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The Industry and Climate Change (Panel 4)

posted on 2024-06-28, 08:33 authored by Elke WeissmannElke Weissmann, Rebecca Wynne-Walsh, Alexa ScarlataAlexa Scarlata, Ramon LobatoRamon Lobato, Hilary Weston Jones, Mary-Joy van der Deure

Critical Studies in Television Conference 2024

Hilary Weston Jones (Birmingham City University)

The New Health and Safety: Sustainability and Television Production

To create exciting and challenging content, television relies heavily on some of the most carbon polluting industries on the planet – transport, energy and disposal (Sørensen and Noonan, 2022). The constant thirst for spectacle in an increasingly competitive media environment also has an impact. You can’t make Blue Planet without mass movement of people, and viewers don’t want to see the same glittery costumes used repeatedly on Strictly Come Dancing. As such industry practice has historically normalised the use of disposable materials and mass relocation of cast and crew for periods of production.

The BBC’s Environmental statement (2023) states its ambition to continue to deliver “world class” content, whilst “doing everything” it can do to reduce their environmental impact. Given that one hour of UK-based factual television equates to the same carbon footprint as the yearly energy use of three semi-detached houses, how is the BBC “doing everything” it can to lower its carbon footprint, whilst achieving its editorial and creative ambitions? This paper will explore the way that UN sustainability goal 12 is being addressed through changes to television production in the UK.

Since 2009, the BBC has worked on developing an accurate method of measuring its carbon footprint. Since 2013, BAFTA have led the debate around inventive ways of breaking away from traditional production methods and embedding new sustainable ways of working. Widely used actions now include the introduction of no-fly orders, use of greener generators to power equipment, paperless productions and new businesses specialising in recycling sets, props and costumes. The use and training of local crews helps avoid large scale relocation of production teams, whilst also helping grow local economies. However, production still faces huge challenges ranging including financial, technical and behavioural considerations.

Television production is a complex, time-consuming and people heavy process which relies on a combination of traditional practices and emerging technologies. As with the prolonged introduction of health and safety regulations from the 1970s, there has been much reluctance to change production methods in order to address climate change. BAFTA Ambassadors talk about how time-consuming it is to conceive more sustainable ways of working and how change has to come from the top. In line with the introduction of health and safety monitoring, budgets have been at the forefront of every Production Manager’s mind. Rising energy costs, the threat to the BBC’s licence fee and competition from commercial services likes of Netflix and Amazon have all had a negative impact on programme funding.

This paper will draw on qualitative testimony from senior figures within BBC production for both Sport and Natural History programming in order to explore current examples of best practice and examine how sustainability is becoming embedded in production from inception to transmission.

Alexa Scarlata and Ramon Lobato (RMIT University)

Software obsolescence in smart TVs: implications for device lifespan and disposal

Smart TVs – internet-connected, app-enabled TVs – have been enthusiastically embraced by consumers in recent years. In Australia, for example, the number of adults using smart TVs at home has more than doubled since 2017, rising from 36% to 73% of the population (ACMA 2023). Meanwhile, "dumb" TVs are disappearing from electronics retail stores. Smart TVs and other interactive television devices have often been discussed through a lens of consumer empowerment and expanded choice. However, an issue of growing policy concern is their environmental impact.

This paper explores a specific aspect of the wider sustainability problem around smart TVs: software obsolescence. Software obsolescence refers to the unnecessarily short lifespan of smart TV operating systems and apps that fuel our current culture of device replacement. While we expected older-model dumb TVs to last for a decade or more, many smart TVs are sunsetted after just a few years – meaning they no longer receive software updates and become slow, buggy, dysfunctional, or inoperable. LG and Samsung, the world's top two TV manufacturers, guarantee to deliver software updates to their smart TVs for only two and three years respectively after purchase, or for slightly longer in the case of critical software updates (Which 2023). One unfortunate implication of this built-in obsolescence is that users must either replace their smart TV after a few years or alternatively purchase an add-on device such as a Chromecast or FireTV to extend the life of their hardware. Both options involve environmental and consumer costs – costs that could be avoided if smart TV operating systems and apps were designed with longevity, rather than planned obsolescence, in mind.

Since 2019 we have been researching smart TV adoption in Australia to understand the diverse “incorporation” (Silverstone 1994) of smart TVs into households. We have considered the lifecycle of the smart TV, from manufacturing to disposal, and how this is shaped by cultural factors including consumer views about app availability, content discoverability, and ease of use. Drawing on a combination of industrial analysis, device testing, smart TV user and retailer surveys, and a collaboration with the Australian consumer group Choice, this paper reflects on how the perceived lifespan of the smart TV is reshaping our relationship to the TV as a domestic media device.

Mary-Joy van der Deure (Utrecht University)

Preservation for the future: Shining an eco-critical light on digital television preservation

In the past two decades, many European televisual archives have partially digitised their collections. With analogue carriers being at risk of decay and requiring physical presence in the archive, digitisation makes these collections more sustainable and accessible for the future (c.f. Images for the Future 2007-2014). Digital, however, does not mean immaterial and increased attention has been given to the environmental impact of digital storage (e.g. Cubitt 2021; Marks 2020; Obringer et al. 2021). Safeguarding these collections potentially contributes to a more environmentally sustainable television industry, as the archive itself serves as a repository for reuse which decreases the need for new productions. However, to maximise this potential, it is of utmost importance to understand how current digital preservation policies contribute to the emergent climate crisis.

In order to understand this impact, this paper will first address the materiality that underlies digital heritage preservation. In line with the work by Linda Tadic (2022), this means focussing on the carriers that store the digital collections. This includes paying attention to the minerals and other raw materials these carriers require, and the often destructive mining industries involved in excavating them from the earth (cf. Starosielski and Walker 2016; Parikka 2012). Additionally, this materiality is present in the process of powering and cooling this hardware, requiring energy and resulting in emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as in the destruction of these carriers, resulting in increasing issues of e-waste and the unfair global distribution of this toxic material (Parikka 2016).

With an understanding of this materiality, this paper will thereafter elaborate upon a policy analysis carried out at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, frontrunner in the field due to their key position in the digitisation project Images for the Future. To understand if and how this archive approaches the issue of environmental sustainability, their policy documents have been analysed according to three key areas as set out by Pendergrass et al. (2019). This paper will first address archival appraisal, meaning all actions involved in selecting what does and what does not need to be archived. It will thereafter discuss the policy in place regarding permanence, meaning all actions taken to guarantee the durability of the collections. Lastly, this paper will elaborate upon the availability of the collections in the archive. This will include all actions and infrastructure in place to guarantee the accessibility of this heritage for research, media professionals and the general public, and will additionally include the more recent environmental challenges brought on by AI implementation. Together, this paper will provide insight into the environmental impact of digital television presentation, and highlight areas that must first be addressed before the archive’s environmentally sustainable potential can be utilised.


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