“how you received content was becoming more important than the content itself.”
By TANYA DENNING / TIM BURKE
July 21, 2011, marked the 100th anniversary of Marshall McLuhan, the media guru who, amongst many other things, coined two famous expressions: “the medium is the message” and “the global village”.
McLuhan’s specialty was mass media; he wrote and taught in an era before online and digital technologies became widely available. While foreshadowing the Internet, he did not quite envision the extent to which these advances would fragment and personalize media consumption. Even so, in saying “the medium is the message” he was articulating a profound point — how you received content was becoming more important than the content itself.
“The Medium is the Message”
In 2011, this is a critical issue for NITV and the Australian media in general as the Australian government conducts what is known as the “Convergence Review”. Convergence is the availability of content and services delivered over many different platforms that were previously limited to one delivery method. In Australia, convergence is being accelerated by developments such as creation of the National Broadband Network and the growth of digital television. In the words of the government, the Convergence Review is looking at new policy and regulatory frameworks, “to foster competition, to encourage diversity, and to protect Australian stories, community values, and citizens’ rights.”
NITV as a conventional television service is at present nationally available only through subscription TV. As a free-to-air service it reaches just two percent of the overall population, mainly in remote parts of the country. NITV is developing its online capability as a showcase for multimedia content but also with a view – resources permitting – to become Australia’s “campfire”, a central portal for information and cultural exchange between Indigenous Australians, between them and the rest of Australia and indeed the world.
With half of Australia’s Indigenous population aged 21 or less (in comparison, half the non-Indigenous population is aged 37 or less), NITV has an even stronger interest than most media companies in utilizing all the technological means available to connect with its target audience. Yet, when it comes to the telling of Indigenous stories to Indigenous Australians and indeed all Australians, NITV supports the merits of free-to-air broadcast television over other methods of content delivery — as old-fashioned as that may sound.
Looking at Australian public service television: the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), a generalist broadcaster, is distinctly middle-aged, having been on air for 55 years; the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), with a mission to promote Australia’s modern multicultural character, is “Generation X” at 31 years old; NITV, at just four years old, is yet to make it to school. So the first reason for supporting the merits of free-to-air television is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples deserve to see NITV’s television service grow into maturity and not be scattered to the four winds of emerging technologies.
Secondly, free-to-air television remains the most powerful of media. It derives its power from being a shared experience. It is worth noting that, despite the challenges from multiplatform delivery, viewing of Australian free-to-air television rose in the first half of 2011. And because it stands out in a fragmented media environment, it remains strongly attractive to advertisers, with continuing growth – albeit modest – being predicted for Australia’s free-to-air TV advertising market over the next four years .
All these factors reinforce NITV’s belief that if it is to make a positive difference to the lives of Indigenous Australians and help place the relationship between Indigenous and other Australians on the right footing for the future, it must become widely available as a free-to-air channel. And we are heartened to have received the first signs of support for this idea from the Australian Government.
Being Distinctive and Trusted
For the consumer, digital and online technologies have generated new phenomena of choice – what to consume, how and when to consume it. To stand out and perform in the ensuing clutter, a content provider will need to be both distinctive and trusted.
As a service that is primarily by, for, and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, NITV is highly distinctive in the Australian media landscape. Viewer research indicates a high level of trust in NITV on the part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who are our primary audience.
At a time when there is widespread cynicism about the bona fides of mainstream news media, NITV is investing substantial funding into NITV National News, the country’s first national television news service produced and presented from an Indigenous perspective. This is on the back of a commitment to journalism concepts such as fairness and the public interest, even if they, too, sound old-fashioned. We want NITV to be the trusted, “go to” source of news and information on Indigenous people and issues.
As an Indigenous organization NITV understands Indigenous Australia and the capacity of Indigenous Australians to be agents of their own destiny. Indigenous culture is enriched by its traditions and enlivened by its diversity. To NITV, Indigenous culture is a vibrant and evolving one, and NITV showcases it with a contemporary feel and in a celebratory way. This runs somewhat counter to the conditioned expectations of non-Indigenous audiences and we see it as the key to engaging their interest in our channel once we are widely available on a free-to-air basis.
Stepping to “the Global Village”
As for the global village, our impression from a recent Mexico conference of public broadcasters (World Forum of Public Broadcasting) is that it is the Indigenous broadcasters who in 2011 deserve first prize for energy, clarity of purpose, and sense of relevance. Our future dealings with WITBN and its individual members are bound to be an exciting next chapter for NITV.
More about NITV
National Indigenous TV (NITV), a television service that is primarily by, for, and about Indigenous Australians, has been on air since July 2007. There are more than half a million Indigenous Australians — Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples — and the population is a highly diverse one, culturally, linguistically, economically, and geographically. NITV runs a comprehensive schedule of programs, including news, sport, documentaries, entertainment and children’s programs. Most content is presented in English, with some in a number of the 150 or so surviving Indigenous languages.
Tanya Denning, NITV’s Director of Content, and Tim Burke, NITV Policy Advisor, previously wrote on the future of NITV following the Stevens Review of Indigenous broadcasting (negotiations with government are underway).
Tanya Denning is the director of content at NITV. Denning has worked in the media industry for more than a decade in fields spanning from community broadcasting to executive television production and management. Denning worked as a presenter/producer in community radio in Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney before completing an ABC Journalism cadetship that extended her career into online, TV and Radio production for ABC and SBS.
In May 2007, Denning joined National Indigenous Television as one of its first Commissioning Editors, managing the distribution of all programs on NITV, including the daily news service and the weekly live football shows.
Denning’s inquisitive passion for the world has led her into various media positions both nationally and internationally. A proud Birri woman from Central and Northern Queensland, Denning has been rewarded by industry groups for her work and continues to be recognized for her contribution to media and the Indigenous community.
Tim Burke is a part-time advisor to NITV on policy and management issues.
After almost a decade in television management roles with Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), Burke convened a multidisciplinary group of former SBS executives to help NITV during its establishment phase, on tasks ranging from creation of its news service to preparation of policies and guidelines, and the design and commissioning of audience research.
Before joining SBS, Burke ran his own consulting business, concerned mainly with cultural and Indigenous organizations. Burke was brought back by NITV to assist it in its dealings with the first federal government review – by Hugh Watson Consulting Pty Ltd – and reprised this role with the second, broader review by Neville Stevens AO.