Monday, July 09, 2007

Funding visionontv


The current revolution in internet TV represents a historic opportunity for radical video to realize its potential as an agent for social change. To this end, Undercurrents has begun a project called VISIONonTV. This project is not mere video on the web, but IPTV, a television station which updates the twentieth century medium of television for the broadband era. It will be as to easy to use as the old box in your living room.

Internet TV is a fantastic opportunity for alternative media to get out of the activist ghetto, but without a concerted project such as VISIONonTV, oppositional television which gives a voice to the unrepresented will remain fragmented, of variable quality, and inaccessible to the majority.

Currently, and maddeningly, most social change video is only put on “youtube”, for lack of an alternative. Its poor technical quality and the inability to download makes it impossible to distribute for a non-broadband audience, for instance via cinematic screening. Also, the film is a hard-to-find radical titbit in a vast soup of random and variable content.

By contrast, VISIONonTV has a detailed plan to create, collate and curate high-quality radical and oppositional video on social justice and environmental issues in a single portal. Users will be able to download full DVD quality videos very quickly, allowing them to project them in a cinema, festival or community hall. Because the films are exclusively “creative commons”, viewers will also be able to burn them to DVD and pass them on to friends.

Through the 1990s, Undercurrents videos played a vital role in forging links between many of the previously separate movements. Peace, animal, environmental and economic campaigners displayed their similar visions of the world by watching each others' videos compiled on Undercurrents. VISIONonTV aims to do the same over the internet.

The VISIONonTV plan also includes the development and testing of the necessary open source software, and the making of this available generally to the internet community, with potentially huge knock-on benefits. The schedule and the budget of £97,000 provides for a full 2-year roll-out of the project, from July 2007 to June 2009. In Undercurrents' experience, the production side has always been the most difficult area to fund via charitable trusts, because of the overtly campaigning nature of much of the material. For this reason, we are approaching the ********.


By 2001 78% of households in the UK had a personal computer or laptop, and 64% of households had access to the internet. By 2003, 19 million adults in the UK were using the internet at home. And then came the explosion in broadband.

Fewer young people are watching television, according to a report by the

media watchdog Ofcom. Between December 2003 and December 2005, total TV

reach declined but the biggest fall was among young people – for 16-24 year-olds it fell by 2.9%. Now in 2007, young people are as likely to tune into youtube or google video as the TV.

This can be seen in the massive growth in viewers for internet tv shows in the last year. Techie show Rocketboom has 3-400,000 viewers a day, conspiracy thriller Pureownage has 2-3 million viewers per monthly episode, and radical political satire “This is the End of the World as We Know It” has 10-15,000 viewers per episode with no marketing.

What's On VISIONonTV?

Imagine a TV station which did not serve you a diet of lifestyle, reality and makeover TV, leaving you starving for occasional late-night programmes which interested you. Imagine instead a station which gave you high-quality, radical, grassroots TV from all around the world with a single mouse click, just like switching on the television.

A beta version of the station has begun (, with a number of embryonic TV channels.

Here is a selection of the content already available:

If you are concerned about Britain's declining civil liberties, tune into the “V” channel for Roddy Mansfield's incisive investigation of police surveillance “Video Cops”. And on the “Grassroots” channel watch the recent “Mass Lone Demos” (1184 separate demonstrations!) against the exclusion zone around Parliament with comedian Mark Thomas.

If you want action against climate change, watch the inspiring “Voices from the Camp for Climate Action” on “V”, and make plans to pitch your tent at this year's camp.

Or catch the trailer for “Ecovillage Pioneers” on “Coming Up”. Gain greater understanding of our own environment here in the UK by watching the “A-Z of Bushcraft”. And tune into “OfflineTV 4” to learn how to solar-power your laptop.

If you're interested in a radical viewpoint from Eastern Europe, view the “Balkan Babylon Rebels” channel to see a Roma community in Vojvodina campaigning to be supplied electricity, and the ins and outs of squatting in Serbia.

If you want to know more about the recent uprising in Oaxaca, Mexico or the latest about workers' control of their factories in Venezuela, tune into “Adelante” for all things on the Latin American revolutions.

If you're angry that yet again this September London will host Europe's largest arms fair, watch Indymedia UK's “Indefensible” to see what can be done about it.

Switch on “Broad Horizons” to hear from women video activists, from animators who got in the way of illegal fishing, and how women stopped a nuclear train.

If you want to know more about alternative media, try “What is Undercurrents?” on “V”, or watch “The Internet TV Revolution” on “OfflineTV”.

Technical development

VISIONonTV is currently using bittorrent technology to file-share videos among users free of charge, hosted at In addition, we are using two open source applications produced by the Participatory Culture Foundation. Broadcast Machine is the equivalent of station and transmitter, while Democracy Player is the digi-box and TV. Our aim is to develop DP to make it as simple as switching on the television. This is essential for subscriber take-up.

Subtitling is vital for the outreach of the project, and we will use the resources at

We will also develop an open source video editing package, free to the user.

For more detail on the technical development we need prior to launch, see Appendix 3, and go to, click the link “What is VisionOnTv?” and watch the video.

Content Provision

Prior to launch we need to increase massively the number and range of programmes on the station. We will do this in four ways:

1. Develop our working relationships with a wide range of radical video producers, e.g Camcorder Guerrillas in Glasgow, Real2Reel in London, Labornet in Seoul, Calle y Media in Caracas and AgoraTV in Buenos Aires, and a number of producers in the US, including “Ryanishungry”'s shows about eco-pioneers and grassroots direct action producers Molotov!. This means exciting them about this form of distribution, and providing training and support in encoding hi-grade video for the web.

2. Work closely with less experienced producers to enable their work to have maximum impact. There are many great stories which do not get onto mainstream TV, but often the films produced are of variable quality, excessive length, and have problems communicating and advocating to a general audience, outside the activist ghetto. Or else they are made for an audience with regional or specialised knowledge. (Very often, in our experience, a dull 50 minute documentary will make a punchy 10 minutes, and an over-long 15 minute film on a day of action will make an interesting 2 or 3 minutes.) VISIONonTV is not an open publishing project, such as indymedia. Instead the programmes are highly filtered to guarantee quality to viewers. This is an outreach project. This means re-packaging and re-editing material in collaboration with producers such as Reel News in London.

3. Continue and expand our own home-grown largely studio-based production, such as the technology series “OfflineTV”, produced by Undercurrents.

4. Web-trawling for suitable quality films, and encoding and uploading them, a very valuable service to campaigning film makers everywhere.


At the moment the project is running on the voluntary labour of three members of Undercurrents. A huge amount of work has brought VISIONonTV to the point where, if we are able to continue and intensify our work, we could launch the station in December 2007. But if voluntary labour continues to be the only resource, it will be extremely difficult for VISIONonTV to get beyond the beta stage of development, and the project will wither on the vine.

We are therefore asking for a grant of £97,000 to fund two years’ work for an ambitious but realistic plan to get radical social justice video seen by hundred of thousands, rather than hundreds.

A detailed budget (Appendix 2) is attached.

All funds will go through the Undercurrents audited accounts system, with full wage slips and receipts. So as to avoid falling foul of charities law, VISIONonTV funds may be administered through a separate trading company linked to the Undercurrents charity.

The Development Plan

See Appendix 1 for the detailed schedule. This schedule assumes that tasks not concluded by a target having been achieved are in fact ongoing. For this reason the schedule thins out over time, to keep the workload realistic. The increase in numbers of viewers by this strategy we feel is realistic, compared with the growth of other IPTV stations and series.


We have already achieved a small sponsorship from a magazine for some of the less oppositional Undercurrents shows. When viewer figures grow, the possibility of this source of finance increases.

Once we have a working model with all the software developed, training for community groups to have their TV channel (grant-funded), and for NGOs (directly funded as consultancy) becomes a major source of future funding.

This is some limited finance available from ethical advertising, inserted into the shows by the playlist.

The shows which are already successful on the net make substantial sums through merchandising.


Undercurrents was founded in 1993 and has produced 11 issues of the Undercurrents News magazine (UNN), originally distributed on VHS tape.

Throughout the 1990s, the most popular and respected outlet for video news reflecting the direct action movement was Undercurrents. Using domestic video cameras, Undercurrents trained hundreds of activists to inspire audiences by recording and circulating news from their own viewpoints. UNN was described in Time Out as “the news you don't see on the news”. The Guardian said it “shock, informs and exposes”.

Today many campaigners recall that watching an Undercurrents video was their first contact with the social change movement. UC coined the term “video activism”.

UC is a registered charity: 1050704

Paul O'Connor: (Undercurrents Producer) One of the founder members of Undercurrents in 1994. His work has been screened in the Tate Modern art gallery and broadcast on Channel 4 and BBC television.

Paul writes extensively for newspapers and books on video activism (the use of video for social change). His articles have appeared in New Internationalist, The Guardian amongst others. He has trained human rights campaigners in Romania, the Middle East, Europe, USA, Australia, Nepal and South Korea.

Paul co- founded the annual Beyond TV video activist festival in 2001. His film “Globalisation and the Media” won best documentary at the One World Canada and Tokyo Film Festivals (2003).

Hamish Campbell: (Training and Production Coordinator – in charge of web development) – with Undercurrents since 1999. Creator of the Ruffcuts distribution project, which has sold thousands of copies all over the world. Set up European Newsreel, a CD distribution project translated into 5 languages for Europe-wide dissemination. Originator of the “Min-Sin” screening project, an automated public-space installation for alternative films. An expert in innovation on the web. VISIONonTV was his idea.

Richard Hering : (Programme Editor and external liaison) An award-winning investigative journalist for British television on subjects such as illegal logging in the Amazon and nuclear tests in China. Major awards include the Rory Peck Features Award 1999 for “Death on the Silk Road” (Dispatches – Channel Four), and the Amnesty International Press Award 1998 for “Ethnic Conflict in China” (C4 News). One of the founders of the Oxford Film and Video Makers community-based workshop in 1987, still going strong today. Has produced over 60 campaigning films from direct action to films for NGOs such as Oxfam. Author of “Lights, Camera, Direct Action” (2004), a training manual for video activists.