Tag Archives: arts

Is the Future of Arts Broadcasting Online?

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Despite the high profile campaigns, petitions and hashtags, this month BBC Three is set to go off air and become online-only. Although the decision to move BBC Three branded content to the iPlayer will reportedly make savings of around £30 million a year, the BBC Trust acknowledged that ‘almost 1 million younger viewers could desert the corporation as a consequence’.

With young people spending more time online than watching television for the first time ever, changing consumption habits seem to provide a strong rationale behind BBC Three’s departure from the linear broadcasting landscape. However, when asked back in 2014 to comment on what the axing of BBC Three as an on-air channels means for the future of other niche services such as BBC Four, former controller, Danny Cohen stated that “if future funding for the BBC comes under more threat then the likelihood is we would have to take more services along the same [online only] route [as BBC3].”

More recently, concerns around the future of BBC Four and other key platforms for specialist arts and cultural content were raised after a speech by Tony Hall in September of last year in which he stated:

“In summary the BBC faces a very tough financial challenge. So we will have to manage our resources ever more carefully and prioritise what we believe the BBC should offer. We will inevitably have to either close or reduce some services.”

In my own research interviews with media professionals and those who work within arts organisations in the UK, the possibility of more arts content being distributed online as opposed to traditional broadcasting has been met by both enthusiasm and concern in equal measure.

In theory you might expect that having more arts content online would encourage what many would argue is a much needed increase in diversity in terms of both form and content.

Online platforms allow for a wider variety of ways to create and consume content, such as articles, vlogs, images, along with more traditional long-form video including documentaries and live relays. Further to this, commissioning online content tends to involve less risk as the costs involved both in production and distribution is generally less than that of traditional broadcasting. Of course even further reduced budgets is not good news for those creating the content and in turn may lead to fewer producers specialising in the arts, particularly within the independent sector.

Another advantage to online platforms is that they are not constrained to the comparatively limited space of radio and television schedules, enabling a potential increase in the amount of arts coverage available. Along with this, the internet allows for a more immediate reaction to events than traditional media. You can be watching an interview with a curator at the opening of their new exhibition just hours after it opens before switching to a livestream of an opera direct from Covent Garden.

In line with the BBC Three model, being able to access more content online and on demand is also about responding to changing media consumption habits, particularly those of young people. The audience for linear broadcast television is ageing and this trend is even more concentrated in the arts.

So could online arts provision be the solution? In 2014 the BBC launched Private View, a series of iPlayer exclusives with a younger demographic in mind. The films consist of prominent figures from pop culture such as musician Tinie Tempah and fashion icon Lianne La Havas taking the viewer on a ‘series of personal tours of blockbuster exhibitions’. The series has proved something of an online success with Goldie’s Private View of Matisse being the most watched arts programme on iPlayer.

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However, there are concerns around whether arts broadcasting could actually suffer more than other genres in this more fragmented, menu-based system. Back in the days when you had perhaps only three television channels to choose from you might watch an arts programme just because it happened to be the next thing on. Even now, decades after the Reithian diet of ‘lowbrow’ and ‘highbrow’ programming sitting alongside each other in the schedules has been rendered obsolete by digitalisation, you might still see a trailer for an arts documentary that catches your interest at the end of Eastenders.

There’s no escaping the fact that the core audience for arts programming is small, and while online platforms may be great for ‘binge watching’ the latest hit drama, there seems to be little opportunity in this user-led environment for broader audiences to be introduced to new content and ideas.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for public service broadcasters, if the resurgence of event television in recent years tells us anything it’s that there is still nothing like the impact of mainstream broadcasting. Social media and live-tweeting have in many ways strengthened traditional media by making programmes talking points for live online discussion. Advances in media technology may mean that people are consuming more content online and on demand than ever before, but linear broadcasting still has an important role to play in creating a sense of shared experience and engaging people in a national conversation of which the arts must surely be a part.

40 Years of Arena in 24 Hours

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Created in 1975 by the then head of BBC Music and Arts, Humphrey Burton, Arena has been a platform for some of the most groundbreaking arts documentaries on television. From My Way (1979) to The Chelsea Hotel (1981) and The Private Life of the Ford Cortina (1982), the multi award-winning arts strand has received critical acclaim for its high quality, avant-garde approach to the arts in terms of both form and content.

Introduced by the writer and broadcaster, John Lloyd, Night and Day celebrates the creativity and diversity of filmmaking that has come to define the strand over the past forty years:

“The film you’re about to see brings together the work of many producers, directors and their teams, but it demonstrates a commonality of purpose that characterises the six hundred or so films in the Arena canon. […] Rather than make a best of compilation to mark the anniversary, the decision was made to try and bring the past into the present and make a new film. It’s an evocation, drawn entirely from Arena films, of the one experience common to everything thing and everyone on the planet; the inextricable twenty-four hour cycle of night and day.”

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 The film takes the viewer through footage spanning a range of subjects, eras and locations, cut out and stuck together to form a video collage of a day. From Pete Doherty diving into a rooftop pool against a pre-dawn Barcelona skyline, to Sonny Rollins walking over the Williamsburg Bridge, we watch as the world rises to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s ‘Night and Day’. Breakfast is then served by Mary Jenkins Langston, Elvis Presley’s personal cook who featured in the 1996 film, The Burger and the King and charted some of The King’s more eclectic dietary tastes.

The morning commute is a montage of suits, trains and umbrellas from the streets of cities around the world. Amongst them is Mel Brooks arriving on set in Hollywood from Alan Yentob’s 1981 iconic portrait of the film director, screenwriter and sometime actor. We then join the Spectator columnist, Jeffrey Bernard in his home office as he taps out the latest entry for the weekly column that earned him his cult following.

While noon brings a liquid lunch down the pub for Bernard and actor Tom Baker, The Beatles are taking a break on their 1967 Magical Mystery Tour to visit Smedley’s chip shop on Roman Road, Taunton.

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In the afternoon Richard Rogers guides us through the financial marketplace housed in the Lloyds building, London. Scenes of bankers in suits become street vendors in coats as we are taken along with Linda McCartney as she photographs bustling marketplaces of a different kind. At the Partagas Cigar Factory in Havana the workday continues, while seemingly worlds apart George Martin takes afternoon tea with his oboe teacher, Margaret Eliot.

The sun sets over busy highways and tranquil beaches as day fades into night. At Elstree Studios, London, Jack Nicholson is brushing his teeth and preparing to go back on set for The Shining, while over at The Chelsea Hotel in New York, pop artist Andy Warhol and novelist William Burroughs are engaged in rather surreal conversation over dinner.

As both the 24 hours and the film draw to a close, the cycle of night and day is completed as a passage from Under Milk Wood read at the beginning of the programme is repeated once more.

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In some ways this 90 minute feature-length film is reminiscent of Life in a Day (2011), which used crowdsourced video clips to tell the story of a single day on earth ‘through a multitude of perspectives’. Although the two films seem rather juxtaposed in terms of production, with Night and Day centred around creative use of archive footage and Life in a Day around more everyday content creation in the digital age, the central theme is still that of shared human experience governed by the perpetual cycle of the 24 hour day.

However, more importantly Night and Day bears testimony to the exceptionally broad remit of Arena over the past forty years. From Francis Bacon to George Formby, Marilyn Monroe to Henry Moore, popular culture and high are presented with equal attention and depth across the strand. What is also striking is the creative and imaginative ways in which these range of topics have been presented on screen. Through this Arena has built a reputation as a strand that is willing to be experimental with both form and content. Night and Day and the films featured within it don’t just serve to document art and culture, but also stand as significant cultural artefacts in their own right.

Contains Strong Language: Some Highlights

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On the 8th of October the BBC marked National Poetry Day by launching a week long season of programmes celebrating both professional and amateur poets.

As the Director of Arts stated on the BBC’s Media Centre homepage:

From BBC One to Radio 3, the BBC is devoted to celebrating and showcasing the extraordinary arts and culture of the UK, bringing it to the largest possible audience wherever and whoever you are. To mark National Poetry Day, Contains Strong Language will celebrate the urgent and disruptive power of poetry, putting it at the heart of schedules, across the BBC’s channels, stations and online.

On World Poetry Day itself, the BBC Radio 4 schedules were taken over by We British: An Epic in Poetry, a series of programmes presented by Andrew Marr exploring ‘British history and identity through poems’. Arranged in a chronological fashion, the programmes featured readings, archive material, and interviews with a number of actors, media personalities and poets including Ian McKellen, Graham Norton and Carol Ann Duffy.

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I must admit, a particular highlight was Marr accidentally calling the poet Liz Berry “Mary Berry”, which I’m sure he’d put down to the final of The Great British Bake Off airing the previous evening.

Listeners were also asked to join the discussion through Twitter with the hashtag #WeBritish. Alongside this there was a special edition of the Shipping Forecast which invited people to ‘sum up their mood or activities in 10 words or less, using the style of the Shipping Forecast’ and submit their poems to Radio 4 via email, Facebook or Twitter. A number of these were then featured on a later edition of the programme.

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However, it seemed that the centrepiece of the season came a couple of days later with BBC Two’s 90-minute feature length documentary, Ted Hughes: Stronger Than Death.

Broadcast at 9pm on a Saturday night, the scale of the documentary presented itself through cinematic aerial shots of sweeping green landscapes and rustic towns. This was then juxtaposed by stark black and white footage of countryside scenes permeated by flocks of birds and lone foxes, mirroring the imagery of nature that dominates much of Hughes’ work.

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Speaking for the first time on television Frieda Hughes, daughter of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, discusses her father’s work, life and relationship with her mother. Her accounts, alongside those of others who knew Hughes well form something of a narrative thread throughout the programme, taking the viewer behind the poems to understand the circumstances in which they were conceived.

In lieu of a single narrator or presenter, the use of interviews to weave this narrative thread throughout the film also creates a sense of authenticity. By hearing the accounts of those closest to him, alongside a few more recognisable faces such as the poet Simon Armitage and arts broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, it becomes a far more human story beyond the black and white indifference of newspaper headlines and English Literature anthologies.

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For me, another particular highlight of this poetry season was BBC Radio 3’s special episode of ‘Between the Ears’ entitled ‘We are Writing a Poem About Home’. In this programme, the writer Kate Clanchy takes us into her poetry workshop to meet some amazingly talented award-winning young poets. Speaking 54 languages between them, the students of the former grammar school recite poems around ‘home’ that takes us beyond mere bricks and mortar to touch upon themes of heritage, belonging and acceptance.

BBC Four also broadcast a repeat of Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster, an elegy to the young woman who was brutally attacked and murdered because of her appearance. The screen adaptation of Simon Armitage’s poignant poems about the tragedy is both beautifully rendered and deeply harrowing.

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This isn’t easy viewing and nor should it be. If one of the functions of art is to provoke empathy within the observer, then it should not be overlooked that art can also give a voice to the silenced.

In a media landscape in which tragic news stories saturate our television screens and Facebook feeds, it is sometimes only in the steady rhythm of poetry that we can stop to think.

WNO take over Twitter to discuss whether austerity will #killculture

This afternoon the Welsh National Opera took over Twitter to lead a debate around the question ‘will austerity kill culture?’ as part of the BBC’s Get Creative campaign.

WNO CEO and artistic director, David Pountney kicked off the one hour takeover with the statement “Culture is not the answer to everything, but life without culture is worth nothing”.

Throughout the discussion a number of key points were raised in regard to the challenges that face the arts as a result of reductions in funding, and the value of culture in today’s society.

A key area of debate was the effect of austerity on cultural organisations and the artists themselves:

There were also concerns about how reduced funding as a result of austerity also impacts on people’s access to the arts and culture:
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However, Pountney was keen to assert that the value of culture should not be merely reduced to debates over funding, but rather should focus on its role in enriching our lives both on an individual and societal level:

Today’s debate highlighted some of the challenges that face the arts and culture in a time of  budget cuts and austerity. However, there still seems to be an underlining optimism and belief in the strength of the arts to prevail as a positive influence in society.

WNO state on their website that they hope today’s #killculture debate ‘is just the start of an ongoing conversation dialogue between arts organisations, audiences and the general public about the value of the arts.’

The role of social media in facilitating this dialogue should not be overlooked. As demonstrated today, social media such as Twitter has opened up new opportunities for a variety of voices across academia, industry and beyond to be heard and take part in a wider conversation. Furthermore, if the value of culture is to be defined by our own experience and relationship with it as individuals within a society, then surely it is important that discussions around issues such as these are as open and accessible as possible.