None of us really know do we ? And the great thing is that not knowing is s exciting. In discovering and exploring lies the adventure of life. The following is the text of my address at the future of New Media, Social Networking and virtual reality in Melbourne conference. The 3 day conference and mentoring session was organized by the Xmedia Lab. Where I am part of a team of international mentors, who mentor new enterprises in this space all over the world. For me its a great learning process. For in the mentoring I am also catching up with with new technology and developments. And learning from people with different and more advanced skill sets than mine. Read on for the text of my presentation. I am in conversation with Brendon Harkin, one of the forces behind XMedia lab :
BH: Well, firstly thank you for coming to X|Media|Lab. Today we’re actually going to be talking about things digital and digital culture. On Saturday night Shekhar is going to be in Conversation with Geoffrey Rush at the Forum Theatre, so all things Film we will leave until then.
But I’d like to start with a question, Shekhar, about the new film, The Golden Age: Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett, Abbie Cornish, Heath Ledger, even your editor, Jill Bilcock, all Australians. What is it about Shekhar Kapur and Australia?
SK: I think Australians have the same kind of sense of adventure that we have in India. We were colonial, we were colonized, and we’re still trying to break out. In India that’s a big problem, we still feel colonized. And part of the growth of India, and I’m sure part of the growth of China, has come from people who’ve felt suppressed for a long time and we’re suddenly exploding. And every Australian I’ve met has a huge sense of adventure. But listen, it also could be quite mythic: tectonic plates. Once India and Australia were the same continent and then we broke away, and joined Asia. And I think that’s one of the themes today isn’t it? Shouldn’t Australia break away and join Asia? And then you won’t have these problems and you’ll be called Australasia, and there would be even larger continent, more cultures, more people, and you would have a great market: India and China.
BH: In fact, one of X|Media|Lab’s slogans is New Media: New Geographies. In other words, one of the things we’re interested in is the way that new media technologies will change the power structures of media in general – the dominance of Hollywood in film for example. Firstly, do you agree with that? That new media can re-shape the power structures geographically?
SK: Umm Yeah.
I just want to say something, because I come from film making and I’m fascinated by new media because it offers the Unknown. I love the Unknown. The three words that describe creativity the most are: “I Don’t Know”. And if you can accept the humility of “I Don’t Know”, then you can be creative. And I love this idea that we’re all going into a world where everyone just actually says “I Don’t Know” because for a long time the power structures have said “I Know, I Know I Know”. And now everyone’s saying “Well, I think I Know.”
And the only way I can describe it is – the new media and the new business structures, and I’ll come back to your question because I was thinking about that
I was thinking of this big sea and there are all these waves, and the sea is the community and the business models are the waves that come and go and come and go so fast that you can’t actually develop monopolistic structure anymore. You have to keep developing structures that are a part of the sea and you can’t be a separate business organisation. You have to be part of the community. And the community creates business structures that people then try to create businesses out of. But before you know what’s happened – they’ve gone. So there’s this fluidity. You no longer can be stone. You have to be water. Because if you are stone, then the whole structures of new media will just flow by you. So how can you in terms of business, be water and not stone.
And the other thing that I was thinking, and I’ll say it now, we keep talking about interactivity, and there’s a lot of comment about interactivity between the old and the new media, but interactivity is not just what you do. Interactivity also exists in your imagination. You are interactive in your mind, and when we say “Content is King”, then the content that is king is the content that fires and then exits in your imagination; that imagination is interactive. When I make a film, I’m constantly trying to seed interactivity in your mind, so that every word that is said, or every sentence or every scene, has a deeper sub-textual meaning – which is actually interactivity. And as you walk out of the film, the film stays with you for days, sometimes for years. What is in your imagination for those years? It is playing with content not linearly, but interactively. Exploring possibilities and ideas beyond the linear structure of the film.
You may not be “doing” something. We human beings have a great fascination with “doing” because our egos relate “doing” with “done”. Actually in Hindu philosophy there’s a huge difference between what you do and what is being done. They have separate identities… but that’s a different thing.
The best old media content is primarily interactive, and that’s what keeps it going. How do you turn that into new media? That’s fascinating …
What was the question you asked?
BH: New Media: New Geographies.
SK: Yeah. I think what you’re really asking me is “How will New Media be affected by the changing world ?
Because if it’s community – where is the community coming up, where do they currently exist and where will they exist in the future ?
Huge new communities that are coming up and are threatening to change even what social networking means at this moment. And, as you said, threatening to either balance, or even tilt the balances of media power in their own favour – I mean we’ve had huge populations in India and in China, but they’re getting connected to the world and they’re fascinated by the world.
In a few years time, fifteen percent of the world’s teenage population – just think about it – fifteen percent of the world’s teenage population is going to be living in one country called India. That’s a huge number. Less than one percent of them are connected to the communities that we’re talking about right now. And Inda is embarking upon a programme to get every Indian broadband connected. The new ‘Asian YouTubes’ or whatever they are called then, will have 1 billion hits a day.
What happens in that world?
I think that one of the things that’s going to happen is we’re going to get revenues from new media and 75% of them will come from Asia. And when 75% of them come from Asia, the cultural muscle of the Asian consumer will start dominating the way content an new media is perceived. Even in old media, I would say – and I’ve said this before, we might still make mythic [media] – call them “films” – like Spiderman, because they’ll survive. But the subtle context of his mythicism will be exaggerated because we have a commonality in Asia of still being connected to our mythic selves, which really dominates our storytelling. So when Spiderman is released in its first week it will probably make a billion dollars because it’ll go across all the delivery platforms in the same week or the same day. And then I think 750 million dollars of that revenue will probably come from Asia. And then when Spiderman takes his mask off … he’ll probably be Chinese. Truthfully. I mean I hope he’s Indian, but he’s probably going to be Chinese.
That’s what’s going to change. So how do we react – because we’re not even thinking of that just now. You know, new media is ok. 50 million connections changes it, 100 million connections changes it, a new culture changes it. A billion, two billion people of a new culture interconnected with the world, will dramatically change it. Nothing remains as it is now. That’s the new media. And that’s fascinating and exciting and wonderful for me: the unknown.
BH: Is that an example of what you have referred to as “reverse cultural colonization”?
SK: That is me. Because I grew up in India, but was dominated by one culture that was financially the strongest. In India I wanted to be American. I was studying and I wanted McDonalds and jeans and American pop culture, and I think that part of that guilt is now prevailing on me, because I’m now discovering my culture. My roots. My mythic self. My culture is suddenly becoming stronger and I’ve realized, hang on, hang on – what was my exterior and what was my interior? And I’m going back from what was my exterior back into my interior.
It’s a bad word ‘colonization’, but it is, it’s a reverse thing. It’s already happening. You can see it. How many of you have heard of a person called Aishwarya Rai?
(lots of hands go up)
Well she was called The Most Beautiful Woman in the World. And why was she called The Most Beautiful Woman in the World? Because she won the Miss World contest. Why did she win the Miss World contest? Because the Miss World contest survived for many, many years on Indian advertising. Why? Because the Indian consumer was paying for it. And if it didn’t make Miss World an Indian girl, they would dry up.
So it does do that. Consumers will come out and say “the most beautiful girl in the world has to be Indian because we pay for it.” And that’s how it works.
If F One (Formula One) is moved to China, I bet you the next great F1 Driver is going to be Chinese. Or Asian – somewhere.
BH: Shekhar you’ve spoken about entertainment generally as “the use of emotional spare time”. Do you want to elaborate on that thought – both in terms of content, as you’ve been talking about; but also in terms of platforms? The fragmentation of that emotional spare time, where it’s being used on different platforms.
SK: Entertainment is an emotional reaction, whatever form it takes. And entertainment delivery is getting into smaller and smaller time capsules . I have no doubt that at one point in time the two hour film is going to be an artistic choice. I saw the statistics, and it’s not the main view, but I don’t think we’ll have the patience for a two hour film. But as a storyteller, and a story is nothing but a moral contradiction – how can I create a sub-textual moral contradiction in an emotional space of ten minutes? Of five minutes? It’s very exciting to be able to do that. How do I tell as story in five minutes that people still think about that for the next two days, or three days, or five years? So that’s one of the exciting things. I’m gonna have to tell my stories in a very short space of time.
But where you’ve picked that statement up is from another context.
For a long time I’ve been talking to all my technology friends – because they’re all Indian in Silicon Valley now – and I’ve been saying: you’re investing billions and billions and billions of dollars in delivery systems. And billions are going in. And the assumption is that the old content as we have viewed it is somehow gonna be churned up, cut up, … and that people will watch that regurgitated content through the new delivery system.
But one thing that all new delivery systems – like radio and television have taught us, is that each new delivery system demands its own culture of content viewing and content creation. Like the ‘Soap’ or the reality show on TV for example.
And the other thing is, and always has been, is that more and more “technology” and “entertainment” are becoming the same business. I would not be surprised if Google having invested in delivery platforms, becomes the new Studio. Or will Microsoft be the new Studio? I don’t know. Because technology and entertainment effectively, because of the vast investment in delivery systems, will gravitate to the same ‘roof’. For the creation of specific content for the myriad new delivery platforms will take much longer to catch up. How else will Goggle and Microsoft recover their hardware and software costs in delivery systems ? Itunes is an example of what I am taking about. It supports the Ipod. That supports the Iphone and so on. Apple has become a Music distributor, and how long before it becomes a music creator ?
So, how do I describe it now to make them happy….
Entertainment is the emotional interface between technology and content – that’s it. That’s it. Anything that you sell, is sold through a story you tell.
Now we’re doing more and more training through video games. The American Army is being trained through video games. Salesmen are being trained through video games. It’s the same idea. Doctors will be trained through video games. I can imagine surgeons being trained through complex ‘surgical virtual reality simulations. Video games are the same. They came out as entertainment and are now going into all kinds of simulations … and so it’s becoming the emotional interface between content and technology. And education and training. We are all in the same business.
BH: Shekhar, you’re currently trying to put together a media US$500 million investment fund. Can you tell us how you’re going?
SK: It’s a lie. It’s a billion dollars.
BH: A billion! What are your intentions with that?
SK: I think the great opportunity in almost everything that we have been talking about and will talk about, lies – and as culture shifts – lies in Asia, and I’ll tell you why. Because there are a certain amount of structural changes and structural aggregations that have been taking place in the West that are very sophisticated. It is becoming difficult to break through the structures to find new opportunity. The big opportunity right now lies in Asia, and if we are to achieve this idea of Asia being the great big entertainment powerhouse, what we have to do is we have to invest in an aggregation of things that are different in each community and make a cross-Asian platform. So this fund is what I call an Asian Media and Entertainment Ecosystem Fund. We have to create the ecosystem of all Asian people getting together and aggregating it in such a way that we provide a media and entertainment catchment areas. One of the big problems in Asia is there’s no culture of failure. So really when I went to these people I said need to have a billion dollars, they said for what? And I said to fund failure. It’s the truth.
It’s what you need money for right now in this world is to encourage people to not be afraid to fail, and we in Asia we know the burden of failure that we carry. So the idea of this fund is to aggregate Asia – India, China, Korea, Japan, and to pick the best and create a common culture and a common ecosystem, and unlock working capital so that that working capital can go into research and into development. It’s time because what’s going to happen is that although the West sees Asia first as a market, and second – even though perhaps now higher up the value chain – as skill outsourcing, effectively the power is going to come from the creation of new technologies out of this, and the creation of the new imaginations. So it will become the breeding ground of the next Google’s, or whatever the next technologies are, and to do that we need a billion dollars to start to create the ecosystem – the ecosystem of reverse world cultural colonization. It doesn’t exist yet. It needs to be created.
BH – Can you describe, as you have previously, how you would put those projects together, geographically – like the example of Virgin Comics and Virgin Animation of creating IP in different places, developing it in different places.
SK: The thing that we’ve been fighting for is where do you create the intellectual property? Although that in itself is unknown. Every thing’s unknown. If you talk about IP, I’ve long argued that this whole question of IP is a contradictory question. What would happen if the Bible was IP? There’d be no Christianity. What if all of Buddha’s words were copyrighted by the person that transcribed them ? There would be no Buddhism. I think that with digital media I’m gonna be creating a property where I’ll be asking – can you just protect my IP just for ten minutes? And I can get everything out in 10 minutes and after that it’s open to the world to use as they wish – and beyond that it’s just an aggregation of new ideas created by the people that parasite my existing IP that will lead to my next IP. Because they will helping me will create my brand. Give it longevity. Piracy gives you longevity !
What was your question?
BH: To describe the way how the projects you will put together will be from disparate places.
SK: Well Virgin Comics was created because we needed new Superman’s, and new Batman’s, and new Wonder Woman’s, and we thought we could probably take Asian stories – so we started to write. It’s basically a franchise model, and if you’ve just read Variety today then you’ll see what we’ve created. We’ve taken Ramayana, which is inherently Hindu, a great big large Hindu myth, put it in the future, recreated it, created an IP out of it, and signed a deal with Sony just yesterday that they’re going to create a big mobile gaming platform out of that. So that’s what we’re doing.
BH: And within Virgin Comics and Virgin Animation – the work that you’re doing with John Woo….
SK: Yeah, we have something called a “Director’s Cut”. The company had this great idea. For example, I’m a director, and I know as a Director I have a million stories to tell and I can’t make a million films… so we went to all the major directors and said “do you have a story you want to tell”? Because everyone has a story they want to tell – and it could be just one line. It could be just “I think Ramayan is a great idea” And that becomes a story. Just those words. So we’ve gone to a lot of directors developed the Director’s Cut. They give us a basic idea, we’ve got about 20 writers in India who then start developing it into a story and a comic book, and we have about 300 artists in Bangalore who then start painting them. We create a comic book. Now with that comic book a director can go to .. and say here’s a movie, or here’s a video game… and that’s become very successful. We have directors now, and we have signed a lot of deals with studios to create that.
BH: Shekhar, you’re on the Advisory Board to the Singapore Government’s Media Development Authority (MDA) – what kinds of advice are you giving them, and what do you see the role of government in what you’re talking about, if at all?
SK: Oh God! What kind of advice can I give a government? I’m a filmmaker.
Actually I think that the only advice I could give them is that what we’re working at is trying to make Singapore two things:
Hollywood is a hub that became the hub of entertainment in the West. Can Singapore become the hub of entertainment in the East?
Because I can’t see Indian directors being comfortable in Shanghai, or a Chinese director feeling so comfortable in Mumbai. But because of the multicultural nature of Singapore, every body’s happy to be going and to be working in Singapore. So how do you create that into a hub? How do you then encourage some of the higher level, high value chain activity coming out of the hub and operating in Singapore because their IP protection is very good, their financial capital markets are very good.
And how do you do that?
And then start operating very much like Hollywood is operating, where all media seems to connect there, and then branch off, and in connecting there it creates essential skill sets in the hub itself.
And the creation of those skill-sets are then created in a place like Singapore. So it could have been Shanghai, it could have been Mumbai, it could have been Singapore, but I think in its multicultural nature, Singapore is the best place to do it.
BH: Yes. And do you have any opinion or advice on where Australia could fit into that picture?
SK; Can I be honest?
BH: Yes, please!
SK: About five, ten years ago, all my Australian friends were saying you know, “we’re Asian”. But somehow that seems desire seems to have gone away.
I think for Australia – the opportunity is to see yourself as Asian. I think that’s the way to go. Break away from it’s essential western past.
I’m surprised at the gaming opportunities here, at the gaming industry here, I didn’t know that – I’ve just found out. But you need the markets, you need the imagination, you need the people, you need the population. We have a thing that we’re developing now, and I’m hoping the new Pixar is going to come out of India and China, and we’re working on new animation and new animation techniques and new ideas, and part of them are being developed from partners from Los Angeles, and part of them are being developed in India.
But certainly if you want an animation organisation of 2,000 people, you’re going to have a lot of problems trying to do it in Australia. But to find 2,000 people in India/China of a certain artistic skill-set is not that difficult. We have 1.2 billion people. China has even more.
So I think that “to embrace” – and new media is doing that – to break out of your state boundaries and to embrace the idea of being Asian, and certainly in our business, that is where Australia should go.
BH: And that’s definitely why we have X|Media|Lab’s in Singapore, Mumbai and Beijing.
SK: Well done.
BH: Thank you. Last question Shekhar, since you’re one of the world’s leading figures in narrative development and storytelling, may I ask: What happens next?
SK: I don’t know.– and that’s so exciting. And as long as we can go on keep on saying “I don’t know” – that’s great.
One of the things that I do believe right now though, is that when five years ago I used to sit and predict the next five years, I used to predict it from a business point of view. and most of us thought we knew what was going to happen. We didn’t know exactly how or what the size of it would be. But certainly when we developed cell phones texting, you could actually see the model of a visual ‘Youtube ‘ on texting. So if people are texting and you’re providing the platform, then effectively the consumer is co-creating content for you.
So that was easy. So once I created a text message saying “I Love You” to my girlfriend but allowed the world to see it – I was creating a community. So Youtube was pretty predictable. The next thing is a little less predictable because it is so chaotic. But that’s the exciting thing in its unpredictability. I think we’re into the penny business. I think we’re into the business where we have large communities out of which they give us a small amount of the thing they create.
But I think the dominant thing that’s happening now is that it’s becoming very difficult to predict the new fluid business models needed. What we have to do is predict social behavior. It is out of the social behaviors patterns through which we hope the business models will come up; it is not only the content that people will throw up to you, it’s not just the co-creation of content, it’s the co-creation by the people who are creating content , who will be co -creating business models. The business models themselves will come out of the consumers themselves, and you hope to be able to catch them for a while.
We’re in a wonderful world. People in business always believe that people who create businesses will only put in time, money and resources, because they want to make money out of it. But as we are noticing now, people will put huge amounts of time, huge amounts of money, huge amounts of resources, just to get attention. There’s no business model for that. The fundamental desires of seeking to be part of communities are contradictory, where you seek both anonymity, and within that anonymity seek attention. In a contradictory way they’re doing both: they’re wanting to be part of any anonymous community but they’re also trying to get attention. From this contradiction communities will create business models.
Like going to huge pop event where their are many acts playing. It is the desire to be part of the shifting crowds to move anonymously from one act to another. And then suddenly the desire to get attention yourself. Get on to a soap box and start your own act…thereby creating a business if you can attract enough people to your act, but within the community… and then they’re gone and somebody else’s act now gets attention. The act may be completely different that does not confirm to any existing platform.
That’s why I use this image of a huge sea in which the waves are coming up and down and the business models are coming and going. So one of the things we have to look at is what is the effect when you have 1.5 billion people on your site? What is the business model? One and a half billion people both wanting to be anonymous and wanting to seek attention at the same time.
You know as a kid I used to go to something called a Mela. You know what a Mela is? It’s like a fair. Part of the reason I used to go there was because it was crowded. And there were lights and everything everywhere and as a kid I would go. It was like a fair, And I would go, and shoulder to shoulder we’d all be walking and there was a great sense of community. Anonymity and community…
And then suddenly my attention would be caught by freak-shows, suddenly I’d see a Paris Hilton. Suddenly I’d see the double-headed boy. So suddenly there would be a freak-show or somebody would stand there and start singing and dancing, and we’d travel and we’d gather around there for a while and then move on. How do you create a business model out of a Mela?
Those are the questions and they’re fascinating. But we have to stop thinking of it as business now and we have to start thinking about us as being part of the sea and part of the wave and then maybe you’ll catch something and go away.
We human beings are addicted to beginnings and ends.
We are into a much more fluid world – where it keeps flowing.
Business models are designed to say that somehow the world stops, and that’s how it exists, and therefore you design a business and at the end of it, it will stay there. But now it will stay there for moments, and then it’s gone.
So how do you design fluid business models? That’s our challenge. But we have to then be part of the community. I don’t think you can be outside the community and form businesses.
BH: Our time is up Shekhar.
SK: Thank you