Australia

Interview with Louise van Rooyen

 

“Interactive media makes up the fabric of our daily lives in Australia”

How would you define e-content in Australia?

E-content is used in Australia to describe various forms of digital media content. Applications therefore span the traditional media sectors’ use of digital media (for example special effects in film and television) to applications in other sectors such as education (online learning) and health (digital medical imaging).

Some definitions focus on the nature of e-content (digital as opposed to analogue); others its interactivity (as opposed to broadcast media); some its creativity (as opposed to general purpose software). It is usually understood as a combination of all these. We draw definition of e-content from David Throsby’s definition of digital content in Economics and Culture, where he proposes that several characteristics must be all present, where it:

• involves some form of creativity in its production;
• is concerned with the generation and communication of symbolic meaning; &
• embodies, potentially at least, some form of intellectual property.
We includes a fourth element in its definition of e-content, where it
• engages the participant through the use of interactivity

“Based on the technology and skills of interactive media practitioners, electronic games offer enormous potential for export”

What’s the status of e-content in Australia?

A Digital Content Industry Roadmapping Study has recently been completed. It is the first comprehensive research project of its kind into the latest developments and trends within the Australian digital content industry.

With funding from both industry and AusIndustry, The Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (AIMIA) acted as lead manager of the study which involved a quantitative survey (completed by 691 entities) and qualitative component (three focus groups and more than 30 depth interviews) across the full spectrum of organisations operating in the Digital Content sector. The Study, which took place over a 12 month period, was also intended to form part of the information base to be used by the Strategic Industry Leaders Group in helping develop the Digital Content Industry Action Agenda.

The survey uncovered a wide range of developments and trends within the digital content industry, and in doing so defined this fragmented industry and revealed the market parameters.

A visual profile of the survey data created by AIMIA member, Massive Interactive, allowing filtering of the results by different selection criteria is available at: http://www.aimia.com.au/dcis/

Which area of e-content (e-health, e-biz, e-culture, e-government, e-entertainment, e-learning, e-science, and e-inclusion) is best developed in Australia?

e-Entertainment in Australia is strong, especially the electronic games industry which now generates more revenue for Australia than the more high-profile Australian film industry. Highly advanced digital effects for film, television and online advertising on the back of Australia’s already internationally competitive media, communications and entertainment sector have contributed to the growing success of the Australian games industry.

The Games Developers Association of Australia (GDAA) http://www.gdaa.com.au point to the increasing importance to the economy of Australian games developers. With their unique combination of intelligence, creativity and online delivery, digital games are likely to transform the education and entertainment industries. Based on the technology and skills of interactive media practitioners, electronic games offer enormous potential for export. Export sales of Australian developed games are in excess of an estimated A$100 million per annum. With the right support and investment, this could allow Australia to move beyond existing United States of America (USA) export models (predominantly PC and console-based) and focus on other areas such as the Asian and European markets, and on products and services associated with convergence (wireless devices, IP telephony, traditional media, always-on technologies).

e-Learning and distance learning is an area in which Australia has also demonstrated international leadership. Early adopters of new technology and methodologies, Australians have embraced e-Learning enthusiastically both in industry and in educational institutions. The benefits of interactive media in learning environments have enhanced Australia’s position as leaders in vocational and educational training.

Notable sources of Australian e-Learning content are:

Education.au Limited: http://www.educationau.edu.au
Australian Training Products Limited: http://www.atpl.net.au
EdNA Online Education Network Australia: http://www.edna.edu.au

The Learning Federation Schools Online Content Curriculum Initiative: http:www.thelearningfederation.edu.au

Which sector (business, private sector, government or civil society) in Australia is advance in developing e-content?

Government is a lead user and Australia has ranked in the top five countries globally in terms of E-government, Defence, Education, Health, and General Administration. Additionally, the two national public sector TV and Radio broadcasters ABC and SBS are recognised for their leadership in e-content.

Also the private sector the major Broadcasters and Publishers are the largest and most innovative online media producers, notably:

  • NineMSN: the joint venture between Microsoft and Australia’s leading commercial television network Channel Nine
  • F2: the online network of Newspaper and magazine publisher Fairfax limited
  • News Interactive: News Corporation’s interactive media group.
  • AOL|7: The joint venture between AOL and TV Broadcaster Channel 7
  • Telstra BigPond: Broadband portal associated with Australia’s leading telecommunications carrier.

How would you describe the gradual progress of development of e-content in Australia?

From the early days of the CD-ROM explosion in the early 1990’s, the Australian interactive media industry moved towards the web and other devices. We are now immersed in the opportunities presented by an increasingly converged market.

The integration of different media formats, more interactive platforms, and consumer appetite for new services is transforming the digital content industry.

This convergence of IT, communications technology and interactive media has also meant a change in the professionals who work in this industry. Originally made up of CD developers and instructional designers, AIMIA, the peak industry body for interactive media now represents content creators, broadband, wireless, console, CD/DVD and interactive media developers.

“It seems likely that the combination of a small population and a risk-averse political and commercial culture in Australia have been a setback to the Australian e-content industries”

Interactive media makes up the fabric of our daily lives in Australia and presents the promises offered within a digital, networked future embracing a complex and rapidly changing world of digital content and platform diversity.

What major initiatives have influenced the development of e-content in Australia?

Specific Australian government programs that have promoted e-content have included:

1: Creative Nation (1994) a national cultural industries package of federal initiatives including funding for commissioned works, new media-related venture capital and education and training.

2: Backing Australia’s Ability (2001) a national Science & Innovation-based package of initiatives that includes funding for systemic science and technology research infrastructure. This includes initiatives relating to e-science.

What are the major bottlenecks in the path of e-content development in Australia?

Relatively low broadband uptake and penetration has been widely regarded as a bottleneck for the development of media-rich e-content. The success of our industry depends on broadband being ubiquitous as a reliable, cost-effective supply service and on demand from a majority of business and households. This means AIMIA will continue to push for investment by government and industry for the development of e-content for broadband uptake.

Assuming that there is a connection between broadband take-up and the future success of the industry, a major question for Australia is whether the roll-out of broadband should be on the basis of a push (from the service providers) or a pull (from the users). Or both.

According to some, the push from the broadband service providers is not enough on its own. In Australia, where government policy has meant that free-to-air broadcasters were protected from Internet competition until 2005, the push to broadband has been less than spectacular. But what about the pull factor? What would make the majority of businesses and homes in Australia (and critical mass demands both domestic and commercial broadband adoption) take the plunge and connect to cable or ADSL or satellite (depending where you are and what’s available)?

The content industries suggest that investment in and production of educational programs and materials would make a difference. And the film, music and television industries all seem to think that some investment in production in their sectors would result in content that would attract subscribers prepared to pay for education and entertainment as they do in other contexts.

Outside the content industries, there is less optimism with some commentators predicting that it will be the longer term development of user-friendly applications that will attract people to broadband.

It seems likely that the combination of a small population and a risk-averse political and commercial culture in Australia have been a setback to the Australian e-content industries. But we don’t have to completely miss the race. It is still possible for the industry players to come together to encourage the take-up of high speed internet access. Significant movement at the demand end may well be the catalyst that government and the carriers need to make the supply side accessible and affordable.

In most countries, especially developing, e-content development is significantly dependent on ICT infrastructure and ICT facilities. But, in some, ICT has become pervasive and e-content development is primarily subjected to the initiatives of an individual/organization/government, etc. What is the situation in Australia?

Australia is a well-developed sophisticated technology economy. E-Content development is largely in the hands of individuals, organizations and governments. A wide range of ICT infrastructure providers (telecommunications companies, ISPs, web hosting companies, managed service providers) offer services and facilitate content development of ‘principal’ e-content authors who include individuals, companies and governments.

According to the Broadband Advisory Group (BAG) to Government, “The Commonwealth Government, working in partnership with the state, territory and local Governments and the private sector, should commit to achieving the national goal of making Australia a world leader in the effective use of broadband technology. The achievement of this goal will ensure that Australia remains at the forefront of the global economy and that all Australians will thrive in a more connected community.”

How would you describe the ICT scenario in Australia in terms of infrastructure, penetration, and policies?

Australia enjoys high levels of technology adoption and acceptance, computer literacy, computer penetration and telecommunications infrastructure (with the challenge of expanded Broadband access being presently addressed).

What’s the future of e-content in Australia?

The long-term future of Australia’s ICT industry will depend on its ability to innovate and develop globally-competitive products and services to capture opportunities arising from the expanding role of ICT across the Australian economy and society.

“Today’s generation internet has arguably more in common with the medium of newspapers (words and images) than a time-based rich media such television

Which is the most preferred medium for e-content production in Australia?

There’s no one preferred traditional medium for e-content development. As e-content relates to all traditional media yet corresponds to none, there’s applications and lessons to be learned from each.

Today’s generation internet has arguably more in common with the medium of newspapers (words and images) than a time-based rich media such television.

Hybrid-media or cross-media applications in advertising, education and other areas are providing interesting lessons in the complementary nature benefits and lessons of each. Examples include:

  • Battle of the Sexes (Imagination, Australia http://www.imagination.com.au/bots.htm) comprising a TV quiz show, boardgame (outsold Monopoly); interactive TV format; CD-ROM; Phone Game; Syndicated Cartoon.
  • Another example is the listener-generated overnight programming of Sydney Jazz Radio Station Eastside Radio (http://www.eastsidefm.org/default.asp?page=jazznd) provided through a computer system developed at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Sydney.

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