designer kit. From a collection of photos from the Daily Herald Archive, held at the National Media Museum and accessible on flickr

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Social media and cinema use

Do you tweet about the films you see or perhaps invite your friends to a cinema screening of a new film via your Facebook page? The film industry has started to think about how to exploit the social media opportunities of the films they distribute but according to a report by Film3Sixty – a marketing company in the UK – they haven’t yet really grasped how important these new developments might be.

I’ve written about this report on The Case for Global Film. It comes up with some interesting findings about the most frequent cinema visitors, dividing them up into four groups: Blockbuster Only, Blockbuster Mainly, Indie Mainly and Indie Only. Which group do you fit into if you are a regular cinemagoer? It seems that some groups use Facebook and YouTube, some use Twitter and some avoid social media altogether.

Archives and Re-releases

Judy Garland in ‘Meet Me in St Louis’ was ‘back’ in selected UK cinemas over Christmas 2011

In earlier editions of MSB we noted two important ways in which archives have been utilised by media industries. In the 1980s Hollywood studios (and other controllers of large film libraries like StudioCanal) realised that the value still wrapped up in library titles could be exploited by the new technologies that introduced multi-channel television and its insatiable demand for product. Hollywood had always re-released major films like Gone With the Wind at regular intervals but the value of all film libraries certainly increased when the opportunities to exploit them multiplied.

Music recordings were slightly different before the 1980s since many consumers already owned significant collections of shellac and vinyl discs. Clever marketing then helped to persuade them to buy some of the same recordings again on new formats, first on cassette and then CD. The new formats promised better quality and greater convenience – and perhaps less chance of accidental damage. However, when the move to digital came the music industry found that the next new format, digital MP3 files, allowed easy copying and instead of boosting sales through re-selling popular recordings, the loss of revenue threatened the industry’s long term future.

Now, it appears, the music majors are looking more seriously at their archives of unreleased material – alternate takes, aborted sessions etc. As it becomes more expensive to develop and promote new music acts which don’t necessarily sell recordings commensurate with the popularity of their music, why not turn to material by established stars that has already been paid for?

Kate Bush borrows an idea from cinema

As the market ages – remember the “£50 bloke” of a few years ago? – releases of “never heard before” material from Pink Floyd are due to join Kate Bush’s explorations and re-interpretations of her back catalogue on the ‘Director’s Cut’ Album. These releases although probably ‘copiable’ in digital format do offer something different, something ‘extra’ as suggested by the ‘generatives’ proposed by Kevin Kelly (see MSB5 p254). Collectors may be willing to buy a box set of alternate versions of well-known Pink Floyd songs, especially when packaged with material that can’t be copied so easily. The packages are known as ‘Immersion’ releases.

Jean Vigo's 'L'Atalante' on re-release from 20th January 2012

Digital cinema has seen another twist on the use of archives that is the product of the economics of digital distribution. Cinema re-releases of classic or cult films has again had a long history. Even so it required careful judgement of the market to make it work financially. A 35mm film print costs around £1,000 to produce. So it was often only possible to put out a single print that toured cinemas and which without the benefit of promotion and marketing could only attract small audiences. Now a 2K digital print on a hard drive costs a few hundred pounds to master and duplicate so that a digital copy of an archive film can be stored on the ‘theatre systems’ of several cinemas at the same time.  Perhaps you saw Meet Me in St. Louis or It’s a Wonderful Life over the Christmas period? Perhaps I can interest you in the restored version of Les Enfants du Paradis as well? In truth this is a development that hasn’t been fully exploited yet – it needs to reach the multiplex in areas where there isn’t an established independent arthouse cinema. But if you’ve never seen a classic black and white film on a big screen in a brand new digital print, I’d urge you to take the plunge. There’s nothing like it! In the next few weeks one of the three completed films by the cinema’s first great youth rebels, Jean Vigo, goes on release. Read about L’Atalante here and discover some of the first screening dates.

Here’s a clip from YouTube:

Killing the game?

Whatever your views on how we got into recession, most of us would agree that a shrinking economy is not a good thing (even if initially it means less energy consumption). The UK is now plagued by austerity policies which may end up making the situation worse, not better.

Some media industries – those that don’t rely directly on selling advertising space – have thrived during previous recessions. Cinema, especially in the 1930s, grew rapidly in the US and UK. A recent report announced that a season ticket to watch Premiership football was the last thing that fans would give up if their income fell.

But, outside Hollywood, cinema has often needed forms of government support. In Europe, film industries are heavily dependent on ‘soft money’ – tax concessions, loans and grants. In return for public spending, governments expect to see both cultural and economic benefits from healthy media industries. The economic benefits of soft funding are well set out in a report that can be downloaded free from the UK Film Council.

What this report demonstrates is that public funding support for media industries is not a luxury but a necessity. Without it, a major industry may falter with jobs being lost. Reducing the spend by 25% as current austerity plans dictate is likely to have a negative multiplier effect – i.e. losing more than 25% in revenues and future benefits for the economy.

Videogames

Many commentators argue that the video games industry internationally is now challenging the film industry in terms of economic value. (See Chapter 7 in MSB5.) The US and Japan are the major international players in this industry, but the UK and France have jostled for third place for some time. Now, because of lack of public funding support, UK games companies and individual games designers are leaving the UK and moving to where support is available. Multinational games companies are closing operations in the UK and moving them to South Korea, Australia and, especially, Canada where such support is more easily available. In this context it isn’t surprising that what is left of the UK games industry was shocked by the recent budget decision to withdraw the planned scheme for tax relief announced by the previous Labour government. The story and its background are covered in detail in Guardian reports. When Labour’s plans were announced in March, this was the reaction from the industry:

. . . Richard Wilson, the chief executive of the trade association Tiga, which is only 10 years old, says the decision “will more than pay for itself. We predict over the next five years tax relief should result in the creation of 3,500 graduate level jobs, another £457m of investment into the sector, and £415m in tax receipts for the Treasury.” (Guardian 29/3/2010)

Now that the decision is reversed, there must be a few thousand would-be graduate games designers thinking about how they can move to Canada or South Korea.

World Cup 2010

Every two years a major global sporting event throws up a series of media issues and debates. The World Cup kicks off in a few weeks and the next Summer Olympics arrives in London in 2012.

Now seems a good time to prepare for the media stories of South Africa 2010. Some of these are predictable. For instance, the international film industry is all too aware of the impact of televised football on cinema attendances during major televised football competitions – especially in Europe. One of the ways of attracting audiences is with counter-programming of films deemed more attractive to women who might be looking for an escape from football. The World Cup starts on June 11. Sex and the City 2 – the major Summer blockbuster targeting women – was released in North America and worldwide on 28 May. Was this too early? Or does the studio hope to have created such a buzz by June 11 that groups of women will be returning for repeat screenings?

Not sure why this poster gives the date June 10 – unless the release date was changed at the last moment – but the creative idea behind the ad seems pretty straightforward. . . .

. . . and of course, advertising is what the World Cup is really about – the exploitation of the brands of famous footballers alongside global brands. There is too much of it to go into in detail here, so perhaps we should first collect together some of the campaigns first and then pick out some of the issues. I’m willing to bet that one will be the woeful misrepresentation of Africa and South Africa in particular. The most high-profile campaign usually comes from Nike and this year’s features Christian Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney as star attractions:

I’m not sure how to describe this clip – a meta advertisement? Mexican film director Alejandro González Iñárittu discusses his ‘Write the Future’ ad which features Didier Drogba and Roger Federer as well as Homer Simpson – so it isn’t really about South Africa 2010 at all. For that we have to turn to Puma. The German company sponsors four African National Teams in the World Cup Finals (Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana and Ivory Coast) and so it’s not surprising it celebrates African football. It’s great to see a representation of African footballers playing in Africa. Enjoy!