The Internet, Broadcasting and Culture during a Pandemic
By Tom Warneke
Broadcasting and Culture has never been more important. With billions of people now confined to their homes waiting for this pandemic to pass, people are starving for content and engagement like never before. With an abundance of choices, we take a look at a few unlikely contenders – the public broadcaster, the bricks and mortar cultural institutions and the technology providers and see how they’re helping us all get through this strange new time.
Just how vital is public broadcasting? Looking at the likes of the BBC in the UK, CBC in Canada or the ABC in Australia, these state based entities have often been maligned in the modern era as we choose to go towards the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime, but at a time like this, does television still have a role to play?
Firstly, there’s the idea of public information. It’s no secret that public broadcasters come into their own when it comes to news reporting. Entities like the BBC are a global public resource representing trust to their audiences.
It’s also really interesting how incredibly important it is for government messaging. Where there’s an important announcement or message to be made, for decades people have rallied around their television sets to hear the voice of their respective governments. Moving into an online world, a lot of these broadcasters are also moving to web activities too but it’s more simply a second vessel to get the message out.
But just what is the responsibility of a public broadcaster. Like everyone else, they need to adhere to the essential rules around working and where possible, work from home. Everyone from hair and make-up staff to catering are stood aside in the name of safety but we’re seeing news broadcasters presenting from their home studies and living rooms in order to ensure the public message is still getting out reliably.
We’ve been living in a world of abundant content for a very long time where everything is accessible to everyone but more than ever, there’s a call for authenticity to get local information as it pertains to you and your community.
Governments too are starting to take note, categorising these services as essential services. We saw this too in Australia earlier in the year with the Bushfire crisis – the ABC was vital in keeping communities (often rural and remote) up to date with key information that can save lives and protect property.
But stepping aside from News and vital messaging, how else can broadcasters and the internet help the general population get through this strange new time?
A pandemic to this scale hasn’t been seen in over a century. What makes this time different though is the free-flow of information. Social Media wasn’t reporting on the Spanish flu. But instead of gluing yourself to your twitter feed watching a constant flow of scary statistics and inept government responses, why not use the internet to explore all of the far flung cultural possibilities?
Cultural Institutions, Broadcasters and the Internet at large have all come to the same conclusion – we’re all trapped at home. To that end, there are thousands of options of things to do to while away the hours and get your cultural feed.
The Sydney Opera House for example is running their “from our house to yours” campaign, unlocking their archive of recordings and streaming everything from Missy Higgins to the Sydney Symphony, Shakespeare to behind the scenes documentaries.
Looking back to broadcast, the BBC has made radical daytime schedule changes – from property shows and sitcom re-runs, they’re now exploring cooking shows and yoga, theatrical performances and educational broadcasting for kids who are stuck at home with no school to go to.
Cultural institutions are also getting in on the act with everywhere from the Guggenheim to the Louvre and a multitude of other institutions throwing open their doors virtually for the public to explore. While they’re closed in person, they’re open like never before online. Even the Montreux Jazz Festival has opened its archives to dozens of concerts, all stream-able online.
Connectedness & the Technology Providers
Lastly, maybe one of the best examples of pandemic is how people are still connecting in the time of social isolation. Yes, there’s the first tier we’re all used to – text message, WhatsApp, social media and picking up the phone.
But delve a little deeper and there’s the pivoting of other technologies you’d never see in the home previously. I’m talking the likes of Zoom and Microsoft Teams. People are taking these technologies usually reserved for the boardroom and using them to connect with family and friends. In a time like this, text and chat just don’t cut it. Using technologies like these, the power to actually talk and see loved ones is key to looking after your mental health.
There’s also the development of new technologies building on the concept of Zoom or Facebook Live but taking it further.
Houseparty was last week the #1 downloaded app globally. Haven’t heard of it? Before two weeks ago, nearly no one had – now, it’s everywhere. Houseparty builds on the idea of video chat but also allows you to build chat rooms and play games with your friends – built on the idea of hosting a party but just… remotely.
Netflix is also getting in on the game in some regions, allowing you to download a plug in so you can host a watch party. While you can’t all sit together and watch a movie in the same place, with Netflix’s new plug-in you’re all watching the film at the same time (it synchronises it between all the viewers) plus it offers you a chat/webcam facility so you can share the experience with your friends.