// Adrien Sala / Photos by Tobyn Ross / Feb 10, 2011

9:13 AM – Breakfast. Today is the day. Kickoff. Set in a sunny atrium along the water, the space fills with delegates – some chipper, some bleary-eyed after the previous evening’s showcase of music, some appearing for the first time – and the preliminary conversations begin. 

I eavesdrop to hear amazing conversations between people from a wide swath of the creative industries. Many are people who are completely clear as to what they do, why they are participating, but some take time to explain themselves, leading to the best breakfast quote so far: “She’s got her thumb in all kinds of pies, but don’t call her a baker.”

The room is fascinatingly diverse, the mood is light and many are purposefully unaware of what the day holds, other than idea sharing and round table conversations (the round table facilitators, The Value Web, have left details to be discovered and so no one is entirely clear on what will come).

10:04 AM – Nora Young, host of CBC program, Spark, and Master of Ceremonies at transmission, takes the podium and now, really, the conference begins. Young passes through some of the minute details, protocols, etc., with precision and speed, before passing over to Butch Dick, a member of the Coast Salish First Nations, who welcomes all the delegates to his territory.

Dick is a calm but powerful man. He absorbs the eyes and ears of the audience as he explains why we all need to recognize and be thankful for our privilege, lending wisdom from his culture.

He relates how the Coast Salish harmonize their efforts to find the best solutions. “We paddle together to make things more efficient, to get the most of our work,” he says.

It’s a sentiment that reflects what is about to unfold here today.

10:43 AM – After hearing from the Honorable Ida Chong, Minister of Science and Universities for the Province of British Columbia, and from Tyl van Toorn, Co-founder and Executive Producer for transmitNOW, who promised to keep his talk to four minutes or less (it was six, I timed it), we are introduced to The Value Web.

The Value Web is a new addition to transmission, but after speaking with Aaron Williamson, Designer, Facilitator, and Scribe for the group, it appears as though there has never been a better fit.

The Value Web itself is a creative group, made up of what Williamson calls “misfits”, who are hell-bent on developing deeper and original conversations through new approaches, then facilitating the harvest of the ideas that spawn from those conversations. They are an interesting set of 23 individuals from all over the world who are spread out between events (Toronto-based Williamson just got back the World Economic Forum in Geneva) where they take traditional models and give them a new bend. In the case of transmission, there are artists behind the speakers scribing, drawing, and colouring with precise strokes that reflect the conversations happening on the floor. It’s a compelling art piece that provides a tactile connection to the issues at hand.


11:00 AM – Let the keynotes begin. First up is Rob Wells, President of Global Digital Business for Universal Music Group, who is being interviewed by Jim Rondinelli, Senior Vice-President of Business Development for PacketVideo.

The pair obviously have a history, making a grand entrance and leading directly into serious ground. Rondinelli pins Wells right away, jokingly asking why it is taking so long for him to get a deal finalized between his company and Universal.

The question is relatively harmless in delivery, but it sets off one of the major themes for the day: How can the major labels position themselves toward continued success in a market where consumers are now accustomed to instant gratification and are used to paying little, if anything, for the content they consume?

Wells believes there is a shift and that the industry decline seen over the past decade is turning around. He cites Sweden, once a place of unbound opportunities for piracy, as a success story. After years of huge losses, it is set to turn a profit this year. But he acknowledges pirates remain the biggest challenge to the biggest labels.

“Three years ago 98% of people got their music for free. Now it’s 95%. I see great potential in that 95%,” he says.

This will lead us to the first theme of the day: Protection and Connection. How do we strike a balance between supporting business and protecting intellectual property of artists, while providing broader access to consumers?

It’s question that will be asked over and over again between the delegates at the round table conversations.

12:14 PM – I’m at a table discussing ideas about the future of digital media – how to develop financially sustainable options for creative industries. Of course there’s no way we’ll ever solve the problems in an hour, but the process is fascinating and is really why transmission exists at all.

Across 15 individual tables, delegates are matched up with people they may or may not know.  We’re given an assignment and let loose to share our various perspectives.

This is hugely important.

As Nora Young told me during a conversation, by doing this you are, “Putting people out of their comfort zones.” By forcing people to sit with those who they may not generally choose to sit with, you create opportunities for people to be exposed to different ideas.

“The core of innovation is happening on the wild side,” she says, referring to groups who are not institutionalized within the scope of the conversation. By randomly placing creators with delivery agents and consumers, for example, you are potentially exposing each of them to a new set of ideas, which is what Young believes drives innovation.

This is definitely not your typical BBQ. The Value Web has people scribbling in markers on tables, giant cardboard boxes where ideas are meant to be supplanted are plonked onto the tables and big-wig execs are mish-mashing ideas with creative types they may have never had the opportunity to meet…

2:25 PMtransmission translates to a good feed – and after an amazing lunch there is not just a little grumbling about stealing away to have a nap somewhere. The urge settles though when Eric Baptiste, CEO of SOCAN takes the podium.

“Nothing was ever easy,” he says, referring to the past struggle of the creative industries. “Talent is rare. Creating is hard.”

Baptiste is discussing the environment of licensing, the delivery models and the financial reparations for creators and providers. But he, like Wells, is optimistic. His argument is succinct, leaning toward missed opportunities of the recent past where creating single licenses for large markets could have solved many of today’s problems. He feels there are too many proverbial hoops to jump through in order to legally deliver digital content to the consumers who want it. The prices reach too high a level after all the administration, and so it’s no wonder consumers opt for piracy, even when the product may not be up to snuff.

But there is discussion, meaningful discussion (he says this but doesn’t necessarily elaborate), between several of the agencies involved in the processing of license.

3:15 PM – The final speaker of the day: David Neale, Vice-President of Special Projects for Research In Motion.

Neale is being interviewed by Young (this is a hugely obvious opportunity to make a joke about Canadian content with a Neale/Young comment, but I’m refraining – barely).  He is an obviously intelligent man, careful with his words. With Neal’s arrival to the stage, the next theme has arisen: Inspiration and Realization. 

He has brought tech stuff to explore his ideas. On his lap is, fittingly, a laptop. Beside him, a BlackBerry, and beside that a new product from RIM – a tablet. Neale’s conversation is less about how to monetize the sharing of IP (although he does touch on it) and more about how to make the sharing easier for the end user.

“It’s important to get rid of the lumpy bits,” he says.

For a man in charge of developing special projects for one of the largest digital hardware companies on the planet, that statement may seem rather benign. But it isn’t. His whole belief is that by creating interfaces and products that are seamless, that work flawlessly and deliver exactly what the consumer wants, the focus can then shift to what really matters in his mind: “the transactional capture behind the tablets.”

To Neale, the most important aspect of monetizing an industry that is struggling to capitalize on the free flow of digital content is the development of systems behind the tools (smartphones, tablets, etc.) that rapidly and easily capture the transactions occurring between consumers and providers.

3:34 PM – It is nearing the end of the Neale/Young conversation, and Young is curious about one last thing: how do we continue to sustain the development of innovation?

Neale is confident. “You cannot solve all the problems simultaneously,” he says, although he feels that problems can be solved. He goes on to explain that it takes an ongoing conversation from all across the spectrum of creative industries. One must look beyond the current technologies, or even the ones expected to follow, into the future beyond what we currently know. And the only way it is possible to do that future is by continuing the discussion.

7:00 PM – I’m weary and wired from the day, and know that there still remains hours of writing ahead. But I buck up and head over to see the Digital Media Installations at the Rialto Hotel. At first I’m confused. What looks like a video about liquid constellations is being projected against a screen. Then Rob Calder’s, owner of Boompa Records and Secret Study Projects, name pops up onscreen, and I see him fiddling with a smartphone, somehow directing the little froglike stickmen across the strange universe.

It’s explained to me that the exhibit is all about how we interact with the digital screens that surround us. It’s an art piece created by New Forms Festival and the Canadian Film Center Media Lab. It’s strange and I like it, especially seeing as how the exhibit somehow landed a vodka on the rocks in my hand…

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