Swimming With Sharks

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

watch now

For the longest time now Arts Council England has been attempting to crack the "digital" problem they think the arts has with one completely mad project after another.

The highest profile project thus far, namely "The Space", has been both consistently unimpressive and massively expensive. In its current incarnation it will have cost more than £16Million when it closes down in three years time.

Last week the funding monolith announced that the latest grant of £1.8Million had been awarded to a company called Rightster (stop laughing at the back) to deliver a Multi Channel Network or MCN on YouTube that will, so they say, bring the arts to the masses through the magic of the internet (again).


A document provided to Article19 by ACE laid out the reasoning for this project;

"We are now entering phase 2 of the internet - you need to go and put your stuff where people are, rather than build a website and wait for them to come to you."

Here in TheLab™ we're pretty sure than web 2.0 was years ago and the online world is on version 14.6 or thereabouts by now but do carry on;

"We shouldn't just be filming live performances, we need to create experiences that are an extension of the live experience not an attempt to replicate it."

Replicating the live experience would mean dealing with uncomfortable seating, over priced drinks and uncooperative and rude staff.

If you wanted to go all in you could always arrange for people to visit audience members in their own homes while they watched a live show on the internet and beat them about the legs with an iPad™ as you yell at them to get out because they want to lock up. But we digress.

At the core of the proposal is the idea that so many people watch stuff on YouTube that the arts should get in on the action and that's where this MCN comes in.

The budget of £1.8Million will be used to both promote the channel and produce content for it, as ACE explains;

"In order to supplement available content, an additional budget of up to £250k per year was set aside to create original content in Rightster's application. Therefore, Rightster have proposed an allocation of up £875,000 (proposed 48.6% of the total award) to original content it will commission over 3 years.
Content commissioning and curation is one element but the remainder of the funding is largely going to two other major areas which are essential for a successful MCN which are (1) technical channel management including system architecture and software and (2) user experience, brand, audience and marketing activities."

So, just under 50% of the money will be spent on creating content and the rest will be used by Rightster to promote this content. The theory is that by putting a lot of arts media together in one channel ACE and Rightster (seriously, stop laughing at the back) think they can boost the profile of the arts on YouTube.

If ACE continue their well documented profligacy when it comes to producing online media however then £800,000 will not go very far when it comes to creating material for this channel.


For a company that does a lot of boasting about how good they are at what they do Rightster gets very shy when it comes to answering questions about what they do and how they do it.

The company refused to answer any questions put to them about how they would promote this channel to the general public. Rightster also refused to answer questions about their experience working in the arts or with arts organisations or the commissioning of arts related content.

We can only imagine that their refusal to answer these questions was due to the fact that they have no experience working in the arts at all.

What do Rightster have experience in selling via their super sophisticated network of YouTube channels?

The video above features one shark attacking another shark and is featured on a channel called "Barcroft TV". Their channel is populated with lots of other videos that involve animals attacking animals, animals attacking people and, probably, people attacking animals.

Other, less ridiculous, channels like "eNews Channel Africa" produce more serious content but the videos have very low viewer numbers (like many of the company's online efforts) and that contradicts the entire reasoning of giving Rightster £1.8Million in the first place.

Financial Stakes

In a twist worthy of the worst BBC television drama it turns out that Rightster recently purchased a company called Base79 another company that specialises in mass content distribution across YouTube irrespective of quality or usefulness.

Arts Council England Chairman Peter Balzagette has a financial stake in Base79. Rightster purchased that company during the application process.

When asked why Rightster wasn't immediately excluded from bidding for a £1.8Million contract they told us;

"Sir Peter Bazalgette's shareholding in Base79 was declared in the Arts Council's register of interests in November 2013. We ran an open process for the MCN commission which opened for applications from 3 April 2014 and closed on 15 May 2014 inviting applicants to apply and Rightster was one of those applicants.

Between the application being received and the assessment interviews, Rightster acquired Base79 (8 July) and Sir Peter Bazalgette updated the register of interests, but at this point all applications were already being assessed by officers. The assessment panel are not able to take into consideration any factor beyond the application and interview, including this acquisition, and made recommendations based only on this basis. There was no breach of the Arts Council's conflicts of interest policy."

Make of that what you will.

If Rightster's whole schtick is about how they can get people to watch online video material and they demonstrably cannot do that then what is the point?

Perhaps the business world is asking the same questions since Rightster's stock price has fallen almost 30% in the last 6 months.

The Only Way Is Down

The inherent problem with the vast majority of MCN networks is that their content is essentially a race to the bottom.

MCNs make money from advertising revenue paid to them by Google, the owners of YouTube. The amount of money they get from their videos is based solely on how many times a specific video is viewed.

Google, the MCN and the video producer don't care how good the video is or even what's in the video, all they care about is how many clicks it gets. Google get paid to run the ads, the channels get paid a percentage for showing the ads and all the users get are crappy, disposable videos covered in those ads.

Even the custom produced content for a lot of YouTube channels is churned out on an almost daily basis because the channel owners, even if they have millions of subscribers, know those people are subscribed to a lot of other channels so they have to stay current or the money stops coming in.

It's hard to imagine arts organisations trying to create high quality, thoughtful content that fits in to this never ending online media-churn that is geared not to entertain or inform but to exploit Google's broken revenue machine.

We can probably look forward to 56 episodes of "A Shakespeare Minute" followed by 30 second viral videos like "Romeo and Juliet, Sharks On The Balcony".

Sharks attacking other sharks get a lot of hits because they can be easily promoted through blogs and click bait companies like Taboola. It's the perfect distraction for millions of bored teenagers and office workers.

Another problem with YouTube video views is that they can be easily bought online for just a few hundred dollars. Dozens of websites offer tens of thousands of fake views to give the appearance of popularity where none exists.

Google, from time to time, will purge what they consider to be fake YouTube views from their network but given how much they profit from their own numbers game you have wonder how serious they are about tackling that particular problem.

The whole platform simply cannot be trusted to measure popularity or engagement of any kind.

Rightster did not answer specific questions put to them about whether or not they had ever used "pay for view" methods on their network.


ACE continues to throw huge amounts of money at the "digital problem" but they keep on getting into a game that the arts shouldn't be playing. YouTube "Multi Channel Networks" are full of mostly forgettable nonsense with a shelf life of less than 5 minutes.

Channel creators stumble onto a simplistic idea (like highlighting plot holes in movies) and then just keep repeating it until their viewers get bored and move on.

Such creative behaviour, if you can call it that, is completely contradictory to the whole idea of the arts and what ACE is supposed to support.

Rightster have absolutely no experience of working in the arts or with the arts and they don't appear to be very good at anything unless it involves wild animals biting something.

Arts Council England needs to back off from their digital strategy, that isn't really a strategy, and figure out better ways to spend the millions that are disappearing on these projects.

The funding monolith is acting like Yosemite Sam but instead of shooting bullets they're firing money into the clear blue sky and not hitting anything.

The MCN managed by Rightster will launch sometime next year.

Error: Call to private MT::__construct() from invalid context
#0 /nfs/c01/h04/mnt/2326/domains/article19.co.uk/cgi-bin/10/plugins/disqus/php/disqus.php(116): start_mt()
#1 /nfs/c01/h04/mnt/2326/domains/article19.co.uk/cgi-bin/10/plugins/disqus/php/disqus.php(247): dsq_sync_comments(Object(post_object), Array)
#2 /nfs/c01/h04/mnt/2326/domains/article19.co.uk/html/feature/swimming_with_sharks.php(257): dsq_comments_template(1)
#3 {main}