I was asked to write a column for the excellent Digital Media magazine published in Australia about the possibilities of "export" markets ... here is what I wrote:
Don’t think “Export”, think “Networks"
X|Media|Lab began life as part of the Sydney Film Festival and is now held in seven digital media hotspots around the world: in Australia, Singapore, China, India, the Middle East, New Zealand, and Korea.
I want to share some experiences that have come from running 20 Labs that concern the changing landscapes of the digital media industries and the potential for accessing new markets.
The basic idea behind XML is that individuals, start-up’s, and small companies trying to get an original idea to market are the lifeblood of all industry development. The organizing principle of the Lab is to put people with great ideas into direct contact with some of the best practitioners in the world who help them directly on their own creative, business, or technological ideas.
We’ve had over 150 mentors at the Lab’s including Shekhar Kapur, the world-renowned filmmaker; Stewart Butterfield, the founder of Flickr; Emmy Award Winners (USA); BAFTA Award winners (UK); Golden Rooster Winners (China); the Head of Moving Pictures from Pixar; Raman Hui, the Director of Shrek; and many other outstanding people who have enjoyed sharing their expertise with the companies participating at each XML and offering invaluable feedback on each company’s original idea.
The Emerging World
My belief is that the current malaise besetting the US and the UK economies is going to be around for a long time to come. The fragile financial systems, the long-term loss of manufacturing income, the sudden difficulty in accessing capital, the flight of R&D, and many other problems are leading, if I may speak grandiosely, to a great and lasting power shift from the West to the East.
These changes are especially important for producers in the digital media industries because these are the high growth markets, the youth markets, and the sheer numbers markets.
XML is already a couple of years ahead of these developments staging Labs in China, Korea, India, and the Middle East. At every X|Media|Lab, hundreds of connections are made between the participating companies and the new markets, talent, resources and opportunities in the emerging world.
Consider this: in both India and China, internet use is a mere 4-5% of the population. Each single percentage point increase in this number adds an internet audience greater than the entire size of the Australian population. And this percentage is growing very quickly.
This means that the economics and geography of media demand and consumption is quickly shifting on a daily basis.
The good news is that the Australian digital media industries are well placed to be part of this silent explosion, for these reasons: 1) digital media is not necessarily content- or culture-dependent; 2) digital media is fundamentally about networks and therefore partnerships are the key; and 3) expertise is exportable, not just content.
One of the striking opportunities I foresee is that, with the right kind of connections that XML strives to make possible, a small group of creative individuals with a great idea anywhere in Australia (and anywhere else) can partner with the vast resources available elsewhere to attempt projects that would be prohibitive or imposible in Australia alone.
For example, at the Suzhou Industrial Park in China where we ran a Lab on Animation earlier this year there are dozens of companies with thousands of highly qualified engineers who exist to secure outsourcing work where the IP is retained by the creators. A small creative team in Australia could instantly have a workforce of a hundred engineers to bring their idea to market. There are even funds available there to make this happen.
At the Suzhou Animation Lab we had no difficulty getting Pixar, Dreamworks, Lucas Arts, Virgin Comics and Animation to attend, along with a dozen Australian companies.
Australia’s Lost Decade
In Australia, the status of the digital media industries is nowhere near as highly-valued or well-resourced as where we run Labs elsewhere. This is due primarily to a) vested interests that have retarded our development; and b) a failure of advocacy.
One example will suffice: the 40% Producer’s Rebate for Feature Film in Australia. This would be a worthy initiative if it also applied to the interactive digital media industries of computer games, IP TV, mobile content and services and so on, where there is some chance of obtaining local and/or international market share. The fact that this rebate exactly does not apply to these vibrant, youthful, emerging industries, but only, and yet again, to the moribund Australian film industry (which manages to gather less than 3% of all Australian box office receipts) is an indictment on the frightful Canberra bureaucrats and the ineffective and supine industry body. These are the same people who were deeply complicit in the digital media industries’ Lost Decade under the Howard government. Some have even suddenly found their voice, and impertinently demand that Senator Conroy should have already fixed the broken-down contraption he inherited and which he opposed all along.
In a small but effective way, XML is opening the doors to the great projects, markets, and initiatives taking place in the arc from the Middle East to Korea. XML succeeds solely by virtue of the people who take part in it. Please consider yourself invited to any XML and, we always say, “write yourself into the script”!
I had to fit it into 850 words OK?
I could go on ....