#CabinetForum — Could the creative industry grasp the future? Mostly not.

[UK] This is a guest post by communications specialist Antony Mayfield (twitter: amayfield) about C&binet Forum, the trendily named three day conference this week featuring the great and the good from the UK’s political, media and ‘creative’ industries. This ‘creative business conference’ was run by the Department for Culture Media and Sport, as a result of their joint publication (with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department for Innovation and Skills) of a strategy paper for the creative economy called Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy.

If you liked ampersands, the Government’s creative industries conference, C&binet Forum was a great place to be. The logo sat everywhere, from the signs for dinner to massive “&” sculpture in one of The Grove’s lobbies.

And, and, and…

…and the ampersand character fitted the complexity of the conference. Just when you thought you could define or dismiss C&binet in a sentence, you realised it was too complicated to be concise about. For instance…

• C&binet was dominated by the record industry’s anti-piracy agenda …& the energetic counter-arguments, not just from “internet libertarians” – as the old/big media representatives dismissively referred to objectors – but web music companies, heads of major marketing agencies and film-makers.

• There was depressing inevitability about the “three strikes” announcement on copyright
…& Open Rights Group and many other articulate delegates were on hand to cross-examine and challenge this view at every turn.

• The exclusivity of this invite-only event (places were limited to about 300) meant that many interesting voices were not in the main conference room …& because of Twitter, the organisers’ openness to the conversation and a diverse set of delegates connecting that conversations it was also massively open. A couple of thousand Tweets were made to the #cabinetforum hashtag and they were being read and discussed not just at the fringes of the event, but by the Government people and the moderators as well.

• Big media players and white middle aged men seemed to dominate the conference stage …& this fact was challenged from the first both on Twitter and openly on the floor by delegates such as Anita Onidine. If you want it spelled out: there were very few women panelists.

• As Government ministers and advisers were in the room, there was an embarrassing number of requests for state-funding or legal protection of business models …& there were people ready to rail against this “Mandy-make-it-better-attitude”, if you will and insist that industries find their own solutions and innovate to create new models and markets.

• It looked formal and mainstream and big players like Jean-Bernard Levy pronounced on industry issues from the stage… & alternative voices formed coalitions, for instance when Kathryn Corrick instigated an un-conference (called suitably Out of the Closet) which was acknowledged by the main conference, aggregating and amplifying the diverse voices and preventing any clumsy, wrong-headed consensus appearing to be the unanimous position of the creative industries.

Deafening protection rackets: Three strikes

The agenda of the conference and the news reporting around it were dominated by the announcement by Peter Mandelson of a clamp-down on illegal file-sharing.

What was disappointing about the proposed legislation and the announcement was the lack of emphasis on the need for innovative new business models for content. The idea of “three strikes” had already been scoffed at openly by delegates, and is seen by many as both infuriating and irrelevant. Some of the views I heard were that…

…people’s use of technology will make detection near impossible.

…the security services will scupper the legislation, as the last thing they want is mass-adoption of encryption technologies

…the emerging idea of web access as a human right (recently enacted in Finland which is usually ahead of the game) will put up another barrier to three strikes

Mandelson himself sad that he did not envisage “mass disconnections” of web access. He also stressed the urgency for the industry to speed-up its innovation in developing new business models and said that he would be prepared to knock heads together if needs be. All to the good, but this was a minor “&” to the main point of the “three strikes” stick that dominated the conversations on the floor and the headlines in the mainstream media.

All well and good. But the energy of the meetings and conferences that flow from C&binet Forum need to be on creating the new models. Neither carrot nor stick, but a way of ditching the donkey altogether and developing new modes of transport (someone put that metaphor out of its over-stretched misery, please).

Meanwhile, it was clear to me that for the music industry and other big content players to move forward they need to shake out a bunch of lazy-thought myths and misconceptions. It was shocking to see that leaders of major companies were still conflating file-sharing with piracy, for instance. But there was also much-repeated collection of narratives on stage about 15 year old boys being rumbled for file-sharing by their parents and “thieves downloading 20 albums a night”.

The outlook of web-based business – the imperative to understand the user’s needs – is just culturally absent here. It’s a case of ask not how customers can better comply with your business model but how can your business model better adapt to consumer needs. A more constructive equitable approach to licensing content for use online should be top of the list.

Opportunity: Advertising, producers, broadcasters and the great re-ordering of the media world

A panel led by Tim Bradshaw of the FT and a fringe event on Brand Content did give some glimpses of the future and the opportunities available for everyone in the media segment of the creative industries.

Perhaps these were the conversations and debates that should have taken precedence over the copyright and business model-protectionism. I would like to think that these sessions set the agenda for the continuation of the from C&binet Forum conversation.

As far as the media industry-to-be is concerned this will mean brands, indie producers, record labels and marketing agencies in the same room with a blank sheet and a brief to create new models, then ways to pilot and try them out [Editor’s note: And maybe some technology people this time, huh?]. The business model gap still leaves significant opportunities for start ups and entrepreneurs to create new businesses also.


An event like this could never really succeed in uniting the creative industries by itself. It did however spark many, many conversations that were connected in the physical conference and the wider conversation around it on the web. It did also give a glimpse of the mainstream media industry in the UK’s future self-reinvention and the character of the cross-platform, entrepreneurial, anti-protectionist people that will be at the heart of it.