Don’t Call Me Digital

i was sitting in the industry consultation session held by Telefilm Canada, a federal corporation tasked with, among other things, dispensing cash to the country’s audiovisual industry, including teevee, film, and interactive content producers. Telefilm is restructuring its fund and calling it the Canadian Media Fund (CMF). One side of the fund gives money to teevee producers who put their content on at least one other platform (the Internatz, mobile devices, VR goggles – whatever). Telefilm has cooked up the detestable term “Experimental” to describe the side of the fund that is not teevee-dependent, which may include video games. Thankfully, enough industry folks urged them that “Experimental” was a terrible term and it’s being changed.

Moira Fenkleheimer

What’s in a name? Ask Moira Fenkleheimer.

So while i sat in the session, which was quite full of mostly teevee industry folks (and a small but extremely vocal and TERRIBLY worried-looking group of documentary filmmakers), i heard the word “digital” thrown around to describe what we do here at Untold Entertainment. The suggestion came up more than once that the “Experimental” stream, the one that was not concerned with teevee, be renamed the “Digital” stream. “Balls to that”, i say. Here’s why:

You Crazy Kids With Your “Rock n’ Roll” and Your “Hyperlinks”

The consultation really got me thinking about nomenclature. i see the term “digital” being thrown around all the time to describe what we do. The people using this term are mostly my parents’ age – baby boomers who have evolved from calling the computer mouse a “whatsit”, and are in positions of power at various places. These folks comprise the Old Guard of the entertainment industry. They’ve wrapped their minds around all this “new media” stuff to the point where they’ve siezed upon a catch-all term for any kind of content that wasn’t around when they were watching Howdy Doody on their 6-inch teevee screens in their costume chaps: digital. They must be so pleased with themselves.

Howdy Doody

Crimony. And they say the FUTURE is scary …

The Messenger is Not the Medium

The trouble with the catch-all term “digital” is that it doesn’t do a damned thing to differentiate between linear, one-way communication like radio and teevee (phone-in shows excepted), and true interactive content that you find in video games and on websites. “Digital” describes a method for delivering content – breaking the material down into discernable ones and zeroes (“digits”) and pushing those numbers through a pipe (cable, phone line, airwave) to the end user, where the numbers are translated back into pictures and sound. “Digital” is the evolution of “analog”. “Psycom” may be the evolution of “digital” for all we know – content transmitted directly to your brain. It STILL doesn’t help us describe the type of content that is reaching the end user.

It’s as if you were trying to differentiate between horses and cars, so you choose the term “commuting”. But then in many parts of the world, people start riding horses to work. Suddenly your term does nothing to differentiate the two concepts, because it described a method of consuming the thing, instead of describing the thing itself.

Nicotine Gum

“Nicotine delivery system” does not differentiate between harmful cigarettes and helpful gum.

Oh No He Di’in’t

So don’t call me digital. Teevee is digital, and i deplore the comparison. Teevee is also unidirectional, dumb, and on death’s door. And that’s fair – i’m sure teevee people resented being lumped in with radio, while radio didn’t appreciate being mentioned in the same breath as … i dunno. The Pony Express? At any rate, it’s all fruit, but when we lump teevee in with interactive, we’re comparing apples to pictures of apples.

Call me “interactive”. i feel it’s the best term that differentiates linear content from the amazing things we’re doing to involve and engage our audiences. If you’re part of the old guard and you’re clinging to your burning, sinking teevee ship with a tear in your eye, and you’d like to keep calling anything that follows teevee “digital”, be my guest. i promise we won’t put any Playboxes or X-Stations in your retirement home.

8 thoughts on “Don’t Call Me Digital

  1. Iain

    I’d go along with the name change. Don’t write off TV so fast though. It was here before you, and it’ll be here after your gone. Some things just work better in a linear, non-interactive format. I don’t want to control the humvees in Generation Kill, or waggle the thumb-sticks to make Tony Soprano strangle Ralphie, I just want to sit back and enjoy the drama. And maybe post on twitter while I watch it.

    1. Ryan

      Iain – vaudeville was here before me, but i don’t think that it should be sucking up the lion’s share of ad revenues and Canadian Ministry of Culture funding.

  2. cartoondutchie

    The part that confuses the CMF is that theoretically, online video series would also be eligible in the experimental. So to THAT group, it really is experimental. unfortunately us IDM and convergent firms are left kinda rolling our eyes.

    aside: My ‘most favourite’ question from TV producers was always “well, my TV show is new media because it is being shot in HD. That’s a new media. ” they have come a long way….

  3. Bwakathaboom

    What Canada needs is to create its own development paradigm. No matter what you label them, the problem still exists that these funds are based on a 20th century production model. We’re borrowing a failing model from south of the border and propping it up with slow-moving tax dollars.

    First they fund developing the *idea*, then they fund a prototype, then completion funds (but only if you have a publisher), then the American owned, publicly traded distributor gets tax-payer dollars to market the game. It’s ridiculous.

    The amount of time is takes these dinosaurs to APPROVE a prototype grant I can finish the damned game in Flash (or, soon, Unity). The amount of time it takes to fund a Telefilm TV pilot I could produce a 6 episode animated web series (and generate a greater return on investment). The dirty secret is that nobody is making any real money under this model.

    With current tools and technology there is no excuse to take 2 years and millions of dollars to complete a single project. Canadians need to work faster and leaner, something not possible using Telefilm / OMDC methods.

    1. Ryan

      Bwakathaboom – i feel like a thug when i post stuff like this, and then a higher-order mammal comes in and eloquently states an excellent point like you’ve just done. i get a little chaffed when i tell people who difficult it is to keep a start-up games studio afloat, and they say “Why don’t you just get OMDC/Telefilm/Bell Fund money?” They don’t realize that on any given day, 1) the deadline is six months from now 2) it takes about two weeks of full-time work to write those applications and 3) the funds are “oversubscribed”, as the government puts it, meaning you have to luck out with right-place-right-time-right-pitch mojo to get chosen.

      i agree that the funds should run leaner, but this is the government we’re talking about. Bloat and bureaucracy are their hallmarks.

  4. Pingback: » Made in Canada AND with Unity: Apollo 11: The Game

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