On 18-19 October the new Broadband Cross-media Production Initiative (BCPI) was launched in Melbourne and Sydney. The BCPI is a partnership between the AFC and ABC New Media and Digital Services. It seeks to fund innovative documentary projects for multi-platform delivery, particularly via digital television and broadband.
To help explain the initiative, a number of documentary filmmakers who worked on the previous Broadband Production Initiative did a show and tell of their online projects, giving tips on moving between film and digital media, and the technical challenges and creative possibilities of working across a range of platforms.
Below is an edited transcript from the night.
Peter Kaufmann, AFC Project Manager
The BCPI is a partnership between the AFC and the ABC, with both organisations contributing $1.2 million to the production of these projects. The ABC will also be providing in-kind services and facilities including access to studios. Together we will fund four projects and part of the ABC's contribution will be a licence fee. Through the partnership we can actually leverage $1.2 million, a significant increase in funding in terms of the production opportunities for documentary filmmakers. And we also feel very strongly that this initiative is really helping to develop new forms of documentary.
The projects should be specifically developed and designed for delivery on the ABC's broadband and ABC 2 digital channel services. The broadband aspect must be interactive and, in terms of audiences, the projects should be focused on 18-40 year olds, and they can be educational as well. We say educational in a very broad sense of the word.
Video elements can range from 5-55 minutes duration, either one-off documentaries or a series. Applications must be from teams comprising experienced film and television documentary makers as well as experienced people working in new media. We really want to encourage major co-operation between practitioners working in these two areas. And we feel it's been a major success with the BPI.
While it's not essential, we encourage projects to consider co-funding from a number of different agencies. Some BPI projects received funding from Telstra and the South Australian Film Corporation. The AFC actively got involved in approaching those organisations as well as producers.
Producers may have existing projects in development with the ABC main channel. Projects can have radio elements and some of the projects tonight, Dust On My Shoes for example, had a connection to ABC radio. You could also be looking at mobile delivery or another interactive television platform such as Foxtel.
The closing date is 3 February. We will be shortlisting up to eight projects and each will be funded up to $15,000 by the AFC and go into further development. We work pretty closely with those projects in terms of their development process and we will choose four final projects at the end of June, which would be expected to be completed around 31 December.
Dominic Friguglietti, Manager - Co Productions and Business Development, ABC New Media and Digital Services
ABC 2 and ABC Broadband are the two main platforms being offered as part of this initiative. I'd like to give you a snapshot of the broadband environment - recent statistics and the take-up with digital television - to illustrate that it is a viable space and a market for culture for Australian domestic audiences. We're really keen to try and get more innovative content in the space and push the whole cross-platform approach to content creation. In March this year we launched ABC 2, the ABC's second digital channel. It's actually run by the division that I'm a part of and we run it in a way closely integrated with our broadband service.
ABC 2 relies on a lot of content coming from the main channel, repeating programs so that audiences who miss out on the main broadcast can go and see it on ABC 2. But we're also trying to set up ABC 2 with its own distinctive programming, very much tied in with the broadband service and encouraging people to go across both. The main reason for that is we're finding that the consumption of media in this country and worldwide is changing dramatically and people are moving much more to a self-selected media environment: content when they want it and how they want it, whether it's online or via a digital television platform or mobile phone. I think that's why it's important as content creators to actually be aware of the different media platforms that are now available to tell your stories and craft your work.
Here's a snapshot of the broadband environment and how it's changing. For broadband users at home, penetration is now 63 per cent and has passed dial-up. We're talking a 108 per cent increase from this time last year. Sixty-three per cent penetration in August 2005 equated to 6.2 million Australians connected to broadband. Broadband take-up is changing the nature of internet use where broadband users are spending twice as much time online and visiting twice as many internet sites as narrow band internet users. The main reason is that the experience is faster; the connection is faster. The experience of content is much more fulfilling and broadband users are tending to look for more media rich content, and are prepared to look at video online and download music.
In terms of ABC Online's reach amongst the active internet population in metro Australia, it's 16.5 per cent, while in non-metro and regional Australia it's actually higher at 17.2 per cent, and the reach is 2.06 million users. That's very significant. So in terms of BCPI projects, what we can offer you is a fair chunk of Australian broadband users.
In terms of digital television penetration, it's estimated at around 14 per cent. The declining cost of digital set top boxes has certainly seen an increase of purchases in the home market. I think you can get set top boxes for under a hundred dollars these days.
As of September this year there are at least 1.25 million pay TV subscribers. So ABC 2 is carried on Foxtel and Austar, plus 920,000 digital free-to-air receivers in the marketplace. ABC 2 can be seen by 1.7 million households. Almost half the Australian adults who visit the ABC's website have watched an ABC TV show or listened to an ABC radio program specifically because of something they saw on the ABC website.
So you've got to think about your property sitting across the different platforms that the ABC can offer and use each platform in terms of what they're good at doing. When you're coming to construct your projects, don't think about using the internet as a vehicle to replicate what you're planning to actually broadcast via ABC 2.
David Vadiveloo, writer and co-director of the Broadband Production Initiative project UsMob. Before becoming a filmmaker, David was a human rights lawyer and facilitator. Much of his time was spent with the Aboriginal communities around Alice Springs.
UsMob is an immersive, interactive project: immersive being the operative word. Our key focus was to ensure that once you entered the site you were constantly being engaged with. This was not an add-on site to a television series. The project has a television property - seven episodes. It's a website first and foremost but it has a television cross-platform component and it's capable of being screened through cinemas, as it was launched at the Adelaide Film Festival earlier this year.
In terms of the excitement around this sort of media, I have to applaud the AFC and the ABC for doing this. This is an astonishing initiative and I think Australian filmmakers should recognise it. I've just come back from Montreal, the Global Digital Distribution Summit, and the Australian projects which were developed out of the BPI initiative are at the edge of what everybody's talking about. These are the hottest properties that people are discussing in terms of truly convergent media. But we as filmmakers need to recognise that this media needs to be supported and is being supported through these initiatives. And it is where the North American money is looking to invest.
I'd suggest getting your co-creators [digital practitioners] involved and building the stuff from the beginning with you in order to shape it. As a transition from linear to non-linear, the most important thing I can say to you as a filmmaker is to just make sure that you do the transition. If you're going to try to make this marriage [between film and digital media], make the marriage early. Find the people at the time that you're thinking of the idea because the interactive digital people will bring many extra dimensions. Otherwise it becomes a flat project, a television property website, and that is what in North America they are struggling with all the time. Which is why they're impressed with all of these Australian projects.
The great frustration of documentary is often 'I had so much more than I could have put into the film. I had hours more that I had to cut out because the broadcasters wouldn't let me put it in'. Well I would strongly discourage you from producing a site which is just about adding the additional content, but you can start to think about how you make that content interactive and give control back to the audience, allowing them to explore what they want to explore, while at the same time gently manoeuvring where you want them to go.
This is important to everyone who worked on UsMob. We believe we produced a project with a very deliberate educational social justice agenda, which would have really struggled content-wise to get mainstream television release. But through this sort of platform we have been able to put in content which is very difficult to get screened and get to young people who are otherwise not really interested. But because we've given them a sense of play, they will go there.
Chris Warner, co-writer and co-creative director of Dust On My Shoes. Chris has been an independent filmmaker for many years working in both drama and documentary production and his work has included feature films as well as mini-series for television. He is former Director of Film Development at the AFC.
After the presentation in Melbourne last night I worked out why I was asked along: I'm living proof that you can teach old dogs new tricks, because this is the first multimedia project I've worked on. Dust on My Shoes was written by Peter Pinney, the first Australian backpacker; now there are legions of us. I was approached by Steve Thomas and Raw (digital content producers) with the notion of a content-rich website about Pinney and about the particular journey he did in 1948-49, starting in Greece and going through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Assam, and finishing in Burma, where his travelling companion drowned, and that's where the trip ended. The Raw people came up with this idea because they had the book, and access to Pinney's photographs, a personal diary/ album, and the co-operation of his widow and second wife, Estelle Pinney. Also Steve Thomas' brother is Mick Thomas, the musician from Weddings, Parties, Anything - a seminal Melbourne band - and he wanted to write music for the website as well.
It seemed like a good idea but it also initially felt like, well, yes it's going to be rich content, but essentially it could be on a CD-Rom or a lavish coffee table book with a CD. What was going to make it special for this initiative that the AFC and the ABC were running? And what we came up with is that we would use Pinney's book and his journey, but we would also send two young filmmakers to retrace his steps, in real time, and send back dispatches as they tried to re-live some of his experiences. If you got involved with the site early on you could follow the progress of our young travellers, and Pinney's book would unroll at the same time as they went through the countries.
The interesting thing about Dust on My Shoes is that it's actually gone cross-platform in ways that we did and didn't anticipate. We had a very good relationship, not only with ABC Broadband, but with Triple J as well, and they did a lot of publicity, asking people to write in with their travel stories, and presenters followed the filmmakers as they travelled. We're also releasing a CD of the music, Pinney's original book is going to be re-released through ABC Enterprises, plus there'll also be another book of the modern journey as well. And we've developed a documentary script based on the footage that they sent back, and other material on the site, which will be a linear documentary - we've had murmurs of interest from ABC main channel as well. So, it's interesting that the multimedia project has actually generated a potential linear project.
BCPI Guidelines and application forms are available on the AFC website. Deadline 3 February 2006. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Kirsten Krauth, AFC Editorial Coordinator