Introduction to the N5M Zapbook

The Next Five Minutes is a conference, exhibition and tv program that wants to leave behind the rigid dichotomy between the mainstream, commercial and national tv on one hand and  marginal independent tv on the other. Although these differences may still be important, N5M wants to focus on tv-makers crossing the borders of tv-making and going into the spaces that the tv-world still has to offer.

Theses explorers can be found on both sides of the mainstream-marginal dichotomy. N5M is about the individual media-activists trying to get their message across via public access channels but also about small production companies testing the limits of mainstream tv from the inside, about tv-art projects using television techniques to develop a new kind of poetics, community tv fighting for the right to access and people within big tv institutions developing radical new program concepts. The richness and diversity that all these initiatives bring to the world of television is too often overlooked. This richness consists of tv-makers as different as New York's Paper Tiger Television, who made "the Gulf Crisis Project", Budapest Black Box who is piling up tapes with recordings of Hungary's main political and cultural events in the Szechenyi Library, Amsterdam's Staats TV Rabotnik who bring to local cable interviews with independent Yugoslavian journalists working under war conditions, Bangkok's Media on Society and Culture who buys a weekly independent half-hour on commercial tv and finally all the people that are in possession of a camcoder, ready to shoot the next "amateur video".

What these tv-makers have in common is a social and cultural position. An important aspect of that position is that they have no fixed institutional or discursive relationship with the world of television. What they do have are tactics; tv-tactics depending on very specific circumstances in space and time. The positions that result from their tactical status give them the freedom to experiment with the medium and to express their own ideas and opinions. Since we feel that this use of tactics is something that cuts straight across the marginal-mainstream dichotomy, we decided to use this word to describe which part of the tv-world caught our interest.

Because the tv-tacticians haven't got a fixed place inside the world of tv, their politics and/or aesthetics are shaped by different tactics used in different contexts. It is always the context in which tactical tv is made that influences the tactics deployed. Tactical tv is about "... clever tricks, knowing how to get away with things, 'the hunters cunning' manoeuvres, polymorphic situations, joyful discoveries, poetic as well as warlike." (De Certeau).?
So it is important to realize that tactical tv exists in both marginal and mainstream tv. A clear example of marginal tactical tv is the Tomkinson Square Riot tape made by media-activist Paul Garrin. His tape is a very personal camcoder recording with a clear political purpose. An example of tactical tv within the mainstream is produced by the Community Program Unit of the BBC. The teenagers made with some help from the BBC a series of videodiaries.

The reasons to work tactically are multiple: You can be forced to do so, because there is no legal way to develop or maintain your tv-station. You can also have different political, aesthetic and/or economic urges. The reasons for making tactical tv are often hard to disentangle. So it may be useful to have a separate look at them separately.

The political urge is mainly concerned with giving access to dissenting opinions, analyses, information and ideas. The aesthetic urge often leads to experimenting with the medium itself, with all the possibilities that tv offers in image and sound. The economic urge is concerned with reaching certain audiences. This one is less obvious than the first two. Since audiences are nowadays quickly diversifying to a very high level, the need for a much greater diversity in programming has become clear even within mainstream tv. This development fits in with the desire of many advertisers to reach more specific targetgroups. These three urges seldom come alone. Therefore it would be oversimplifying to connect just one of them to a certain group of people. For instance artists making tactical tv do not just have aesthetic reasons to do so, they will also have political reasons and possible also economical ones.  
?The N5M aims to give an overview of tactical tv as it exists all over the world. This offers a chance for tv-tacticians to meet one another and exchange experiences. This is very important for the people involved in the event, and hopefully contacts will persist into the future. But we don't think it's enough. We want to extend the possibilities for tacticians in the tv-world, and by doing so giving more substantial choice to tv audiences.

Despite all the differences that do exist in the world of tv, it is still mainly seen as monolithic. It is clear that the cracks are appearing in this 'monolith'. Two important developments have created these cracks. First technology has brought us very cheap and easy to handle production equipment, of which the camcoder is the most obvious example. Also the possibility to put more and more channels on the same bandwidth, and the opportunities that cablenetworks and satellites offer are important. Secondly the tv-audience has rapidly diversified: our societies consist of many different cultures, not to mention all the cultural differences that exist in the potentially global audiences that are addressed by 24 hour global networks. And last but not least, advertisers ask the tv-stations for more specific tv-audiences.

So 'strategictv', as we should name the opposite of tactical tv, is being effected by these developments and has to search for new solutions to the problem of keeping its audiences. A always, tv-tacticians are lurking, ready to move in the cracks as they appear. Ready to exploit and even enlarge these cracks. The N5M wants to give a platform to these efforts. By mapping the cracks in the tv-world, and showing the ways tv-tacticians make use of them, an important goal is served. It gives the opportunity to the tv-worlds to move towards more diversified programming, for smaller and more specific audiences. This means greater opportunities for political and aesthetic involvement with television. The N5M feels that each contributor to the conference has important things to say about the growing opportunities tactical tv has to achieve this goal. That's why we dedicate the next five minutes of space to all your experiences and ideas. A more democratic tv finally comes into sight.
1992, published in the N5M Zapbook

Link to the pdf version of the N5M Zapbook (16.7 MB):