The DPP and the Democratization of Media

By Michael Darer

In many ways, time can be mapped in media trends. Critics often discuss phenomena like the dominance of the Western or the Superhero film, or the New Golden Age of Television, with cultural commentary organized along the specific angle of culture at the time. With this in mind, it seems as though 2014 can be called the Year of Digital Media. On October 1st of this year, the UK will host what is being called File Delivery Day, and on October 1st all broadcasters will begin to receive programming in digital format, no exceptions. If this seems like a sudden and drastic shift, it’s been a long time in the making. In September of 2013, a collective of UK based television companies and broadcasters called the Digital Production Partnership and championed by such giants as the BBC and ITV announced the transition, and its deadline–at which point broadcasters began to shift individually. This comes after years of deliberation and debate by the organization about the course of television in the future: its preservation and evolution. It also serves as a rhetorical catalyst for a discussion of media and technology beyond just the UK or the boundaries of the television screen. For many, File Delivery Day is a symbol of media’s cumulative growth as both an art form and a technological sphere. It’s most certainly a reason for renewed discussion.

Media has always occupied a special junction between artistry and technology. While some staunchly affirm their compatibility—the inherent connection between innovation in the medium and the machinery that is responsible for its creation and development–others argue that these two forces are somehow in opposition. This weekend, at the Cannes Film Festival, director Quentin Tarantino, whose filmography is rooted in the resurrection and celebration of classic cinema styles, prophesized, “digital projection and DCPs is the death of cinema as I know it.”

Still, even as some filmmakers and television executives fight to preserve the sanctity of 70 and 35 millimeter film production still others assert that the digital revolution in film and television is both a necessity and a blessing. Much of this stems from the democratization that follows the transition to digital. It lowers costs and expands reach. It allows aspiring artists to showcase their visions, while allowing entrenched voices to search out new avenues that older technologies might hinder or complicate.

Whether or not this is a debate that will soon be settled, it is certainly one that has compelled both individuals and collectives to invest in their approaches with a newfound fervor. It is also one that compels those industries that support these agents to pay special attention of the needs and wants of those they serve and assist.

At Signiant, much of what drives our commitment to our client comes from that attention and investment. There’s something immensely exciting and rewarding about being able to help an artist or an organization complete the process of creation in a way that reinforces their choices, about being able to provide the materials that will ease the complexity of production.

Ultimately, this commitment ties closely back to that notion of technology as democracy. If the field of media serves as a forum, then the promotion of voice becomes crucial. Especially as the mediums of television and film become increasingly intricate, expediency serves the goal of support in new and important ways. Between 2011 and 2013, the DPP released a trilogy of reports marking the transition to the use of digital files over film as a “revolution”:

  1. The Reluctant Revolution: Breaking Down the Barriers to Digital Production in Television, which tackled the clumsiness with which a widespread transition to digital was occurring;
  2. The Bloodless Revolution: A Guide to Smoother Workflows in Television, which provided broadcasters with information on how to ensure that their own transition was smooth, cost-efficient, and logistically sound;
  3. The Creative Revolution, which examined how the transition to digital might affect the creative impetus and spirit of television as an art form.

For those in this partnership, that revolution was founded on a respect for the medium and the process of its creation, as opposed to any sort of casual disregard for the tradition of television as an art form. In the third of their Revolution reports, the DPP even argued that television is a discipline rather than a device—a conclusion that stands firm against the still held belief that television is simply a commodified and simplified cousin of filmmaking. That this organization that clearly has a great deal of respect for its artistic surroundings has now argued for the standardization of digital production signals more than just a recognition of convenience. It suggests a deep understanding of what has made television such a powerful force in the media landscape of the last sixty or so years: reach, vision, and egalitarianism. With a medium whose strength has always been its ability to touch and enthrall masses, the integration of production structures that promote that democracy is both logical and reverent.

The concept of mass media can be both humbling and frustrating. On one hand, for some, it suggests a flattening of art—the exchange of power for digestibility. For others, however, it represents the foundational tenets of communication that have always empowered and enlivened the creations that move us the most. If media—and, more deeply, art—is about some sort of connection, then the integration and assertion of technological innovation and ease into that sphere is not about the unnecessary rounding of corners or elimination of texture, but about the healthy and democratic proliferation of those special textures to all who want to experience and preserve them.

At the end of the report titled The Reluctant Revolution—published in 2011—the DPP argued that “out of understanding and adaptation can come opportunity.” In the end, this will always be the goal: to achieve more, to grow and deepen the forces that help us understand the world around us, to offer those tools to all who might want them. Opportunity is not opportunism, and consolidation is not reductivism. If this is a revolution, it is certainly not founded on upheaval. Rather, it is founded on transformation, and connection, and the preservation of those things that have made media positively definitive in the world we occupy.

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