TGS 2012 In Review: New Format, New Direction and One Big Announcement
// Adrien Sala / Feb 15, 2012

From the outside looking in, this year’s transmission: GLOBAL SUMMIT (TGS 2012) didn’t appear different from the one held in the exact same location roughly one year ago. There were familiar faces. The tables in the banquet room/auditorium were laid out in much the same way. Founder and CEO, Tyl van Toorn, looked slightly disheveled but composed, his hair frantic from being pushed back ten thousand times while making ten million decisions leading up to launch. And a delicious scent of croissants, eggs and bacon wafted through the air upon arrival.

Indeed it was by all sensory accounts very much the same as last year on day one. On further inspection, however, noticeable differences appeared. The opening interviewer was again to be a CBC Radio One host, but this time it was Michael Enright instead of Nora Young (she would be on stage later). The focus of the conference was more refined, too, zeroing in on the singular theme of sustainability in the creative industry rather than the larger, broad stroke questions of 2011. But probably the most profound difference between this year and last was that the glorious breakfast buffet put on by the Inn at Laurel Point, from which a savory fragrance had previously inspired intellect in the minds of not just a few tired souls, was horrifyingly designated: For Hotel Guests Only. (Aghast!)

Yet, interestingly, in the face of such a hurdle, the line up for breakfast remained the same as it was last year. Groggy but deep, it was populated by a defiant group of trespassers amongst the legitimate paying guests – brainiac bandits pinching fruit plates and pancakes.

It may seem off point to be using the apparent disregard for breakfast protocol by a few at TGS2012 as the intro to this piece, but it isn’t. What’s important to remember about Transmission participants is that they are part of this event because they are of a different kind – they’re not your average worker bees; nor are they happily herded away from something they desire. Participants of TGS are those who look beyond protocol. They are innovators, artists, creators, entrepreneurs, business execs – and many of them are rule breakers who have at one point or another advanced their respective fields by doing what they saw as suitable rather than what was expected, often with outstanding results. It just so happened that what several of them determined as suitable in the early moments of the conference, was breakfast.



The concept of sustainability in the creative industries is not a simple one. It has many moving parts, and many people have many perspectives on what those parts are and how they are valued. And during the few days of TGS 2012, participants were to hear almost all of them.

After launching the conference with a speech from Butch Dick, a representative from the local Songhees First Nation who granted TGS 2012 permission to use the traditional land, Michael Enright took the stage. Venerated journalist and host of the CBC Radio One program, The Sunday Edition, Enright was joined by Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research.

The pair discussed Buxton’s work – an impressive catalogue of innovation built over 30 years of involvement in research, practice and commentary in and around design and human interaction with technology – as well as his passion for riding horses, ice climbing and his 20 year music career.

Buxton is a casual person, his look bordering on boomer-hippy, yet through the conversation it becomes apparent that he is a man with compelling perspectives.

“Technology is like plumbing,” he says. “The only time you should know how it’s working is when it’s broken and there’s crap all over the floor.”

For Buxton, the issue of sustainability relies on innovation in the creative industry. One has to look beyond the status quo and take risks. But he isn’t willy-nilly about that. “Practicing risk requires training, tools, fitness and partners,” he says. Risk can be calculated (like the way a person might determine through experience that pocketing a croissant isn’t that risky at all). To find success, "use the skills of the people who are where you are going,” he suggests.

The conversation between the two is fascinating, and it leads easily into what is arguably the most interesting element of TGS – the roundtable discussions, which are facilitated by The Value Web.

The Value Web is a team of highly engaged individuals whose sole directive seems to be getting participants to engage in heated debate. For TGS 2012, they placed participants at randomly determined, pre-designated tables and had them study seemingly unrelated subjects, such as coral reefs, the human body, ants and bees. The groups were to then make connections, drawing analogues from the natural world and linking them to those of the creative industry. The resulting dialogue and passionate discussion were a pleasure to be a part of, if you can handle the obvious ideological clashes.

The roundtable discussions are where the real genius of TGS can be seen in action. At any given moment, a table can be comprised of titans of the music industry, early-stage start-up developers, writers, band managers or musicians – and the list goes on. At one such table, David Basskin, head of CMRRA (Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency), who vehemently believes his industry is being undermined by thieves who are pirating music without penalty, was put together with Conor Holler, founder of Deebo, a revolutionary online game that turns having diabetes into something more fun. Holler is certain consumers won’t ever revert to paying premiums on downloaded music. Coming at it from opposing perspectives, the pair was forced to amicably debate sustainability issues such as piracy, with input from others at the table. Then, they had to share the outcomes with the group at large. It was a scene that played out across all the tables throughout the two days.

Of course the roundtable discussions don’t immediately result in a kind of creative industry utopia where everyone gets paid and everyone is happy and everything finds equilibrium. Far from it. In fact, most people at opposing ends of the spectrum only become more staunch in their perspectives. But for those who are slightly more ambiguous, there is real meat to these debates, which continue away from the tables, at meals, over cocktails, and during coffee breaks. They provide serious insight into a constantly changing industry landscape, and if one can separate from his or her emotional ties, they may ultimately trigger legitimate ideas for solutions.

The outcomes of transmission: GLOBAL SUMMITs have always been somewhat vague due to the conferences’ unique design. Friendships and clandestine deals to develop new approaches, technologies or organizations tend to move into email correspondence during the weeks that follow the event. Participants take what they learn and apply it to their respective projects and a large number of people check out until the subsequent event, where they meet the familiar faces again to argue, debate, drink, eat, laugh and do it all over again. But that's all about to change.

At the end of the first full day of the conference, Founder and CEO, Tyl van Toorn, took the stage with Dr. Don McLean, Dean of Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, to make an announcement that may have a serious and lasting impact on the direction of the creative industry. Together they announced their intention to establish a unique, strategic partnership between Transmission and U of T, creating a global institute for the creative industries unlike any other.

"After six years of developing and executing a series of events around the world,” says van Toorn, “Transmission is ready to evolve into an international institute.”

Through its many different and connected pieces of creative endeavor, the Transmission Institute will become an academic space for research, training and discourse, and a driver for creative industries innovation that is permanently functioning – year round.

Dr. McLean, who is heavily leaning on van Toorn to become Transmission Institute’s first director (an obvious fit), had these words about the partnership: “We are very excited about the Transmission Institute initiative at U of T. We hope to sustain the mission of Transmission between summits and to develop a dynamic research and training environment that will ensure leadership presence and problem-solving capacity in creative digital media technologies."

So it seems that after over a dozen events internationally, Transmission has finally found somewhere a home.


With the introduction of the Transmission Institute, many questions arise. One immediate question is, why? If Transmission really is a global think tank, why can’t it remain loosely based out of Victoria, BC? The events already happen in Toronto, China and Brazil. Why make a permanent move?

Sitting outside with van Toorn late at night during a wrap up party, I pose a personal question to him with that in mind: is he going to sell his house here?

“No way!” he says, leaning up from the wall to get in my face about it. “I love Victoria and I’ve got a plan. I’ll be back here in five years.”

For those who know Tyl, the comment is valid. Boisterous and confident (some might say cocky), he is a person who genuinely says what he means, even if you don’t want to hear it. His commitment to this project is commendable, especially considering the personal risks he took over the years to see it through. But it still doesn’t answer the question of why.

van Toorn never really offered a clearly defined answer, but there are obvious reasons. Toronto is major metropolitan city with endless amounts of creative thinkers passing through it everyday. The University of Toronto already has a rich history of innovative research initiatives and they are fully behind keeping the tenets of Transmission in tact. Tyl himself is an explorer of new opportunities and this represents something he cultivated over years – he’s seeing it through.

One answer van Toorn does offer is that it doesn’t actually matter where the Transmission Institute is housed. Being that its relevancy is global, it could be placed anywhere. He has a good relationship with U of T and they saw an opportunity and this puts Canada at the center of innovation for creative endeavor. Personally, I think what he really wants beyond anything else, is an honorary PhD, which may or may not be in the cards.

Despite a new home in Toronto, the transmission: GLOBAL SUMMITs will continue internationally and in Canada. van Toorn has openly admitted that a conference of this design couldn’t be held in Toronto, so Victoria, the Province of British Columbia, and all the partners who have helped grow this project into what it is today will remain a big part of the Transmission into the future.

Whatever the outcome, it was obvious at TGS 2012 that Transmission is becoming something big. It has always had the credibility of being an interesting event with a participant list that could make any creative industry geek drop dead from heart palpitations. But it has been on an arc of legitimacy over the years and is now finally being centered somewhere. Let us just hope that going into the future, breakfast is included.

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Big up to Tyl and all who put effort into this year's Summit. The breakfast analogy being entirely welcome, I extend my gratitude for the hospitality and opportunity to share. As well, I endorse the creation of a U. Of Toronto Transmission Institute (it's the only way for Tyl to obtain a degree) and transfer the capacity that has been built in past discussions into a large center of commerce. I would hope that the Summit will also continue to happen in places outside of governmental, academic, and commercial glare, so as to be most inclusive of a diversity of voices and participation in the discussions. As was discussed at length this year, sustainable Eco-systems are only sustainable in a culture of diversity and inter-dependence. Respect. Keith Porteous

by Keith Porteous () / February 15th, 2012