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29 February, 2020  ▪  

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How culture is being absorbed by the internet and what comes after

While even ten years ago the culture was directly tied to the ability of a certain artist to be featured on TV, nowadays these dynamics swiftly shift towards one’s internet presence. Public’s taste becomes more individualized – everyone listens to and watches whatever they want and whenever they want; consumers are not depended on TV station’s preferences and timing anymore. Moreover, as the technologies develop, everything that’s on offer does so as well; with time, the distance between the artist and the consumer becomes narrower day by day.

 

YouTube, the tool of influence, and the Made in Ukraine” culture

 

 In the West presence of artists, cultural managers and journalists on YouTube has long ceased to be a novelty, and quite frequently their audience is way wider, than the one on traditional channels. In Ukraine, on the other hand, despite hundreds of online blogs (and those are mostly blogs of politicians or celebrities), this particular channel of digital communication is far from being a full-scaleindependent market yet. There seem to be several reasons for that. First of all, we are facing segregation of the audience onto “internet” and the “TV” groups. In 2013 several channels gained their popularity as a result of the Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity, but once the revolution was over, these channels struggled to offer an interesting and meaningful content. 

In March 2019 “Detektor Media”, a civic organization, published results of a media research, where they’ve asked respondents to identify the news sources they use and the media outlets they trust the most. As of February 2019 some 74% respondents claimed that those outlets include various traditional TV channels, while only 27.5% named Ukrainian online media outlets as the main source of information. When we talk of public trust, 40% of respondents claimed that they mostly trust Ukraine’s main TV channels, while only 14% trust online news portals, and 12% – social networks; 6% claimed they trust other sources of information. Nevertheless, compared to 2018, dynamics of the use of online media are growing and hence it allows the cultural sector to use the online outlets as a tool to attract more attention to Ukrainian artistic achievements. 

YouTube, as well as other social networks such as Facebook and Instagram, not only offer people a way to express and promote their work, or allow individual artists to open a personal online channel, but these platforms offer the same to various cultural establishments or institutions. Nearly all of the museums, theaters, distribution companies and the newly formed institutions, such as Ukrainian Cultural Fund, have an active account in several social networks. Yet, if we talk about Ukrainian segment of YouTube, it remains mostly Russian-speaking. 

Serhiy Neretin, is a former first deputy head of Ukraine State Film Agency, as well as someone who has long worked on Ukrainian channels and has spent considerable amount of time in Ukrainian film industry. His example clearly demonstrates how someone can transfer one’s professional activities from ‘traditional’ media outlets to an online platform, such as YouTube. Some 10 years ago he came up with an idea to create video-magazine about the culture and various cultural events, and he even shot a trial edition of this magazine, however at that time Ukrainian TV channels did not express any particular interest in this undertaking. When Serhiy left the Ukrainian State Film Agency, he attempted to revive his project. “I am particularly interested in in Ukrainian-speaking segment of YouTube. I believe that this outlet is not only able to form public opinion, but in fact I’m sure this is what it’s doing at the moment. Even if we take a look at the situation with media in Russia, they have all the kinds of programs – social, political, entertainment and musical. All of the smart TV hosts in Russia (if there are still any left there), such as Parfyonova or Sobchak, have established their YouTube channels a while ago and they currently have millions of followers. I don’t even know where to begin, if we talk about United States or Europe – digital market here is about to take over traditional media outlets. It is only a question of several years, when Ukrainian digital market will be full. I really like projects of Roman Vintoniv (Michael Shchur), Yanina Sokolova, or Roman Skrypin on Youtube. It is not enough to just have a channel, your content has to be interesting, captivating, relatively provocative and understandable for young people below 30,” explains Serhiy. 

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Serhiy also insists that his video-magazine widens the options and expands the audience, while his solid experience in film industry and journalism allows him to be professional in creating his content. Nowadays he has several programs that he is currently hosting – these programs provide an overview of cultural processes and events in Ukraine. “If you look carefully at TV screens that are manufactured across the globe, you’ll see it’s just a one big gadget. It is one big screen, where you can download whatever you want and watch it at any time you want. Times on a regular, “traditional”, TV channels is on the other hand strictly regulated. I would like to create short films, documentaries, smaller shows that may only last 5 or 10 minutes. This is not the format TV stations are after. If you have your own blog though, you can publish your own interesting and relevant video and it will be shared immediately. YouTube has completely changed the game rules for us,” tells Serhiy. He claims that YouTube audience has grown older, and they are ready to embrace the new quality content produced in Ukraine. 

Over the last 6 years film industry has also been active trying to find its niche online. First of all, not only state support for Ukrainian movies has been increased, the number of these movies has also grown. This has also created new uncomfortable challenges for Ukrainian movies, especially bearing in mind traditional caution against everything that’s “Ukrainian, [and therefore is] a low-quality product.” Creators of nearly every Ukrainian film shot in Ukraine go extra mile just to be present on social networks and to be as interactive as possible. The movie “Devoted” (“Viddana”) based on Sofia Andrukhovych’s novel “Felix Austria” is scheduled to be shown in cinemas in January 2020. Copyrights for this movie were bought by Film.UA Company back in 2017. “Devoted” has its pages on social media, there is a promo-team taking care of its publicity, publishing some of the less known facts about this movie – about the costumes, soundtracks, which were, by the way composed by Tina Karol and Julia Sanina, the lead singer of The Hardkiss. The main aim of the filmmakers is to create an interest in the movie even before the official release date. Online platforms are ideal tools for it. Nowadays this is what happens to every “Made in Ukraine” film.

 

What about the film critics?

When Ukraine became independent, frankly speaking, it couldn’t boast of a solid film critics’ community, and as the internet started taking over, the role of film critics became even less noticeable and effective. For example, when The Great Gatsby dancing show was first hosted in Kyiv, most of the invitees, the art critics, came from abroad. According to the authors of this project, such stance enhanced their professionalism, reputation, allowed them a wider audience and respect for artistic product. In Ukraine critics are often just a number of enthusiasts, who do not really influence the art scene that much. There are minor exceptions, though, like for instance, some competitions, where film critics are also present on a board. 

Maksym Demskiy, director of multidisciplinary festival GOGOLFEST, believes that frequently critics are rather incompetent and they rarely have the knowledge of the new project. Kateryna Leonova, actress and the leader of SHANA band, thinks the role of critics has evolved and they turned into a compass, which helps artists to navigate within the chaotic ocean of changes and innovations. “I have a feeling that this is a transitional period. Something has passed and there is a place for something new for us. This “newness” comes out of everywhere; it pours out from every outlet possible. Nobody is truly the first one in this chaos – leaders change, maybe this will change too and one day there will be some sort of new ideology, a pact that this society is willing to accept and follow. All of this is born right now. I believe that the role of the critics is vitally essential in this process; it is important for every aspect of cultural life – in film, in theatre, in music, literature – you name it. Sooner or later, it will be the critic’s job to set the quality standards for the best ones, and thus disqualify everyone who wasn’t good enough to fit. Artists have to embrace the fact that there are leaders of thoughts, leaders of public opinion. We don’t necessarily mean the amount of likes on Instagram (however, nowadays, it seems that this has become an unavoidable part of our lives), but also a more general, deeper perspective and ability to demonstrate the general picture of the present times; drawing some parallels with the past, and sensing the tendencies for the future. This is a very important and complicated work,” concludes Kateryna. 

When it comes to literature, the state and quality of critics in this field is not too promising either. Very often there are publishing houses simply asking journalists to write a review on the book. Another issue is the lack or limited availability of platforms to publish such reviews. Does it mean we are running the risk of seeing the critics disappearing as a profession? We cannot tell for sure right now. This may also just mean that the tastes of the audience have evolved or changed and critics will have to fight for their place under the sun. Perhaps, it doesn’t mean we will see them directly influencing the art product (for example in New York, a word or two of some well-known critics may easily change the script in a play), but certainly critics will help the audience in filtering the information.

 

Pirates and creative economics

More and more often we hear the term “creative economics”, which comes up in conversations about culture, its development and the role of various digital platforms in this process. Creative economics is the businesses and people, who create cultural, artistic, innovative products and services, as well as art spaces where artists can gather and exchange ideas, or partner with each other. According to the data provided by the UN, in 2018 creative economics had nearly 3.4% share in the global GDP, while the amount of people employed in this industry reached 25%. Moreover, the pace that this industry has been growing with has now taken over the service industry. What does this mean? It means that from now on we can claim that the world will live in the humanities version 2.0. In Ukraine experts are targeting the music industry. Think of Sweden, where after less than 25 years years, music became one of the country’s key sources of income – understandably, not without ABBA’s help. Nowadays Sweden is rightly considered as one of the leading countries in the music industry. 

So why can’t Ukraine follow Sweden’s example and turn musical industry into one of the most profitable industries for the state? The reason is pirates. Ukraine continues its war on illegally distributed videos; however it is not as easy to protect the music. There is Ukrainian Anti-Pirate Association (UAPA), which calls for marketing managers not to put any ads on pirate website not to pump them with money. Some brands did in fact shut down such cooperation, but others still do partner with illegal online platforms. One of the reasons for this is that many of these brands’ offices are located in Moscow. This creates a vicious circle – on one hand, some brands are demanding for Ukraine to finally take control of pirate content distributed on its territory, or otherwise they won’t enter the market, and on the other hand – these same brands are stimulating the pirate activities from their offices located abroad. Maybe introduction of more punitive measures could be an answer to this problem?

Only when Ukraine is done with the pirate content, we can initiate presentation of Ukrainian musical scene abroad to foreigner partners and investors. Presence of major streaming companies, such as YouTube Music or Apple Music in Kyiv would equally help too. Oleksandr Varenytsya, director of ‘Mnogo Vody’ PR-agency claimed in one of his articles that there are only 6% of those who listen to the legally-downloaded music on their phones. This process is rather new and requires certain popularisation. 

Ukraine should also create more platforms for young musicians, who would get a wide range of new opportunities. Internet-platforms can really give Ukraine a chance to develop its musical industry as a whole, not just as a base for individual artists. 

Nevertheless, despite the fact that there are so many unanswered questions, many processes do go naturally and tendencies in Ukraine don’t really differ from the ones in the West. For instance, the art does embrace digital technologies – and in this case the audience can not only co-author or influence the final product, they can also be more involved into this creation. These tendencies give us the chance to revaluate our past and see our future from certain perspective. 

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“Challenges of gravitation” exhibition will be presented in Kyiv’s Mystetskyi Arsenal cultural centre from October 2019 until January 2020. The exhibition is dedicated to the life and art of Paraska Plytka-Gorytsvit, Ukrainian photographer, artist and writer. In addition to some handmade books, photographs, photo works, and sculptures, visitors can also see big light installations on the wall and “walk around” Paraska’s VR-house. This project is one example of how past and present are merged within Ukrainian cultural space. What seemed to have been left behind and having had become history, has been revived and is now creating new senses. Uniqueness of this project also lies in its multidisciplinary approach. There are many talks, discussions, meetings organised by the “Radio Kultura”; roundtables for professionals and experts of the cultural space.

It is likely that the emergence of new demands and ideas in cultural sphere may lead to revaluating boundaries of culture as such. Perhaps it will come in close contact other spheres – science, education, urban studies or even IT. Art creates new spaces; it decentralises and leaves the Soviet past behind. One of the reasons behind it is the fact that unification of a virtual and real will become the key for Ukrainians not only to get to know their own culture better, but also to relate to it. 

By Kateryna Hladka

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