Tuesday, April 07, 2009

How can open video become the new TV?

Intro to the visionOntv project

visionOntv has the goal of making open video activate social change. We have modest foundation funding for 2 years to launch this (starting April 2009). http://visionon.tv

As a platform, visionOntv has a skinned and simplified version of Miro, currently with 5 main TV channels, enabling downloadable HD content. (All the other channels and options on Miro are easily available - our version merely adds an interface which helps users to transition from old to new media. All the options for wised-up users are still there.)

The "main channels" are a mixture of "smart aggregation" (syndicated rss feeds and separately posted content) and original programming which contextualises the other content for a wide audience. All content posted is also streamed, currently on 10 different sites via tubemogul.

We ran a solar-powered TV studio at the UK Camp for Climate Action in August 2008, producing some 25 shows (http://climatecamp.visionon.tv). We will have a beta of our CMS running by the time of the Open Video Conference.

The Presentation

Our presentation asks precisely how open video could activate social change, and sets out some of the answers we are pursuing. Some of the questions are:

Can alternative media really break out of the ghetto?
Why do people watch mainstream TV news? – (info-tainment, slick packaging, personalities, etc).
How can we compete with the mainstream in terms of entertainment and production values, so that our important ideas reach out beyond the small circles that they currently reach?
What kind of filtering and molding of video content will enable it to become the new mainstream?
How can compelling content be produced on a huge and global scale, for little or no budget and (therefore) with a short turnaround?
Could citizen video journalism explode, with high-production-value, watchable films no longer being limited to a small group of the highly-trained?
Can it be done effectively by people whose main work is something else?
What else does the new TV need to be?
Much of the technology for IPTV already exists, but the social outreach does not. We have not yet built effective communities around video content, or, in many cases, around open source tools. Video blogging is individualistic, and we have not yet worked out how to deal with passivity, the thing which “old media” was actually designed around.

It is vital that we don't underestimate how difficult any of this is to achieve. Here are 6 things that are needed for it:

1. Production templates

visionOntv has prepared templates for effective films which can be made in an hour (http://tinyurl.com/d5p3tb), using automated animation of stills (http://tinyurl.com/c5bo2w). We are currently preparing a template for short video reportage, such as http://tinyurl.com/dc348e, which was picked up by rocketboom. There is a further template for the live-edit production of rapid-turnaround studio shows using webcams and software mixing (http://tinyurl.com/clozrm). The emphasis throughout is on how to do effective story-telling at very low budget for the widest possible viewership.
We will demonstrate all of these at the Open Video presentation.

2. Training

The key to the mainstreaming of citizen journalism is training. visionOntv has funding to carry out a training programme in the UK, beginning June 2009, and plans to do it internationally.

3. Smart aggregation

The careful selection of creative commons content based on quality. Putting the viewer first to build user trust and loyalty.

4. Quality content needs quality upload

We have developed a transcoding standard which ensures that the video file is not too large, but can also be projected on a video beamer (important for communities with limited broadband access, and for promoting the collective experience which is a community screening). We will demonstrate this in the presentation.

5. Open source production tools

automated animation for fast-turnaround citizens' reportage using stills
- video mixing for studio shows
- a really simple-to-use transcoding tool where all the options for the more technically-minded are available, but where the basic interface is “stupidly simple”.
- video editing (lite and full version)

At the moment, unfortunately, we have to use corporate solutions for all of the above. We will never recommend to a novice citizen journalist a piece of software which is complex and forbidding.
We need open source tools which have the potential to take over completely from corporate tools.

In an adjoining proposal we have suggested working groups at the Open video Conference to develop these tools, which would match up software developers with professional users.

But something more than quality content is needed to enact social change.....

6. Social media tools

visionOntv is customising a completely modular open source cms, where any part of it can easily be imported to any other media project. This is vital. By using a java-based cms, any part can be taken and used as widget code. We are seeking to empower the users with a do-it-yourself cms. We are giving people a whole pile of tools which glue together, but can also be taken out separately into other sites and blogs, and where the keys to creating projects are not in the hands of the techies who created the original cms. This is a new kind of web application where users can create their own resources around our content, and all the tools will talk to each other. Users can build their own gateways into our material for their particular needs, and we could then gain from their new creative commons content. Put simply, it allows the user to manage the content.

visionOntv's cms will have superior chat functions on video streaming, by being layered in such a way that you will be able to chat to anyone else who is watching the film, or to anyone who is watching the channel, or to anyone who is watching anything on the station as a whole. Viewers can then break out into campaigning (or more purely social, even dating) forums, so that an activist minority starts to feel like a large community, sharing ideas and ideals, planning actions together, discussing the effectiveness of different tactics, and in all kinds of unpredictable ways making social change.
(We will have a beta of the cms by the time of the Open Video conference)

The playlist generator
This will be created in three phases: the first allows us to create a coherent look and feel using an "old TV" metaphor – permitting us to create seasons which publish at the same time each week, to insert "in-betweens", and to differentiate daytime programming from "primetime".
In future versions, content will be user-controlled, for instance by "I like it / I don't like it" ratings.

Metadata standards need to derive from actual practice, in a decentralized way, rather than being centrally-defined in the abstract. visionOntv is doing this, rolling out embeds in content-specific websites using tags.

Proposal 2: Workshop

Wouldn't we all like to make a living from what we do?
Funding / monetizing open video production – a round-robin – an opportunity for everyone to share their experiences, good and bad, of funding or monetizing the production and distribution of radical or open video. We can contribute our own experience from a UK/European perspective. And we have a concrete plan for sustainability of the VOTV project which we would like technical support for.

Proposal 3:
Working groups on the different pieces of software to define a spec for development:
 video editing – both lite for citizen journalists (replacing i-moive and movie maker) and full for professionals (replacing FCP, Avid and Adobe Premiere)
 video mixing for studio shows
 transcoding tool – really intuitive to use on first sight
 automated animation – for fast-turnaround citizen journalist reportage with stills

Proposal 4:
We would also like a suitbale corner (preferably in a cafe) to install a “min-sin”, a computer in kiosk mode playing a custom version of Miro. The organisers of Open Video could then insert info-announcements into this player.