So what is Digital Content?

This is a discussion that began on the Digital Circle’s Ning site when I started a discussion “What is the Digital Content Industry? Let’s Find Out” (membership required – but go ahead, join up).

That has sort of morphed into a wider discussion about Digital Content and what it is.  One of my colleagues on the Digital Circle Steering Group Marty Neill asked the question:

 “Also I can conceive of how content and platform got divided in the first place? Anyone shed any light on why this division was / is necessary? Maybe I’m missing something but most digital content is created through building on top of existing platforms. There’s a clear mix of codey type development and creative endeavour involved. “

So I started to write what is a slightly rambling reply that I thought I should bring out of the Walled Garden of Ning. It’s not an arguement, but an exploration of ideas.

Marty, let me take that question head on. It’s an important one and I expect we will debate on the Steering Group and among the membership over the coming weeks and months. It is also helps to inform the discussion you have opened about an unfragmented Digital Industry.

I’ll give a couple of examples. I make audio. To make the simplest production – say a two way interview – I capture on a digital recorder, edit on a digital editor and mix digitally. When it is complete, it exists as a piece of digital content; it might be an MP3 or a WAV file or on a proprietary file such as DALET MP3 (which for some reason is not compatible with regular MP3 players). But there it is, it’s done and is digital content.

It can be distributed on a wide range of platforms. Really, as a Digital Producer I don’t care what platforms it is distributed on – the more the better. It can be distributed on analogue radio, DAB radio, SKY satellite, Web as MP3 (or WAV or Flash or any other suitable file type), on a CD, a DVD, on iPlayer (and that can be broken down into half a dozen flavours of iPlayer), on a mobile phone – or I can play it very loud out of my window. If it’s music it’s done essentially the same way, it can be incorporated into a game, a video and so on. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is a complete self contained piece of Digital Content.

To be distributed on other platforms it will possibly need to be transcoded. But as a producer of a piece of Digital Content, I don’t have to be all that concerned about the technicalities or how that is done. I can take an interest in it, but I don’t have to – I can just pass it on to people who can do it.
There is one example of the separation of Production and Distribution.

A video is probably more complex. But it will follow the same production route; captured, edited, mixed digitally and finished as a piece of digital content. (Then there is the whole other discussion about where a band producing music and recording their own videos etc etc fit in a fragmented Digital Industry and how we deal with fragmentation – but that’s for the other discussion for you to lead.)

I don’t know enough about games development – but I’ve commissioned a few and as a commissioner I expect a game to work on the platforms I specify. I guess a game will be developed for one platform (one flavour of Nintendo, say) but will have to be re- or transcoded for another platform (Sony, say). But when the original version is complete, it will have existed as a piece of Digital Content.

When a developer makes an iPhone App – yes it is built on top of an existing platform – but it is a proprietary platform. Wouldn’t that App be even more useful or successful if it was built with a strong agnosticism to platform?

The strength of Digital Content is that it can be platform agnostic.

Yes – of course there are examples (and an increasing number of examples) of content and platform being co-dependent. And I don’t discount the value of that for a moment to both the designer/developer and the consumer. My argument is not “either/or”. And yes there will be examples of software being content (I’m sure someone will provide those examples). But the development of content is not necessarily co-dependent on specific platform. And when it is, to what extent is that co-dependency driven by a walled garden of DRM and Business centric rather than User centric investment? I don’t know. So let’s explore that too.

Let me go back to the broadcasting example again – and why I think your question might be central to your own Digital Industry idea. Is the radio producer more or less a broadcaster than the person driving the desk, or the guy strapped to a Mast 200 feet above ground in a howling wind, or even the person who clears the copyright? To me they are all Broadcasters. One makes the content but is at times (but not always) co-dependent on the others for what they add to the production, the distribution and the rights management. But their roles can be identified as separate activities.

It is an interesting discussion – I really look forward to hearing lots of input.

2 thoughts on “So what is Digital Content?

  • Doesn’t some of this come down to a balance between being multi-layered, and the efficiency of delayering and weaving everything together. Kind of sandwich and soup.

    Your audio example separates the sandwich into the production and distribution layers. And in the IT industry for years, we’ve been grappling with client server, three layer, abstraction, SOA and even the OSI seven layer model. Much of the time – and at scale – the hierarchy and separation of responsibility brings freedom. But for other projects – particularly small scale – it would be initially faster and cheaper to blend everything together into a soup-like structure. Less people, less interfaces and handoffs, less cost … until you try to expand it.

    You can chop of Digital Content in any number of ways. Some individuals and some companies will be most comfortable living in one or two layers of the sandwich. Others will want to embrace everything and dive into the soup.

    Digital Circle will have to deal with those who like soup, those who like sandwiches … and those who like both.

  • From the film-making side going on location with a camera has not changed much since the time of the Lumière brothers. The end result has been transmitted in different ways over the years from the cinema, TV, Video Cassette, DVD, to the web.

    I think the real key to the success of the Digital Content industry in Northern Ireland has how well the people who create the content and those on the IT side work together.

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