Open Video 101: A dispatch from the intersection of arts, technology and public policy

conference_kickerOver the weekend, I was lucky enough to attend the Open Video Conference at NYU. A far cry from other tech events I’ve attended seemingly packed with suited entrepreneurs pressing cards into your hands, this diverse gathering felt both more practical and more full of possibilities about the future. But it may be a sign of the times that fast-talking spiels about whimsical startups to sell us stuff we don’t need have been pushed aside in favor of discussions about the public engagement with online media.

Like “open source,” “open video” focuses on the free exchange of ideas, predicated on the idea that collaboration and exchange will foster better ones, and maybe even a better society. Situated as it was on the convergence of technology, public policy and the changing face of journalism and media, the Open Video Conference raised a number of questions pertinent to both media producers and media consumers:

How much media should be free?

Unsurprisingly, there seemed little consensus here. The Internet has long been a monolithic, unstoppable force pushing the free dissemination of everything, but without funding, who will create content that inspires, illuminates and informs?

One panelist drew attention to the Academy Award-wining short documentary “Smile Pinky,” which was funded by the nonprofit organization Smile Train as a compelling model for funding content that serves the public good. We better come up with others before the web is taken over with videos of cats playing the piano. (No offense, Keyboard Cat)

Do we get the public media we deserve?

Oh, Canada. Your National Film Board not only gives scratch to deserving filmmakers, it has also seen fit to create a free archive of the work they make. Unfortunately, we are not as blessed in the U.S. with a comprehensive system for media producers. But as one panelist said, paraphrasing H.L. Mencken, perhaps we get the public media we deserve. And if we don’t like it, it’s incumbent upon us to reinvent the system.

Who will be the librarians of digital media?

Amazingly enough, there is no national body with the mandate to collect and preserve our public media. It’s true that President Obama has plans to strengthen the nation’s “digital infrastructure,” but it’s a little staggering to think about all those thousands of tapes out there moldering, time running out, and YouTube just isn’t going to cut it.

At present, it’s really up to nonprofit media organizations to build those archives, and in the coming months, look to the filmlinc blog for a more in-depth exploration of moving image archives and the important work they do.

What does Open Video mean for the social web?

My favorite illustration of what open video might mean for content creators came from the Middle Eastern television network Al-Jazeera, who decided to license footage from the conflict in Gaza under Creative Commons, meaning people can freely use the footage with attribution. It was exciting to see the different types of people who picked that footage up: Wikipedia, filmmakers, artists, educators, video game makes, activists, independent media and more.

The conference program postulates that by 2013, online video will account for 90% of all Internet traffic. We are long overdue for a serious discussion of what that will mean for the film business, online media and journalism. Packed with developers, public policy experts, and content creators, this conference was an important step in that direction.

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