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6th June 2009

Gazing Into The Looking Glass At A New Media Future

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Vancouver – As many of the nation’s top innovators get ready to meet at next week’s Canada 3.0 Conference in Stratford, I have been researching a variety of different sectors which make up our digital and interactive media industry. Canada has a very large and very diverse profile when it comes to the digital, interactive and new media arena. It is next to impossible to pigeon-hole any one aspect of our industry because there is so much overlap and inter-connectivity in almost every aspect – even game development is no longer possible to strictly isolate, as innovations gained in this field are often adapted for use in others and vice versa.

One of the most important aspects of Web 3.0 as discussed previously by Tom Jenkins, Executive Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer of  Open Text Corporation, is the type of media and bandwidth usage the internet population is moving towards. As web usage begins to be made up more and more of images and video, it becomes evident that bandwidth demand will grow exponentially. With many internet providers wanting to throttle their users, effectively limiting their access to these high bandwidth modes of communication, where will Canada find itself on the world scale of compatibility?

The CRTC, despite several hearings and decisions, has thus far failed to clearly define what the future of Canadian internet access and usage will look like, and has opted for a “wait and see” position. While there must be some type of balance between traditional media outlets and new media outlets, there must also be a way to balance the ability to develop Canadian content and get it to the masses. However – getting all of this content and communication to the masses goes back the issue of bandwidth throttling, plan usage charges and the importance of net neutrality. With the internet becoming such an integrated part of our everyday society in everything from personal to educational to corporate usage, will there be a movement to see a level playing in field in citizen access? How will the growing trend to wireless internet access play a part in citizen access? How will this effect issues such as privacy, identity theft and other security issues? Are we moving towards the world of tomorrow too soon, or will Canada be leading the pack?

It would appear that as new products and technologies are developed, propelling us into that future world, the basics needed to take full advantage of those innovations are running hard to keep up. As any communication service provider is quick to tell its customers, the cost of provision is not cheap – nor is that of maintenance, upgrade or expansion. What then, is the answer? With so many relying on the internet and technology for work, play, education and affordable communication, how can we as a new media world power, develop the strategy needed to ensure that we not only keep up with the rest of world, but perhaps begin to lead the way?

Canada has a history of being a resource economy – relying on oil production, fishing, mining and logging as its main economic base. As those resources begin to dwindle, and as challenges such as cleaner, greener and more environmentally friendly means of survival are sought, does Canada need to further develop its knowledge industry in order to maintain an economical balance within its society? It would appear so. The children of loggers, miners and fishermen can no longer depend on the economies which put roofs over their heads and food on the table. The changing workforce is evidence of this – multi-national corporations support teams all over the world who must be able to communicate efficiently in a cost-effective way to promote their corporate agendas, and this means the further development of internet communication and the ability to beam large and often image-heavy files to the far reaches of the planet.

Working towards this concept of Canada 3.0 and a national digital strategy, a new organization has been formed – the Canadian Digital Media Network. This new organization states on its web site that:

“Canada’s opportunity in the digital economy lies in exercising our strengths across the full digital media continuum: strong technology and tools, rich content, and a satisfying user experience. The Canadian Digital Media Network is Canada’s largest concentration of business-driven digital media research, technology development, and digital commercialization expertise. We use digital media tools, technology and applications to advance multiple industries – entertainment, health care, education, financial services, and advanced manufacturing.”

The Canadian Digital Media Network recently received a grant from the Federal government in the amount of 10.7 million dollars through the Centres of Excellence in Commercialization and Research Program. When looking through the list of partners (and other financial supporters), the roster is distinctly Ontario-heavy, and does not look at all like a full national strategy is its primary concern. One could easily argue that the bulk of Canada’s technological and new media innovators are located in Ontario, but that would be inherently untrue. Yet it would appear that Ontario, with the blessing of the Federal government, is setting itself up to be the powerhouse of Canada’s digital age. Granted, it would appear that the Provincial government of Ontario is far ahead of most other provinces in its support of new media development, but judging from the number of Economic Development personnel I met at the recent GDC Canada event, other provinces are also stepping up to the digital plate.

Taking a step back from the national view, I have to look at where my own province is in regards to the national team. We see other provinces aggressively marketing to the development sector, offering tax benefits and special considerations should those companies locate in their province. Ontario is not the only one following this game plan – it would seem that every province east of British Columbia is offering something to attract new development studios and service providers. The government of British Columbia seems less concerned for its new media future, outside of such organizations as BCIC and many other non-profits.

Prior to the last provincial election, and even as far as campaign promises went, Premier Campbell was very non-committal when it came to discussing any benefits for new media companies. One must question why this is – surely he has been paying attention to the current economic upheaval taking place in BC’s video game and animation industry. Even with the recent announcement by Pixar that it would be opening a new studio in Vancouver and the purchase of Big Park by Microsoft, those in the industry share a deep concern over the direction which BC’s game development industry could take if the Provincial government chooses to remain aloft of the situation. That said, the sole responsibility for current affairs cannot be laid at the feet of the government.

Vancouver’s video game industry has been likened to a being a big family – one which was borne primarily from the days of Distinctive Software and early industry spin-offs. Like most families, some parts get along better with others, while still others don’t want to associate with the family at all. While many aspects of product development must remain under the wraps of NDAs and other corporate policies, there comes a time when members of the industry must learn to play together in the same community park. It is only through the sharing of strategies and ideas that a truly strong and united industry hub can flourish and grow. The spirit of competition may be the backbone of the business world, but there are times when it needs to be set aside for the greater good of the local industry.

There must be a way discovered to open up a new dialogue among industry – one which includes all aspects of the British Columbia’s new media community – allowing it to grow stronger and better position itself in the global market. This means bringing everyone to the table, from software development to the animation, video game and CGFX sectors. As I discussed with Dean Prelazzi from BCIC, perhaps one way to begin is with a round-table discussion among the industry associations – NMBC, BCTIA, SIGGRAPH, VFXbc, ViaTeC, the Premier’s Council on Technology and all of the other provincial associations who have a stake in the successful development of a working strategy which can then be taken forth to those associations’ membership, filtering through to the corporations and their personnel until everyone is on the same page. It is only through unification that success as a provincial industry can be found, and in that success will be found a cohesive strategy which can then be combined with those of the other provinces, further strengthening a national plan to place Canada in the forefront of global innovation in new media.

It is my hope that those of you in both the local and Canadian industry who read this editorial will take the time to comment and perhaps begin a preliminary dialogue, sharing your thoughts on the positives and negatives of our industry, so that we can all work on the progressive advancement of our unique and creative community.

This entry was posted on Saturday, June 6th, 2009 at 10:32 pm and is filed under Editorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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