Friday, January 27, 2012

Is the screen a space for features?

Radio feature makers are storytellers. The recent death of Kodak is a great story, Simon Elmes (BBC, radio documentary/creative director) says. Kodak has been obliterated by the "creative destruction" of the digital age. In short: Kodak was slow, conservative, and became obsolete. How about the radio documentary?

The good news first, according to Simon Elmes:

  • Classic radio doc is in good health.
  • Features and feature-type programmes are still plentiful.
  • Craft standards have risen.
  • In recent cuts, speech radio largely escaped unscathed.
  • Production time has been protected.
  • Audiences are rising.

But as to the audiences, there are challenges.
  • shortening attention-span
  • permanent multi-tasking
  • impatience with programmes that "don't deliver quickly"
  • loss of "radio culture" amongst key future demographics (15-35 year-olds)
  • many of this group don't own a radio, or even a DAB set
  • absence of radio devices smartphones
In a noisy marketplace and in times of poor funding, the quiet seriousness of sustained feature-making of up to one hour in length is necessarily going to be a luxury that fewer people will consume. The responses: short forms, packages, magazine programmes. The dangers: a loss of culture, de-skilling.

As a possible response Elmes presents an experiment called "Don't log off", a BBC project meant to be a source for feature material. Fans of the "Don't log off" Facebook page were interviewed via Skype and told their personal, touching stories which were recorded, combined to narratives of life and loss, and broadcast. The "Don't log off" Facebook community lives on, its members keep communicating with one another. "A kind of real life reality soap", Elmes says.

"The web throws the basic parameters of professional feature-making into question", Elmes concludes. "Anyone can assemble and disseminate. Everyone talks about personalisation - what form does a personalised feature take?" The big questions remain: Is the screen an art space? How do we fill it for features? visualisation? slide shows? complementary feature content? do-it-yourself content?

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