Regional Digital Realities: The Impact of a Liberalized Telecommunications Environment on Audio-Visual Content Creation in Non-Metropolitan Areas. (Behind the Scenes)

Article excerpt

Developing, disparities in cost and access to broadband are beginning to affect the competitiveness of people working in audio-visual content creation in non-metropolitan areas, In tackling the fast developing telecommunications environment, and a noticeable absence of regionalism in broader discussions on the development of creative industries in Australia, this paper draws on academic literature as well as sources such as press releases, selected newspaper articles and personal interviews--collected as part of a broader study into the rollout and impact of broadband technologies in the Northern Rivers of NSW, This material illustrates the immediate difficulties people in non-metropolitan areas face in meeting industry expectations, gaining exposure to new formats, and accessing funding opportunities due to the trickle-down deployment of broadband dictated by a free telecommunications market. Yet despite the potential that broadband offers to regional audio-visual content producers--particularly in enabling greater participation in national and international ventures through videoconferencing, virtual private networks and fast file transfer--vital opportunities may be lost through a lag in access, a lack of coordinated regional policy on service delivery, and the development of geographic cost disparities.

The Northern Rivers of NSW is estimated to have the highest number of professionals working in creative and audio-visual industries outside metropolitan areas in Australia. (1) Most of these professionals moved to the Northern Rivers (an area that includes Byron Bay, Tweed Heads, Ballina and Lismore) for lifestyle reasons after gaining experience in the film, television and creative industries in metropolitan areas in Australia and abroad. In many cases the advent of email, and the availability of low-cost digital editing equipment in the mid-1990s made the move away from the city possible. Email and the Internet allowed people to maintain vital connections with commissioning agencies, professional bodies, training institutions and project collaborators. (2) After fifteen years of growth and consolidation however, many people working in the audio-visual industry in the Northern Rivers are finding it difficult to stay competitive due to changing industry standards and an increased emphasis on Internet-based transmission of digital material. The main problem lies in developing disparities in the cost of, and access to, infrastructure and services, most notably bandwidth.

Impact of Bandwidth Access to Content Developers in Non-metropolitan areas

Bandwidth is of increasing importance in audio-visual industries. The digitization of many industry formats such as film, video, animation and music has meant that producers of content are now often required to transport large data files between project collaborators and external agencies. This requirement is enhanced by a growing take-up of broadband services within the industry and the general community. As one film-maker who was interviewed as part of a broader study into the rollout of broadband in the Northern Rivers stated:

With more and more stuff being distributed by broadband, the absence of broadband here is becoming a real issue. It can affect whether we proceed with the project or not. [We] haven't had any work denied to us yet; sending it by CD has been satisfactory up to this point but this project that is coming up right now--broadband access is a real issue because there are a number of people involved. We're working between Perth, Byron Bay, Los Angeles and Munich. Animations will be generated in other cities, some of it will be generated in Perth and some in Sydney and going over to Los Angeles. With more players involved, more collaborations going on, there is a vital need to have better communications. I had really decided to turn this project down because of the hassle involved--traveling back and forth to Perth is just not an option . …