The Future of Video on the Net and What You Need to Know

By Dawn Paap

Open Video is a broad based movement of video creators, technologists, academics, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, activists, remixers, and many others. When most folks think of “open,” they think of open source and open codecs. They’re right—but there’s more to Open Video than open codecs. Open Video is the growing movement for transparency, interoperability, and further decentralization in online video.  Open Video is about the legal and social norms surrounding online video. It’s the ability to attach the license of your choice to videos you publish. It’s about media consolidation, aggregation, and decentralization. It’s about fair use. In short, it’s about a lot of things, and that’s why the first ever Open Video Conference Held on June 19th and 20th here in NYC was a fascinating event for anyone in the business of producing or consuming video.

The Open Video Conference was a two-day gathering of more than 800 global leaders in technology, business, public policy, art, and activism to explore the future of video on the web.  Entrepreneurs, thought-leaders, technologists, policy-makers, hackers, academics, and others spoke to promote the Open Source Video Movement and shared the ways in which they are pushing the boundaries of online video technology. The conference was available to people online, where they could watch the live coverage by way of livestream.  There is also on-demand video coverage, for people who missed it and would like to learn more about the topics discussed at the conference.  Full details and on-demand videos of the event are available online.

The conference was a production of Kaltura (developers of the world’s first full open source online video platform), Yale Internet Society Project, Participatory Culture Foundation (creators of the open source Miro internet TV player) and, in partnership with Mozilla, Red Hat, Creative Commons, Level3, Akamai, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and more.  In addition to talks from internet luminaries, screenings of video art, and demonstrations of the newest internet video technology, the event served as the inauguration of the Open Video Alliance, an umbrella coalition dedicated to furthering best practices in online video.

Thanks to a proliferation of tools for recording, editing, and distributing video online, anyone can be a broadcaster. Sites like YouTube are bursting at the seams with user-created content. Individuals armed with cell phone cameras are effectively citizen journalists. And emerging artistic forms like video commentary and remix/mashup create new vocabularies for creative and political expression.

Yet as the medium matures, we face a crossroads. Will technology and public policy support a more participatory culture—one that encourages and enables free expression and broader cultural engagement? Or will online video become a glorified TV-on-demand service, a central part of a permissions-based culture? Web video holds tremendous potential, but limits on broadband, playback technology, and fair use threaten to undermine the ability of individuals to engage in dialogues in and around this new media ecosystem.

The world of online video is pretty proprietary, but there are plenty of cool companies working toward widening the playing field and offering viewers more variety, flexibility and interactivity.  Amazing people spoke at the conference, including Clay Shirky, Xeni Jardin from Boing Boing, Yochai Benkler, Jonothan Zittrain and film producer Ted Hope, plus many others talking about the idea of Open Video – the growing movement for transparency, interoperability, and further decentralization in online video, which would provide more fertile ground for independent producers, bottom-up innovation, and greater protection for free speech online.

Now that online video has gone supernova, will its future be shackled by intellectual property and copyright wars and other restrictions? Will it become television on the internet, owned and managed by the few and sold to the many (along with mind-numbing ads)? Or will it evolve to become a more participatory workspace, where suits, artists and surfers alike splice media into open-sourced masterpieces?

I attended a seminar by Ross Harley, “From Open Circuits to Open Video,” in which he argued that the “radical challenges to television, art and culture made by video artists in the 1960s and ’70s find their echo today in the principles of Open Source, Creative Commons, Open Content and other emerging principles of participatory culture.” Starting with quotes from Nam June Paik and moving on to a discussion of the online UbuWeb (“More than mere promotion of artists’ work, it is a global distribution outlet that increases the value of the work,” he said), that video artists can increase their audience by embracing the technological forces their creative ideologies presaged.

He quoted Lawrence Lessig (Founder of Creative Commons), saying, “The more you share something, the more valuable it becomes,” and while that dictum is indeed central to the thinking of many artists, there’s another group that believes differently. There wasn’t enough discussion of the role of scarcity in the creation of some video art’s value, the role of the viewing environment in constructing its meanings (most specifically with regards to site-specific work and videos intended to be viewed in gallery environments), and the way in which a mode of distribution can form part of its actual content. Harley seized on the stated political ideology of a generation of video artists without really examining their social practices, in some cases ingrained Ludditism, and, for some, their resistance to upending traditional support structures. On a more practical note, Harley advocated against YouTube and its corporate terms of use, saying “FLOSS platforms give artists more freedom” and “creators need to use the publishing services that work best for them.”

This report wouldn’t be complete without the mention of “Sita Sings the Blues” by Nina Paley

This a feature length (82 minutes) animated film released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. You have complete rights to watch, screen, remix and redistribute this film as long as you abide by the license (meaning you don’t restrict anyone’s else’s right to share the film). I do suggest you watch it and if you like it, buy the DVD or simply donate to the artist to encourage more works like this.  Not only is Nina a content producer but she is heavily involved in advocating her distribution methods, going as far as documenting the process that went into releasing Sita under a creative commons license and in her work with QuestionCopyright.org.

While I feel we are reaching independent content producers way more than I would have thought at this point, some of the big companies still don’t get it or are afraid of Open Video implications.

Nothing is perfect, but we are off to a really good start. In the end it is up to us to keep the momentum going and eventually produce a better experience within the complete Open Video stack, from content production to delivery. The web was built and exploded around the concept of open technology. Let’s continue to make sure this is the case going forward. The last thing we want is the web to become the domain of a few, with creativity being stifled by restrictions in the non-open parts of the stack.

What kind of future does the Open Video Conference, and all of its bright minds, wish for?

“One where video is ubiquitous,” explained the Open Video Alliance’s media coordinator Adi Kamdar in an e-mail to Wired.com. “Everybody has access to low-cost, or even free, tools and software, and open standards allow all devices to be interoperable. It’s also a future where everybody knows how to manipulate video, and where video is freely created, edited, shared, remixed, quoted and archived. Participation is king and free expression is the norm.”

Whether it’s text, music or video, the future demands digital sharing.  If we have any hopes of success in bringing the general public an understanding of our views on the importance of openness and freedom, forming a larger community with like minded content creators is the next logical step and another piece of the puzzle.

Watch the closing remarks from the first day of the conference and share your thought with us.

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2 Responses to The Future of Video on the Net and What You Need to Know

  1. Bob Hammel b says:

    Great, I love the idea, it is the only way to go, but who will pay for my work? The openness of the web and equipment has increased the demand on an individual viewer. Should I form a marketing company to get people to pick my work and then make a contribution? It seems you are proposing a much bigger change to our society then just open video. A true free market where everything is free the the state supports us as we pursue our dreams. I don’t get it.

    • pentacleblog says:

      Bob, based on your comment, we decided to find people to show us new ways to help artists raise money for their work. Next month, on November 5th, we will be offering a 1-hour Webinar on how to help dancers and film makers raise money online for their projects. We continue to explore ideas in this regard, and welcome any input you or others may have regarding marketing and supporting artists. Feel free to participate in the Webinar, and learn how Ben Asriel raised $9,000 from online donations for his artistic pursuits.

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