Innovation in the Creative Industries

The growing influence of innovative and creative industries is widely recognized. Numerous initiatives are taken to stimulate the creative sector and to offer a sustainable environment for innovation. The Dutch Innovation Platform recently identified the creative industries – including the media and entertainment industries – as a key sector for the future development of the Dutch economy. As a consequence, multidisciplinary innovation networks have been established across The Netherlands.

However, this growing consensus raises some concerns: a multi-disciplinary and strategic approach combining industry, education and research isn´t necessarily the optimal strategy for innovation. Firstly, defining the creative sector is a great challenge and due to a lack of structural cooperation it is practically impossible to mobilize. Secondly, creativity is difficult to conceptualize. It´s often associated with the qualities and modi operandi of exceptional talents and rarely seen as a phenomenon that can be approached with and industrial mindset. Thirdly, academic research is yet to offer the interdisciplinary and theoretical foundations required for media innovation: academic research and new media industry generally remain two (methodologically) distinct fields. The Master in Media in Innovation at the Academy for Digital Entertainment focuses on the latter two points.

The Inducement for the Master

The emphasis of the Master in Media Innovation is on the media and entertainment industries, a sector where applied creativity has a central function. Not only are media products mostly targeted at large audiences, they are also expected to generate profit. Media products are usually the result of collaborative creativity and not necessarily the work of a talented individual. Usually the creative process involves a clearly defined production pipeline, where technology, business models, communication and content are tuned to each other. The list of successful examples is endless: Hollywood has spent a century showing us that creativity and entertainment can be highly industrialized; the gaming industry is building on this experience; companies like Google and Apple have demonstrated that innovation is not only a matter of chance or of individual talent. This shows that creativity and innovation in the media and entertainment industries are not elusive, but, on the contrary, often follow a very precise and analysable design process. This explains the increasing number of research initiatives focusing on the analysis of the effects of digital media.

With the ever-growing number of media platforms, business models, technology and consumer communication require constant innovation. There is a clear need for abstract modelling with the capacity to generate insights that are directly applicable to the functioning and development of the media. This should be a golden opportunity for media scholars. Why hasn´t this gap been filled? There are two fundamental problems.To begin with, the analysis of digital media involves several academic disciplines which, traditionally, have little in common. The insights of an economic analysis of digital media differ from a technological, communication studies, or media theoretical approach. As a result, the analysis of media effects is fragmented. This is a remarkable situation, especially as most contemporary media products feed on the functional accumulation of all these aspects. There has been a clear demand from the academic world for scholars adopting an integral approach to digital media. According to their vision, digital media should be considered as a hybrid, at the intersection of man, language and the external world of objects. This hybrid inextricably links the differing disciplines.

A second problem is that although academic research has a long-standing track record in the analysis of (media) phenomena, not all disciplines are equally preoccupied with creativity and design. Science and technology-related disciplines have a much stronger design tradition than the humanities and social sciences. This discrepancy impedes the development of an interdisciplinary design methodology incorporating academic and industry insights. This is why, to this day, media innovations have rarely come from a comprehensive development process rooted in a thoroughly academic methodology. In the best of cases, they are based on theoretical insights or initiated by academically trained industry professionals. Research findings are often only indirectly relevant to the media industry. These observations have triggered calls for methodologies with a higher degree of industry relevance. Media theorists and (French/American) techno scientists have long wanted to close the gap between new media studies and new media practice.

Researchers at the Academy for Digital Entertainment identified these theoretical gaps as an opportunity to develop a comprehensive research program in cooperation with an international network of Universities. Leading up to the development of the Master in Media Innovation, a study was completed that largely focused on how media theory could be applied. The first aspect to be considered was how media developed to become the digital platform as we know it today. The emphasis of this research was on finding the essence of digital media. This included the capacity of the digital platform to integrate different media, making them exchangeable and interactive, as well as the potential to transform abstract theoretical insights into digital processes. This was followed by analyses of the interconnection between different theoretical disciplines in the digital media platform. Finally, a theoretical-conceptual model was developed that can be applied to both the analysis and the design of digital media.

Research and Master: Thinking Digitally

As indicated above, we can’t understand the impact and potential of new media without knowledge of their essence. The process of digitization goes far beyond the resulting interactivity, beyond the exchange of media characteristics or the development of new media genres (e.g. Machinima). Digital media can also abstract scientific knowledge and bring it to life.

A simple but effective example is the behaviour of a racing game car: to simulate its behaviour as realistically as possible, physical data such as gravitational force, g-forces and the friction of tires on asphalt constitute the starting point of the algorithms developed by programmers. This introduces a completely new functionality for abstract and physical insights which can be applied to a wide range of academic disciplines. The capacity to simulate the behaviour of objects means that digital media are much more than simple audiovisual imitations:

“Therefore: “to simulate is to model a (source) system through a different system which maintains to somebody some of the behaviours of the original system”. The key term here is “behaviour”. Simulation does not simply retain the – generally audiovisual – characteristics of the object but it also includes a model of its behaviours. This model reacts to certain stimuli (input data, pushing buttons, joystick movements), according to a set of conditions.”
(Frasca, 2003).

Digital media’s ability to simulate the behavior of objects and to imitate processes inspired the researchers at the Academy for Digital Entertainment to develop a new analysis and design model: the canvas of codes.

The canvas of codes refers to a network of highly interrelated (digital) processes or mechanisms that determine the behavior of new media products. Codes are usually known from their functions in the technological architecture of media products (sets of algorithms, source codes, etc.), but codes also refer to processes of adding value (business models), to producer- consumer communication (encoding – decoding) or to the design of media messages (content). In the latter instance, codes refer to a major analytical tradition in media theory (semiotics).

The canvas of codes is a modular network of theoretical building blocks and processes that can be used for both analysis and design of digital media. It can perhaps best be described as a digital grammar. The main difference with the linguistic grammar is that a digital grammar isn’t confined to a single media form (cf. language), but also covers business, technology and communication. As stated earlier, all these facets are influential when determining the behavior of media products. This means that the digital grammar can’t be controlled by one person or from the perspective of one discipline. If we assume that we are dealing with a cross-disciplinary media platform, the innovative digital “media language” can only be ‘spoken’ if there is an optimal alignment between all relevant aspects. This is precisely what the canvas of codes does. The canvas connects various academic disciplines and brings them together under one umbrella without letting them lose their own dynamics.

This makes it possible to develop the desired “interdisciplinary approach”. Additionally, the canvas offers the possibility to analyse the digital media hybrid in full scale (the interaction between technology, business, communications and content). Finally, the canvas delivers the theoretical building blocks that can serve for the initial design of new media products.

This approach has already yielded its first rewards. The doctoral thesis of a researcher at the Academy for Digital Entertainment was awarded the highest distinction (Summa Cum Laude) by the University of Bayreuth (Germany). The dissertation was characterized as perhaps the first successful attempt to use abstract media theory as a design tool for media products (and thus closing the gap between media theory and media practice). Furthermore, one of the leading institutes in the field of digital media (Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA) has not only shown great interest in the approach, but has also recognized it as ground- breaking and innovative. Parts of the Master program have been written with researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology.

Master in Media Innovation: Creativity, Approach

Creativity is usually about breaking or playing with conventions. In both cases, creativity greatly benefits from a thorough understanding of conventions: if you don’t know them, you can’t break them. A poet or creative advertising specialist can’t express himself in a language he doesn’t know. And this goes beyond vocabulary. Knowledge of grammar and other linguistic rules will be essential for his creative success. Similar principles apply in the field of digital media.

Drawing on the analysis of some of the key processes of digital media, students are trained to think procedurally (the grammar of digital media). They are introduced to five basic digital media concept development processes, enabling repeat applications and variations. Technology is aligned with Semiotics, Communication Studies and Economics in a unique way. This gives graduates of the Master in Media Innovation the ability to innovate on a higher strategic plane.The aim of the Master in Media Innovation is to provide students with an in-depth understanding of digital media processes. Building on this knowledge, students are taught to design a canvas of codes, a crucial set of specific mechanisms defining each media product. By combining this canvas with a thorough grasp of the developments of digital media, students will master the tools to keep developing new and innovative media concepts.