Home » You Are What You Watch: Shahrzad Rafati at TEDxVancouver (Full Transcript)

You Are What You Watch: Shahrzad Rafati at TEDxVancouver (Full Transcript)

Shahrzad Rafati – TRANSCRIPT

As the CEO of BroadbandTV, I live, eat, breathe, sleep video every day of my life, and my message today is we should watch more video, not less video because I truly believe we would be a better society if we watch more. So what do I mean?

As a child growing up in Iran, my viewing was rationed. We only had access to a handful of channels. There was the religious channel, all Imams all day – I mean look at these guys; they’re boring – and then there was the news channel, all war all day, and a variety channel with a range of shows: science shows, cartoons, and the occasional movie.

But for a real treat, my family would rent a video once in a while, and we would watch together, but the problem was if there was a romantic scene, my parents made me close my eyes, “Shahrzad, look away!” I’m telling you, I didn’t watch romance on TV until I was about 17. The content that I watched early in my life helped me become who I am today.

So what did I watch? Well, because of the war, there were a lot of patriotic movies with heroic people that accomplished amazing feats. Watching these heroic movies made me become more courageous and independent. At the same time, I found an escape from war by watching cartoons and animation. Oddly, considering the circumstances that Iran was in war, the same movies seem to be played over and over again. Movies like “Gandhi” taught me the true values of life, taught me how important it is to see the good in people, that how you must be the change you want to see in the world, and believe me, this really helped me, given that Iran was in war from the point that I was born until the age of eight.

So when I was 17, I decided to move to Canada, by myself, to see the change that I wanted to see in the world. TV was no longer rationed. TV was a good teacher for me. I spoke very little English when I was 17, so watching TV helped me understand the culture but also speak the language better, although it took me a little while to understand what that Jerry Springer Show was all about. That was crazy! But seriously, TV helped me, just like many other immigrants, to feel more part of a new community. I also came to better understand the power of freedom of speech.

Watching movies like “Dead Poets Society” and “Braveheart” taught me how important it is to find your passion and to bring it to your life and make your life extraordinary. It struck me right in my heart, and in my head, and right in here that nothing in life is impossible, that if you do what you’re truly passionate about, it will not only impact you but it will impact all those around you.

Recent movies like “Avatar” illustrate it beautifully, how metaphysics and a spiritual science go hand in hand. It shows how everything on this planet is connected and pulsating with energy. The movie resonated with me – like many of you, I’m sure – that we need to treat Earth with more respect and love.

We’ve all heard the stories; stories about kids’ relationship with TV and video content, inspiring stories about kids, very young children, who can’t even talk that are watching baby eye sign and learning how to sign to tell their bewildered parents what they need and what they want. Or children in developing countries that are leveraging video so that they’re not left behind, so they can fully exercise their power. And there are other stories about the results when kids emulate the violent act they saw on TV.

These stories have evoked hundreds and hundreds of studies, studies that seem to be focusing on answering one question: is video good for children or is it bad for children? What is interesting is that different studies have generated dramatically different results. So who’s right? And who is wrong? Should we ration our kids’ viewing? Or should we just fix them up with some snacks and popcorn and let them watch whatever they like to watch? Well, in my opinion, these studies are asking the wrong question.

Regardless of the side they choose, they’re missing the point. One guy who’s got it right is Professor Daniel Anderson; highly influential and widely published, Daniel’s answer is referring to what I believe is the most underrated aspect of our relationship with TV and video content: we choose what we watch. By judging TV and video, we’re only judging ourselves because we are responsible for what we watch and what we teach our children to watch. Let’s understand that we have control, that we are in control. There’s never been a better moment in our society to block and control the content that we view.

This is an exciting moment, a milestone in our society that we need to celebrate not to fear. We need to understand that we are in control, that we are what we choose to watch. Radical changes are taking place in every aspect of video consumption. What selection we have, how we choose, when and where we consume video, we are more likely to make a deliberate content decision now as opposed to before. We have more broadcasters both from traditional media and new constituencies, we have a channel just about every theme and interest imaginable.

Everyone is or can be a content creator. YouTube says there are 48 hours of video that gets uploaded to the site every minute; 100% increase from last year. We also have more devices to watch videos with that allow us to combine video consumption with other activities: our phones, our tablets, our PCs. We can watch videos just about anywhere: at the gym while working out, on the bus, on the way to work, even in the bathtub – I mean, that could get a little tricky; believe me I’ve tried it – but seriously, my point is that there is more good content out there and more ways to access it. We no longer have an excuse not to leverage our power to make better choices.

Why is it that we teach our kids how to exercise and how to cook, but video consumption, that takes up more than 15 full years of our life, is treated as some incidental, benign, everyday activity, just like breathing and sleeping that we remain unconscious and unaware of? Let us understand that we are what we choose to watch. Let us understand that we are in control. What would happen if we all saw video as if a way to self-entertain, self-educate, self-inspire, self-motivate with energizing content as opposed to looking at it as self-medicating? Simply to deaden our brains with dull and dehumanizing content. So we are what we choose to watch.

In the new online world, content is unlimited, and it’s ever-expanding. That’s why we need to be more proactive and engaged. It’s almost like we’ve entered this large, virtual art gallery with an enormous number of rooms and paintings. We need to find a way to navigate through these rooms, to find the paintings that we would like to view, to enjoy, to linger over, that will touch our soul and our humanity. We also need to leverage technology. We need a personal curation tool that is a true representation of us, our personality, and our behavior.

Call the video a butler, if you like, a tool that knows you intimately, that knows what you like to be served and when you expect to be served. This cutting-edge, personalized curation tool is being designed as we speak leveraging artificial intelligence and the power of data science that will allow us to ingeniously pull the content that we want and we need in an efficient, useful, and satisfying manner.

In the new online world, we have a lot more content so we need to understand that we need to be a lot more engaged as opposed to before. If for the past few decades, we’ve been fed content that has been carefully prepared, manicured, and pushed to us, a few years of YouTube and Netflix isn’t going to change that. We need to be cautious about the power of video and our new-found power of choice.

Let’s understand that we are what we watch. So spread the word, but more importantly, speak to your kids, let us all watch more, more of the good that can help us not numb us to submission. I would also like to share with you a project that I’m personally very passionate about. VISO Give is a channel that we launched earlier at BroadbandTV. It’s the world’s first, online, ad-supported video channel that allows you to watch and give at the same time.

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