A Tech Triennial?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but despite the unscheduled delay in proceedings posting during Mobile World Congress 09 seems appropriate…

A couple of weeks ago Waldemar Januszczak, the Sunday Times art critic wrote a damning review of the forth Tate Triennial; or rather he penned a damning feature on the state of the British art scene, which is currently on show at Tate Britain.

Admittedly a contemporary art retrospective wouldn’t ordinarily provide the stimulus for a DERT blog, but these are no ordinary times, and the review struck a chord. It was the concept of a triennial that prompted my thoughts to drift back to DERT, and over the past few weeks I’ve been mulling over the differences between the contemporary art world and that of the consumer tech industry. OK. OK. You might think that the differences are so stark that it shouldn’t take weeks to ‘mull over’, but bear with me…

Waldemar writes about “France in the 1860s, when the Paris salon became too powerful and the impressionist revolt needed to happen to revive art. The Tate is the salon of today: pompous, arrogant, all-powerful and utterly convinced of its superiority.” He refers to two exciting modern art movements that were a direct bi-product and reaction to the Tate’s pretentions (the Lisson Sculptors of the 1980s, and the YBA’s of the 1990s – Hirst, Emin and co.).

So how does this relate to DERT territory? Think of Damien Hirst (in his formaldehyde days, rather than encrusted skulls) as Spotify. Think of the Tate as the Brit Awards. Here is a company reacting against the accepted norm of the establishment (i.e. the music industry), and presenting a modern solution to a modern problem (i.e how to generate revenue, when the consumer demands free content). OK, so Hirst’s calf in a tank never resuscitated a flagging industry (well, unless you count the art market that boomed until recently) but you get my point. Tech Start-ups = young, revolutionary artists.

So back to Mobile World Congress. The very nature of the tech industry means that new pieces of ‘art’ are regularly showcased at trade events – CES, ISE, MWC etc etc. Start-ups clamour for noise at these shows and I suppose this is no different to how the Impressionists were overlooked by the Paris Salon. However, my point isn’t really about the struggle of new kids vs the old dogs. It’s more that we always look to the future. We’re all concerned with the next big thing, the upgrade, the new must-have piece of kit. True, coverage of this year’s event in Barcelona has looked at how the show differs from last year, especially regarding turnout. But this is economic observation, rather than a result of the new technologies and services on show.

Looking to the future is natural when emerging technologies evolve so quickly. But what if we took the time to reflect, as the art world does? What if the tech community held a triennial where the technologies of the previous three years were presented? Sure, there would be no commercial sense in a brand showcasing products whose shelf-life had expired, but what lessons would we learn, what patterns would emerge between trends, what new technologies would have already disappeared?

Kangaroo court

Following the ruling, a few analysts (Arash @ Screen Digest, Nick Thomas @ Forrester/Jupiter) have come out and criticized the competition commission for a lack of foresight – Pirates must be delighted (Nick Thomas, Forrester).

And while the collaboration may be denied,  the constituent players are still able to throttle competition: “Between ITV.com, Channel 4.com and Kangaroo’s core site, there will be little space left in the nascent online TV advertising market for the likes of Five, BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) and MTV. We believe the provisional findings suggest a lack of familiarity with online content markets.”

Arash at Screen Digest lamented the demise of the service that Didn’t know what it was

Was it a subscription archive service? Was it an ad-supported archive service? Was it a catch-up service? Was it both but in different windows? Was it free or paid? Would it feature US hit shows or not? 

At some point during the 20 months of its short life, Project Kangaroo was one or all of these things. In many respects, it was the brainchild of a confused pre-“iPlayer 2.0” era…

…Kangaroo was a waste of time and effort on the part of both ITV and Channel 4. As the dust settles, the focus will rightly shift towards ITV Player and 4oD which, if the BBC iPlayer and Demand Five are anything to be measured by, will have to make up for lost time if they don’t want to get lost in the noise. “

It’s certainly set the major broadcasters over here back a few steps, but opened a window of opportunity for others and all agree the market will continue to become more competitive.

We thought there was also an interesting – if slightly xenophobic – assertion in the ruling that UK viewers particularly valued programmes produced and originally shown in the UK!

Research is always an interesting beast –  ask the man on the street what his favourite programme is and you can be confident it’ll be most recent show he’s seen and enjoyed; with the most popular content still found on the (dominant) terrestrial channels, of course UK viewers will seem to value UK produced shows.

The real reason this hooker our interest is because the ruling came out the day after The Culture Show ran a brilliant piece by Greg Dyke on the success of HBO. The raft of high-quality, challenging shows coming out of HBO (the Wire, Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Desperate House Wives) is increasingly recognized and lauded over here, at stark comparison to the home-grown dirge of reality eye-wash and mediocre ‘safe’ material – It’s all chewing gum for the eyes! (unable to access iPlayer? check accompanying Guardian piece here).

Ultimately, the consumer demand for high-quality, coupled with the increasing awareness of online video, means that regardless of Kangeroo cancellations market growth is a certainty here.

LiveNation and Ticketmaster to merge

To sort of quote the Spice Girls two could become one if Ticketmaster Entertainment and LiveNation merge.  As the Wall Street Journal reports today:

The combined company would be called Live Nation Ticketmaster ; and would merge the world’s biggest concert promoter with the world’s dominant ticketing and artist management company.

History tends to show that no one really likes it when something gets too big:  Jack and the Bean stalk, Ghost Busters Pillsbury Doughboy, Jessica Simpson.  In the business world words like ‘anti-competitive’ and ‘monopoly’ tend to get bandied about and people get hacked off .   ‘The Boss’ definitely isn’t happy about it: 

“…the one thing that would make the current ticket situation even worse for the fan than it is now would be Ticketmaster and Live Nation coming up with a single system, thereby returning us to a near monopoly situation in music ticketing. Several newspapers are reporting on this story right now. If you, like us, oppose that idea, you should make it known to your representatives.”

The other word that you tend to hear when things get too big is “antitrust” and its likely that this merger is unlikely to go ahead faced with such scrutiny.  Its even rumoured that good ol Barak Obama will oppose the deal (I am sure it has nothing to do with the high profile support he recieved from The Boss during his electoral campaign….)