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New ACCC guidelines for online reviews

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Sunglasses

By Kaye Blum

As a 21 year old emerging writer, I was incredibly excited to land my first writing job reviewing gigs in a popular weekly street press magazine. I wouldn’t be paid for my work of course – the publication was free to readers and relied on advertising revenue to survive. But I would get a byline – my name would be in print – that was exciting! And that was over 20 years ago, well before the emergence of the internet. These days pretty much anyone can have a byline online.

I didn’t see myself as a critic, more of a reporter, providing punters with an insight to a particular performance or event as I’d experienced it. As a local music fan, I was thrilled to get my name on the door to see some of my favourite bands.

But I soon discovered it wasn’t all fun and games, I had to work. I needed to take a few notes (pre-smartphone-with-recorders era), which I preferred to do discretely (not easy in a dimly lit room with no tables). I had to stand where I could get the best quality sound, which was usually by the mixing desk. But I also needed a clear view of the stage and I’m not very tall. Needless to say, I had to be on the ball, so drinking wasn’t an option. And back then, I was fond of a bevvy or three at a gig.

Then came the actual writing process. And this didn’t come easily at first. I was a perfectionist and wanted my piece to sound as good as the music I’d heard. Well, close enough, anyway. I remember at times toiling away on a draft all night, sometimes until dawn, to file my review before deadline. Lead times were short – there was an editor and a pre-press process to go through before hitting that marvellously historic invention, the printing press.

When the weekly edition hit the streets, I’d race out to the nearest distribution point (usually a pub or record store) to grab a copy. I’d flick through the pages at lightning speed until I found my article. Week after week, my reviews were published verbatim.

One week, however, it was possibly my eighth or ninth review, I read my work in print and the colour drained from my face. It had been changed. A whole line had been removed and another added, which clearly altered the opinion I had articulated from my viewing experience of the gig. These were not my words, and they did not reflect what I had witnessed. But the review still had my name on it. 

I raced home and rang the editor. Why did you change my piece? What was wrong with it? Well, she explained, the headline artist’s record company is a major advertiser in our magazine; and your review wasn’t very favourable of him. What? It wasn’t directly critical or blatantly negative. Why couldn’t you call me first to discuss it with me? If it really had to change to something I didn’t actually experience I’d have asked you to take my name off it altogether. I put down the phone.

I never wrote for them again. In fact, I never reviewed again, until the past year. After living in London for six years from the mid Nineties and witnessing how some critics, particularly theatre critics, would sit in the front row with their pen and pads practically waving about as if to say, look at me, I’m very important to your production. And unfortunately, they did have the power to make or break a production with their reviews, depending on the publication they wrote for.

But isn’t a review just an opinion? It might be an educated and informed opinion, it might not. The reviewer’s experience can be impacted by so many factors – an exhausted performer, dodgy equipment, a catastrophe in the kitchen. There are factors that might not be apparent. And how informed is the reviewer? Are they an expert in the field they’re critiquing? Or are they just another punter? It varies. Dramatically. Especially now with the internet, because pretty much anyone can publish a review on a wide range of platforms, from TripAdvisor to their own blog.

Some review platforms publish anonymous reviews, so there is little or no accountability. Anyone can say anything. And they do. Everyone’s a critic. When it comes to online comments, anonymity gives some cowards the opportunity to say things they wouldn’t dare put their name to.

But maybe not for much longer.

Late last year, YouTube changed the way comments are managed* and moderated by requiring a Google+ ID login to comment. In a recent SlideShare presentation from JWT Intelligence called 101 Things To Watch In 2014*, slide number 97 predicts verified reviewers as the way forward, citing platforms such as Amazon and Google Play as already utilising a form of verification.

In an effort to address the increase of fake positive reviews and potentially business-destroying defamatory ones, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) published new guidelines to online reviews* for both businesses and review platforms in November 2013. While honest reviews can be helpful for consumer decision-making, the increase in fake positive and contrived negative reviews has serious implications.

The ACCC publication provides guiding principles on transparency of commercial relationships, reviews presented as impartial that are not, and editing or omission of reviews that can be misleading.

Disclosure of any incentive given to review is vital. When I added a review section to Tweed Scene last year, I updated my About page to disclose my reviewing principles in an effort to maintain the integrity of the site. After completing MEAA’s Australian Media Law and Ethics training in December, I was glad I’d instinctively chosen transparency on Tweed Scene, but even more grateful to have a deeper knowledge of Australian defamation laws.

Personally, I’m all for transparency, integrity, and reviewer verification. So I hope JWT Intelligence’s prediction for 2014 comes true. Meanwhile, for all those reviewers and bloggers out there who aren’t accredited journalists, best you familiarise yourself with the ACCC’s guidelines, pronto 🙂

*Accessed 15/1/14

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Written by Kaye Blum

January 17, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Monetising video: commercialising content in a world of video overload

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Street Art Melbourne - TV sculpture

Retired content delivery devices find a new purpose as street art in Melbourne

By Kaye Blum

Held at the KPMG Auditorium (Sydney) in August, this panel session from the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (AIMIA) proposed to address the issue of how to make money from video and whether people will actually pay for content.

Presenting industry insights were Matt Moran from the Platform, Nick Love from Shine 360°, Angus Stevens from Southern Cross Austereo, Georgie Powell from YouTube, Sue Carter from Tigerspike, Will McKinnon from SBS, and event chair Scott Bradley Pearce from ArgentDigital. Following are my key highlights from the session.

Adapting to storytelling across platforms

Shine 360° Managing Director Nick Love started out making content for TV but now focuses on storytelling for multiple screens. He presented a case study for The Voice, for which they managed the social media in-house last season. “We used it to tell stories, not just cross-sell,” he explained.

They scripted for three platforms: TV, Facebook and Twitter. Plotting story across the three screens, they used the right channel choices with the right voices. “It takes design,” he said, adding that they worked on it for six months before going to air to ensure it was an integrated part of production.

They had to re-design the production supply chain and publishing workflow. “Without metadata you are lost… We couldn’t find any tools so we built our own,” he claimed,  “MDM, adding, adapting and building metadata from content creation to distribution.”

In terms of monetizing, Shine 360° are not in the ad selling business, so they partnered with M9. On top of pre-roll and mid-roll ads, they made money through sponsored integration, with Ford sponsoring the live stream. They also integrated e-commerce with music sales and episodes on iTunes.

Love emphasised the importance of social media and data, and noted that Season 1 had 67% desktop traffic, while Season 2 saw an increase in mobile traffic. “It’s just the beginning – our storytelling hasn’t changed, it’s just introducing different screens.”

Monetising with YouTube

Georgie Powell, Content Partner Manager at YouTube, highlighted some vital company stats:

  • Youtube is the world’s largest video platform and the second biggest search engine in world.
  • Content owners can take 100% if they sell above the rate card.
  • 90% of views of Australian content is from outside Australia, impacting import/export and rights.
  • One in three YouTube views are on mobile devices.

YouTube’s demographic is Gen C – the curators, creators, connectors and communities of content. They like to upload and share, 91% sleep with their smartphone by the bed, they have an active social media presence.

“We need to think differently about how we program and create content for this type of audience”, Powell said. “We need to engage WITH, rather than program AT them.”

She explained one of the ways for content creators to make money from YouTube content is with Content ID. This enables rights owners to upload content and turn it into a reference file that shows who has ripped your content by scanning for matching videos, which you can monetise. Freemantle Media have Content ID and saw 20x growth in monetisation.

She covered the YouTube business models: ad supported, paid channels and transactional. Paid channels are already available in Australia.

Multi channel networks (MCNs), she claimed, are the next generation of broadcasters. There has been a huge investment in this field in the last six months overseas, but we are behind here in Australia (about three years).

A new model for production houses

Angus Stevens, Creative Director at Southern Cross Austereo, was previously a film/TV director and provided some great insights to the changing industry for production houses.

“There’s still money to be made, but you have to use a different model than what you’d use for TV,” he said. Crews and producers need to think this way as well. It’s not about making pretty pictures, it’s about how it will reach the audience. And this means different budgets.

“You have to put the old [production] model away”, he claimed, “You’re judged on distribution and scale.” He talked about innovation in execution and the need to be nimble to be profitable. Consider how can you use the medium to engage. “You can’t shoe-horn TVC values into a small platform.”

Co-incidentally I had recently done some initial consulting for a start-up run by traditional TVC directors and producers and had made the recommendation that a different model was needed for their purely digital product, but they insisted on maintaining a traditional TVC production house model. I chose not to proceed with these clients. Hearing Stevens dispelled any doubts I may have had about my decision.

Stevens also discussed client needs versus audience wants, describing content marketing as those who want to hang out around the campfire. With branded content, those guys bring their own guitar, music, etc. to control the environment. The client wants their music to be played at the campfire. Be clear about the difference between the two, he advised.

For content marketing, fish where the fish are, he said. Find where your audience is and go to them. Be honest (“Gen Y can smell bullshit a mile away so don’t bullshit”, he later added). Consumers don’t have loyalty.

“Creativity is hard to make and hard to sell and hard to measure, so you need to be in it for the long haul,” Stevens claimed. The online environment is quick, fast. “Do you want high impact, fast turn-around or a genuine engagement with the content?”

He showed a quote from an ADMA Report June 2013 to emphasise the point: “Creative brand campaigns take longer to deliver business success – after 6 months – compared to short term… but ultimately creativity wins out.”

Stephens took us through some great case studies, including The Friskies awards for best cat video of 2013; Vice (“the content is so good on Vice that brands want to be associated with it); and TAC Victoria’s roadtripforever.com campaign integrating social media.

Great stuff.

X Media Lab & KR8V masterclasses – Sydney, June 2013

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By Kaye Blum

Harbourview Terrace, MCA

View from the Harbourview Terrace, MCA

For the past five years I’ve been trying to attend a X Media Lab (the “X” in X Media Lab stands for cross-platform, cross-disciplinary, and cross-cultural) conference, but for various reasons, missed out. This year it was back on home turf to celebrate its tenth anniversary after holding events in over a dozen countries.

Founded by Brendan Harken, X Media Lab events have covered as much ground in digital topics as it has geographical locations. Themes have included global media cultures and ideas; the future of journalism; animation and games; location based services; storytelling in the digital age; digital music; cross-platform and immersive media; and, in Switzerland this month, transmedia (wish I could be there). 

This year’s event comprised a highlights day conference designed for “time-poor” creative industries executives, held at the stunning Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MCA’s) Harbourview Terrace; plus two days of KR8V masterclasses, held at the University of NSW College of Fine Arts (COFA).

The highlights day featured over a dozen national and international academics, digital professionals and artists; each limited to a snappy 20 minute presentation (the full list of keynote speakers can be found here). Here are my picks:

Kristen Taylor, Digital Community Strategist for Al Jazeera (previously at The Huffington Post, FourSquare and the BBC New York) shared some poignant insights to why a digital community needs narratives. She talked about context and curating an archive that accrues value over time, such as tumblrs by The New York Times and National Geographic’s ‘Found’. Tumblr and Instagram are her preferred social media channels.

Key take-out from Kristen: “The internet continues to run on kindness… networks have self-healing properties – they heal themselves through kindness.”

Kate McQuillen from Mememe Productions had just won an interactive Emmy award for dirtgirlworld, an “organically designed transmedia project” including an animated kids TV series, merchandise, website, live events, garbage trucks, seeds, and more. There are only eight Emmys in Australia so it’s a fantastic achievement. It was fascinating to hear her journey from having the seed of an idea based on core values such as love and sustainability, and meeting future colleagues in the loo at X Media Lab ten years ago.

Key take-out from Kate: “We wear our hearts on our sleeves and don’t apologise for being ‘out there’.”

Author and presenter Dominic Knight talked about story and structure; the hero’s journey (Robert McKee, Joseph Conran) and the importance of knowing the rules, but where you can innovate.

Key take-out from Dom: “Stories are the conceptual framework that help us understand the world.”

Alvin Wang Graylin, CEO of minfo (China’s leading mobile search service), and founder of Guanxi Inc (a location-based social discovery platform), provided an overview of what it takes to be a tech entrepreneur. And judging by the long list of criteria he shared, there’s obviously a lot more required than just having the idea.

Executing the idea is only the beginning, he explained. A strong work ethic is critical, and being prepared to do the stuff that no one wants to do. Self-esteem, focus, creativity, patience, selling acumen, passion, in-depth industry knowledge, and having a strong team around you were just some of the points he covered. Having savings in the bank and being in a position to take risks were other crucial points – ones that often get ignored, usually to the detriment of the start-up.

To help get investors on board, Alvin provided a list of critical questions that need to be clearly and confidently answerable.

Key take-out from Alvin: “Be healthy – it gets tiring.”

I attended Alvin’s Masterclass on Saturday to hear him share a generous amount of detail on creating integrated mobile marketing campaigns. He also provided some terrific insights to the mobile market in China.

As a digital producer, Galvin Scott Davis has developed top lifestyle apps, business apps and kids games. He is the founder of Protein One, a boutique digital design and development agency in Sydney. His presentation opened with the question: are you a “why” or a “why not”? Creatives realise early on that they are “whys” – they’re always asking questions even as young children, he explained, then they realise it’s more fun to be a “why not”.

It was asking “why not” that pushed him through the challenges of creating a children’s app that required a technology that hadn’t yet been developed. (This process was explained in his masterclass.)

Key take-out from Galvin: “Creatives have imagination, innovation, and talent. We forget to have bravery, stubbornness, and persistence. We need all of the above.”

And one more: “if you’ve got stories, don’t let other people saying ‘no’ get in the way…. Embrace your hurdles – it can be dangerous but rewarding.”

Galvin also delivered an information-packed Masterclass on Saturday, called Reversing The Publishing Model – How To Reinvent Your Story Across Digital Media To Getting A Book Deal. Using the creation of his Dandelion e-book app as a case study, he generously shared the process from concept development through to reaching the Number 1 downloaded app in the Australian AppStore, then scoring a 3-book print publishing deal with Random House. It was fascinating, informative and inspiring stuff. 

Adam Good, director of digital media and content at Telstra Media, also had plenty to share in his presentation. He explained his concern with creative leadership in business and the two areas where he believes more training is needed. Strong leadership is one mandatory skillset; creativity is the other. “You need to flex both of those muscles to succeed” he said, naming Steve Jobs as an example. 

Adam believes there are not enough CEOs in Australia that have both of these attributes, with many coming up through financial management but lacking the sales/marketing/artistic side. He said he sees a lot of businesses failing due to this; there are not enough of these type of leaders here. I wanted to ask him why – is it because our culture places less value on creativity? If you’ve grown up enduring more than an occasional ribbing for being creative like I have, then it’s easy to assume so. But that’s a debate for another time…

The MCA Vivid Festival

The MCA illuminated for Vivid Festival

Back to Adam’s presentation, which moved on to Telstra’s future vision. There were many informative stats but 20 minutes wasn’t nearly enough time and the presentation ended prematurely, with the promise of providing the rest via a Twitter link (which I followed up on). 

Key take-out from Adam: “We need to change the mindset of people who don’t pay for content.”

Michael Naimark, media artist and part of the original design team for the MIT Media Laboratory; and Horst Hörtner, founding member and Director of the Ars Electronica Futurelab, a world leading interdisciplinary research project uniting art, technology and society in Austria, both shared some valuable insights in their presentations.

Key take-out from Michael: “Wearable tech is inevitable.”

Key take-out from Horst: “The next revolution: key technology that has the potential to change fundamental paradigms of our society…. 3D printing, we believe, is the next revolution.”

Vivid Festival and the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) were held in Sydney at the same time as X Media Lab and the city was literally bursting with creative energy. By night, Vivid’s stunning light projections transformed the Opera House, the MCA and other city buildings into dazzling palettes of colour and light. The post-conference networking event on the MCA’s balcony provided a spectacular view and an impressive end to an information-intense day.  

Seeking writers unbound at MWF 2011

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By Kaye Blum

This year’s Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF) is themed ‘Stories Unbound’. It’s a delightfully positive spin on the status quo of the publishing industry as it edges tentatively into the digital era with (hopefully) a little less confusion, fear and foreboding than the music industry experienced not so long ago.

I’ve regularly attended writers’ festivals in various Australian locations including Brisbane, Byron Bay and Melbourne. In recent years there’s usually been a session or two on e-books and what’s going to happen to our beloved paperback.

Much of the focus has been on the current issues facing the publishing and book retail industries. And there are many challenges, including digital rights management (DRM), the different formats required for the range of tablets (or e-readers) available, pricing models and distribution.

You only need to be the owner of a tablet yourself to know the current limitations of the Australian e-book market. And if you are a tablet owner, you’re one of the rapidly growing masses, according to the stats in this promo blurb for AIMIA’s upcoming seminar on Tablet Wars:

“It is forecast that 5.5 million Australians or 3 million households will own a tablet by 2015…. The rate of adoption is twice as fast as smartphones, broadband and other technologies that have preceded it.”

These stats are from Pricewaterhouse Cooper’s Australian Entertainment & Media Outlook 2011-2015, due for release some time in August 2011, which will include a focus on tablet devices. Hopefully the report will also include some up-to-date statistics on e-book sales compared to printed books in Australia, which I’m currently struggling to find. (If anyone has any data, please be kind and share.)

But there’s no point having the tablet if we don’t have the content. And to me, the tablet is more than just a device to transform a printed book into a PDF. It’s an entirely new world for readers – and writers.

As writers, we are no longer limited to words on paper. With smartphones and tablets, we can integrate sound, moving image, location and real-time interaction from anywhere in the world as narrative devices. Storytelling is literally leaping from the page to become story sharing across media platforms and across the globe.

At this year’s MWF, I want to find out how writers feel about the potential of the e-book. Are they mainly concerned about piracy and how they might protect their hard-earned income? Are they ambivalent about making any kind of change to the structure and methods of their storytelling? Are they interested in developing new skills to explore the possibilities of interactive or non-linear narrative? Do they think the title ‘content creator’ holds less esteem than ‘author’? Are they – like me – excited by the limitless potential of stories unbound?

If you’re a writer of any genre, I’d love to hear what you think.

(c) 2011 Kaye Blum.

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