Moving image as a business tool and a corporate value

I was lucky enough to work with the University of Sussex recently and helped organise a discussion about television values and ideology.

The topic might sound a little highbrow but it addresses some of the fundamental issues around the use and abuse of a powerful medium – whether you’re:

  • bloggers looking to introduce a little video into your mix
  • commercial television companies seeking the next X Factor
  • charities trying to tap into public consciousness
  • commercial organisations looking to oil the wheels of doing business
  • or audiences looking to be entertained, or informed (or a bit of both).

It got me thinking…

Say the word “television” and I initially think of the traditional box in the living room but this is way too old school. The ‘vision’ bit is fairly self explanatory. ‘Tele’ comes from the Greek for ‘far’ or ‘distant’. I had to look that last bit up, but I’m glad I did.

Looked at this way, television is a more apt catch all term than video or audio-visual when it comes to describing the many ways moving images are now delivered into our personal living rooms: that bit of tech space we surround ourselves with as we navigate the world.

If I watch a YouTube video on my smartphone to keep boredom at bay on a train journey, or dip into a Ted Talk on my computer, instead of getting on with some real work, it is, to all intents and purposes, tele-vision. It just so happens that traditional television, delivered and consumed in a linear fashion, accounts for the bulk of it. But the lessons learned can be applied much more widely.

The presentations that formed part of the University of Sussex event covered a huge range of material from how the traveller community has been framed by a Big Fat prefix that modulates our perceptions of their culture and values – some fantastic work done by the event’s organiser Roberta Piazza, Senior Lecturer in English Language – through to Clive Jones, Chairman, Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), and his thought provoking insights on how a disaster appeal must also have televisual appeal if it is to tap into mass market heart strings and purse strings.

You can download a full list of speakers and topics at the end of this blog.

Images as part of the giving process

Mother nature doing her worst under the baleful gaze of the camera can focus attention in a way that aid workers working discreetly in politically fraught environments cannot.

Identify an aid worker by showing them on television one day and one faction or another might take a shot at them the next. Nonetheless, the giving public evaluate available images as part of the giving process. It is a transaction. I receive an image that triggers a response that provokes me to give. Quid pro quo.

Of course, not all of us are looking at this from academic or charitable perspectives. But any organisation considering moving images needs to think about both value and ideology.

Value first. Why use images and is there additional value in images that move?

There is significant research that indicates that images can have a powerful impact. They can aid charitable giving and foster trust in commerce. The images need to make sense.  Whether you’re selling a cause or a product they need need to work and not just take up space (attention and real estate) – show after as well as before, particularly in the case of charitable campaigns.

Givers need to know how money will be spent and be shown images that support this. In the commercial world, potential purchasers respond positively to images of past customers in receipt of their purchases.

But what about images that move? The value of movement has long been recognised. Laws of public decency used to pivot around this point, making nudity legal when static but more desirable when in motion.

But what got me excited was some research I came across under the title ‘At the Heart of It All: The Concept of Presence’ (Lombard and Ditton, 2006), which indicates that virtual reality simulators, video conferencing, home theatre and HD TV provide users with an illusion that: ‘a mediated experience is not mediated’.

In effect, the more like reality it is the more we take it at face value and believe what we see. Moving images are more lifelike. The more like life then the greater these images may play in helping us store information, retreive it and and make decisions based upon it. Moving images also create a degree of harmonised experience shared by watchers. Powerful things all.

Now to ideology. That’s a tricky area.

In a commercial sense this has to be the system of ideas and principles that underpin use. In terms of an organisation looking to use moving images this would seem to cover not just having an ephemeral vision but practical strategy governing that use and budget and goals that can be as ambitious as you like, but have to be evaluated against actual performance (who came, who saw, who bought/gave). Moving images are sexy but that’s not a good enough reason for using them.

If I have an issue with regular TV it’s that as the images have become more real the values and ideology that underpin them become less so. So-called reality TV shows are now no more that poorly rehearsed dramas.

If there’s a fly on the wall it’s only because the documentary-style footage on often smells distinctly fishy.

Finally, to this paradigm I add the concept of self. If as an organisation you plan to use moving image you are also up against not only your competitors and peers but the global audience of individuals who both record moving images and upload them through social media. Welcome to the world of ME-TV. And the subject of my next blog.


Values and ideology in TV discourse: A one-day interdisciplinary colloquium on recent research, University of Sussex – School of English, Friday, November 22nd 2013. Speakers and topics: Values and ideology in TV discourse

Steampunk digital

I’m currently working on a website project for a charity operating in Asia with what might reasonably be described as a shoestring budget.

The strategy for the work is predicated on making the most of all the ‘established’ freeware and open source options available and bringing them together with a little ingenuity.

Underpinning it all is a content strategy designed to build a strong digital footprint, which will: raise their profile, optimise revenues and seek to level the playing field between the organisation in question and the charity behemoths with bigger budgets and significantly more resources. Watch this space.

But the project has also got me thinking about how the technical design and build aspects of projects are specified and implemented within highly refined and defined processes, while content is often (and still) and afterthought; created on the hoof at the point of need and cobbled together from existing collateral, which was itself created for entirely another purpose and delivery mechanism.

What would happen if we flipped the model above, introduced a little steampunk to our technical specification and, instead and as a rule, applied far more rigour, process and resource to the content?

Welcome to steampunk digital…

steam punk digital showing an old fashion steam engine hooked up to modern computer devicesIt you’re not familiar with steampunk, it started out as a literary genre that blended science fiction with Victorian ingenuity and their fondness for embellishment. For those of you who can remember that far back, I’d cite the 1999 movie Wild Wild West, with Will Smith, Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh, as a visual reference.

Steampunk isn’t afraid of a little make do and mend. It likes to show what’s going on under the bonnet (hood and head). It is intelligent design with a little bit of Jules Verne imagination. Experience tells me that all projects come with finite energy resource. If too much goes into the technical side there is so much less for the content side of things. All aspects of a project require a full head of steam.

My Top 5 Tips for Steampunk Digital…

Figure 1 Don’t reinvent the wheel. There’s a lot of free stuff out there. Plus, no matter how unique you think your project is somebody will have tackled something like it before. Researching tools, software, competitors and comparators thoroughly can save time, money and red faces.


Figure 2 Apportion time and energy – not just budget. If you think solely in terms of money you start ascribing cheap v. expensive values to things which should not be viewed in those terms. On so many projects the content creation is seen as expensive in pounds and pence terms because organisations think it’s just about writing stuff.


Figure 3 Think ‘elegance’ and ‘finesse’ but only after you’ve thought ‘usefulness’ and ‘clarity’. Oh so clever apps, widgets, Flash modules, social media gizmos… only work if they assist the user and are grounded in a clear business case.


Figure 4 If you don’t know where the bonnet (hood) release is – don’t buy the car. I have ‘walked around’ content management systems where the only thing populating the meta data fields are tumble weed and lost opportunities. If you can’t see how it works you won’t use it properly. Good steampunk is predicated on understanding and being able to use something (and fix or adapt it).


Figure 5 The greatest steam engines ever designed do not work without steam and content is steam. Don’t build it if you can’t be bothered to fuel it (and keep it fueled0. It is a constant stream of content that delivers your website, email programme, social media campaign, etc, etc, to the audiences you want to reach and gets them where they want to go.

Will the new legal guidelines for social media make things better? It’s up to you…

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has issued new guidelines setting out the approach courts and police forces should take in cases involving social media. The new rules are described as ‘interim’ and will be accompanied by a three month public consultation period.

My worry is that while a lot of consulting may go on the rules won’t get stress tested – or stress tested enough – through prosecutions in that time. Lots of talk. Very little test driving. Personally, I wouldn’t buy a car built this way.

But if that’s the way it’s got to be it behooves all of us to get out there and kick the tyres on this one.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, is drawing a distinction between two types of ‘communication’:

  1. Credible threats of violence, targeted campaigns of harassment against individuals, or which breach court orders.
  2. Other communications which are ‘grossly offensive’.

Quoted in the CPS blog he states: “The first group will be prosecuted robustly whereas the second group will only be prosecuted if they cross a high threshold”.

Even then, this second group may escape the courts if the offensive communication is taken down swiftly, or blocked. That sounds fine in principle but it’s the nature of such remarks to go viral at hyper-speed, given the sharing tools that accompany social media. If I retract something swiftly but it has already been widely disseminated by others, how does that work? The Saville/McAlpine case speak to this very clearly.

What will ‘grossly offensive’ actually mean?

The emphasis seems to be on the protection of the individual. Again the question is how prosecutors might weight ‘grossly offensive’ and whether the cult of celebrity might have undue influence.

A schoolgirl trolled by a handful of individuals may be more deeply hurt than a top footballer who finds allegations of sexual indiscretion bandied about the Twitter streams of millions.

Celebrities, or other high ranking, high net worth individuals, also have more ways of protecting themselves and can, for example, fund redress through the civil courts.

The individual versus the organisation

The guidelines are not designed to prevent freedom of expression but even that opens up a can of worms.

Is the harassment of an individual somehow more heinous than the harassment of an organisation?

Can I say something offensive about a hamburger chain but not lay the same claim against an individual employee?

And would the level of offense be viewed differently if the employee was a humble burger flipper as opposed to a senior executive?

This is the kind of stuff that keeps me awake at nights. It’s the guidelines around ‘grossly offensive’ which are liable to require the most decoding. The police and the courts would need to be satisfied that the communication in question was more than:

  • offensive
  • shocking
  • disturbing
  • satirical
  • iconoclastic (this one alone is a veritable minefield)
  • rude
  • an expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion
  • banter or humour, ‘even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it’.

Starting today

The interim guidelines don’t change the law but do, in effect, lay a pre-formed interpretation upon it. I don’t doubt the smarts of the people who came up with this but I do worry that their direct experience of social media might be… limited.

The approach they set out takes effect from today, so let’s take a real interest in what happens and bring our own understanding of social media into play when it comes to what the final guidelines might look like.

If I have a concern about the consultation process itself it’s that there seems to be a desire to focus responses on the specific framing of the interim guidelines rather than encouraging broader observations on the challenges involved in ‘policing’ social media and our protection both from it and as part of it.

By that I mean looking at what’s required to both protect our rights to speak up as well as protect our rights not to be shouted down or maligned.

There’s a kind of catch all ‘further comments’ question at the end on the consultation document, but that’s as far as it goes.

But for goodness sake get involved – whether you’re an individual or an organisation.

We need our own Doomsday Clock

The Doomsday Clock is maintained by scientists as a visual representation of how close we’re come to nuclear Armageddon. It currently stands at five minutes to midnight and it swings a minute or two in either direction depending on what’s happening in the world.

Scientists pushed it one minute closer to midnight on January 10, 2012, reflecting their decreasing confidence in global leaders to get on with each other. It was last pushed away from midnight back in 2007. It’s worth reviewing the clock timeline where you have a few minutes. The impact is… sobering. Doomsday Clock Timeline

I’ve come to the conclusion that those involved in content and its delivery need their own Doomsday Clock.

It needs to be broader than just a Digital Doomsday timepiece and if I call it the Information Doomsday Clock, people will just tell me to take more water with it.

Maybe I should start by describing what my Doomsday vision (nightmare) looks like. See if it’s sobering enough for you…

It’s a few years in the future

Digital content has been locked down due to the impact of increasingly onerous legislation that runs to hundreds of pages and has titles such as the Universal Information Storage & Transmission Protection & Security Act.

The prices of newspapers, magazines, books, pay per view (including on demand television), online news and resources have increased substantially.

This is because prices contain a corporate and public libel defamation insurance premium component designed to cover both the publisher and the consumer. (But as this has never been tested in the courts nobody’s sure if it will work or not.) This premium is referred to in the popular media as ‘the McAlpine tax’. Free to view and free to publish are almost unheard of for this reason. 70% of bloggers have ceased to blog.

As part of any job application process you have to list any online media you subscribe to including personal Twitter and Facebook feeds.

You have to sign a liability clause in your contract of employment indemnifying your employer against claims made against you as ‘publisher in person’ the new technical definition of anybody who uses media of any form to disseminate information of any type to known or unknown audiences, either directly or indirectly, personally or professionally, through intent or omission, with or without malice... The actual clause is much, much longer, obviously.

Accessing social media at work, or referring to employers or colleagues in posts, results in verbal and then written warnings being issued and can quickly lead to dismissal.

Most companies have ceased to use social media in a business context. Instead, nearly all marketing is handled via formal announcements published on LinkedIn Lite.

The storage capacity of computers and other hand-held devices is also limited by law and they have to be licensed.

When children are born they’re given a pre-set terabytage of cloud storage and a unique identification number which they keep all their lives.

The security encryption on cloud storage is significant but designated government authorities have the right to go in and review what you hold under the Virtual Criminal Activity & Anti Social Intent Pre-Offence Initiative Regulations.

I could go on but I’m feeling depressed now.

This is a joke, right?

The definition of a joke is something said or done to evoke laughter or amusement. Me? I’m just adjusting the hands on my new clock. It’s currently set at 3 minutes to midnight.

When scientists move the hands on the Doomsday Clock they’re hoping to scare the powers that be into getting to grips with the state of the world and make some changes. If the world explodes it won’t actually be because of a nuclear bomb but because President this and Prime Minister that failed to get round a table and sign up to some workable solutions.

I feel the same way about content (words, images, audio, print…). Forces are marshalling and what we don’t control, risk rate and mitigate these forces will prohibit or bind tightly in red tape.

What’s getting to me currently is that we’re addressing things in silos. Online over there. Offline over here. Governance in this jar. Content creation in that one. Financial compliance governed by this logic. Content compliance by that. In the meantime someone in IT is turning off your firewall so they can work on problems from their home computer (this one actually happened).

It’s not all bad. Yesterday I had a chance to peek inside one major news organisation and was blown away (possibly a bad choice of words, but you know what I mean), by how cutting edge their content governance is.

So here’s the thing. Let’s all start working on organisationally cohesive strategies that take in everything, including the user as publisher. For that I’ll take a good 10 minutes of the clock.