(Tina Sjogren) The first ascent of K2 and names such as Reinhold Messner and Walter Bonatti have placed Italy at the forefront of mountaineering. Sara Sottocornola says the country was always a nation of explorers: even so in science and geography. It's because of a visionary mindset paired with relentless persistence, Sara said. And Italian cooking.
In 2002 Sottocornola herself became a pioneer, of new climbing media alongside iconic Mountainzone, MountEverest.net, Everestnews, Risk and Russianclimb.
Born a stone's throw from Ricardo Cassin's house in Lecco, following a sidekick in Milan the twenty-something Italian business major returned home to lead startup Montagna.org, set up by scientists at the 'Italian Pyramid' near Everest base camp.
Out of its alpine setting in Bergamo Montagna trailblazed again in 2005 with one of the first dedicated web-tv newscasts for mountaineering.
The channel covered mountains in real time and from different aspects: politics, legal, environment and tourism. Designed for a wider audience, the crew wanted to reach "regular people who either love the mountains or live in them."
10 years since start Montagna rules Italy's online mountain news, and today Sara joins ExplorersWeb's roundtable about the future of adventure film and television.
ExplorersWeb: You guys have been around since almost the birth of internet news media, as have we. Is print media suffering in Italy as it is in US?
Sara: Yes, it’s a hard recession for print media in Italy. Daily newspapers survive because they are part of big establishments and/or because they are a sort of a historical symbol, but increasingly fewer people buy them while online versions grow very fast.
There is also a problem of quality: salaries offered by print media are often shameful, in my opinion turning for worse the profession of journalists.
A local newspaper once paid me 25 euros (before tax!) for an interview with an Olympic champion, including travel (50 km) expenses. The journalist's profession comprises responsibilities and can’t be underpaid like this.
(Ed note: 25E = USD 30; 50km = 30 miles)
ExplorersWeb: Is the shift strictly directed by new technology or is the online format offering to correct something the old media failed?
Sara: Online media offers free and faster news. It’s impossible for newspapers to equal this offer.
ExplorersWeb: You have been running Montagna.tv for quite a few years now. How is it going? How many of your readers watch the service compared to reading your written stories?
Sara: It’s going very well. We tripled our visitors in two years, now averaging 35 thousands visits per day. We have a dedicated video section since last June. It's very popular but most readers still prefer written stories and interviews.
ExplorersWeb: We tried TV news around seven years ago but found it too expensive to maintain. How do you finance it and is it worth it?
Sara: We found that too. You have to be a television to maintain a working format of video news. I think we are not ready for a sustainable (in terms of cost) web-tv. It’s still too hard to “translate” clicks to advertising income on the web.
Our video-player offers a mix of in-house video edited by us and curated mountain/nature videos from around the web. Our material are interviews or clips shot by us and edited by a part-time professional videomaker. This way we can keep low cost and interesting content.
ExplorersWeb: Old media routinely created heroes, now regular people have gone from wanting content that's less about "them" and more about "me". Is there a similar trend in Italy and how is it affecting media?
Sara: I think new media creates heroes as well. People want to say their opinion, to comment the news. But they still want heroes.
ExplorersWeb: There have been several adventure reality shows, is that something you'd consider for Montagna.tv?
Sara: No, never considered it. It’s a TV only business.
ExplorersWeb: One TV documentary producer (for Discovery) told us "before it was the Deadliest Catch" now it's Antique Shows". Have you noticed this shift in interest?
Sara: Not here in Italy… or at least not so much.
ExplorersWeb: Adventure documentaries can be slow and boring. Do we need a change of pace?
Sara: Yes absolutely. There are many good examples of exciting documentaries on TV but many documentary-lovers still like it slow and boring.
ExplorersWeb:Peoples attention is shrinking. Has Youtube made an impact on your TV broadcasts?
Sara: Yes, many TV channels take news or inspiration from YouTube which in turn makes people feel closer to TV.
ExplorersWeb: Really cool videos posted by expeditions on YouTube and Vimeo often have very few viewers. Why do you think that is?
Sara: Because YouTube is a huge box and you have to know how to search before you find things. Personally, I don’t like YouTube, it’s too big, too confused.
I like this quote from 'The legend of 1900': “Take piano: keys begin, keys end. You know there are 88 of them. Nobody can tell you any different. They are not infinite. You're infinite... And on those keys, the music that you can make... is infinite. I like that. That I can live by”.
ExplorersWeb: Where would you like to see Montagna.tv ten years from now?
Sara: I’d like to see Montagna.tv always on the web, but also producing specialized contents, videos, news or edited texts for the TV format.
ExplorersWeb: Print media have experienced a sharp drop in advertising; broadcast TV may stand before a similar cliff. What do you think will happen?
I think TV will remain a point of reference for many years still. We never saw high advertising incomes on the web so there the situation can only get better…
ExplorersWeb: In US, revenue at movie theaters has dropped (last year reported the smallest audience since 1995). Experts believe bigger TV screens, internet TV, and rising ticket prices make people stay home. What do you think?
Sara: People still like movie theaters but in a different way. They stay at home to watch films because they have bigger TV screens and because it’s free.
Going to the cinema has become a social experience, often less about films and more about friends. This depends on age though; it’s true for people in their 30-40s while teenagers like movie theaters as they always have.
ExplorersWeb: Demand is up for independent, foreign and documentary films in US. Is this an expression for another type of exploration? Do people still want the unique and exotic but aren't getting it from adventure stories anymore?
Sara: People don’t want exotic in my opinion. They just don’t want boring films.
ExplorersWeb: Some believe cinema needs to give fans something new they can't get at home, an experience. How could that translate to adventure? Rock climbing documentaries with mobile climbing walls?
Sara: Italian movie theaters don't play mountain films or documentaries. Except for a few exceptions, they can only be found in film festivals.
Rock climbing and mountain documentaries are the most boring things I’ve ever seen. Before even thinking "experience" to actually be "films" they should be able to be understood also by people who don’t follow mountaineering.
But maybe it could be a good idea to create a mountain cinema in the same building of an indoor climbing center.
ExplorersWeb: There's lots of new and increasingly cheaper film-making technology. Meanwhile, skilled pro docu-makers for the outdoor lifestyle say it's increasingly harder to finance projects. "Nobody buys documentaries anymore." Why is that and what can be done?
Sara: Again, mountain documentaries should be dramatic, engaging, well cut, emotionally involving, and make sense to people who don’t follow mountaineering.
ExplorersWeb: Could we see the birth of an entirely new medium? What kind?
Sara: Maybe smartphones.
ExplorersWeb: So called second screen providers Viggle.com, GoMiso.com; wywy.com and others offer viewers a loyalty program where they can earn rewards on their smartphone while watching TV. Do you have any experience of this in Italy?
ExplorersWeb: Have you seen demand for adventure related Web TV (short and episodic videos created specifically for YouTube, Blip.tv etc) at all?
ExplorersWeb: What about truly live adventure video (Space Jump) does that format have a future?
Sara: Maybe. But I think this format is going to become boring in a long term. And it’s dangerous.
ExplorersWeb: What about the new online adventure documentary platforms (EpicTV, WildTV, etc). Do you see any opportunity for collaborations?
Sara: Yes. I think we can develop specific mountain contents together.
ExplorersWeb: How will they hold up you think vs. YouTube channels, Vimeo, Hulu, Netflix?
Sara: They are different things. I think TVs just shouldn’t try to imitate the web.
ExplorersWeb: The most interesting internet media platforms you've found?
Sara: Can’t answer…
ExplorersWeb: Anything cool on mobile?
ExplorersWeb: What about 3D? A hype or here to stay? Would you recommend it for adventure documentaries?
Sara: Maybe. But I hear people who experienced 3D films are not very enthusiastic about it.
ExplorersWeb: What about personalized TV (single-viewer units, mobile, pads). Can you afford to adapt to all the new platforms?
Sara: Of course not. We try to do it gradually. Next step will be an App. But It’s hard in terms of costs.
ExplorersWeb: Do you have any experience of Social TV (interactive - tweets, polls etc)?
Sara: Not much. We'd need a dedicated full time staffer to take full advantage of social media, and we don't have the funds right now.
ExplorersWeb: A polar skier recently told us kids don't watch adventure video; they don't go outside at all in fact but stay indoors to play computer games. Can we create adventure cinema that is as exiting as computer games?
Sara: No, and we don’t have to. This is a parenting issue. Kids must return outside.
ExplorersWeb: Should we use gaming tech and bring in sensor information in adventure films?
Sara: Maybe for the future generations. Right now I think neither media nor users are ready for it.
ExplorersWeb: There is a merger of web and traditional TV (Google TV etc). Seems like a good idea to check statistics, maps, gear and stuff while watching an adventure documentary but currently most such attempts have flopped. Could it be that we just want to relax when we sit down to watch TV? Or is it only that the concept needs time?
Sara: I think it’s a good idea but it’s too early. Nowadays people don’t have time and when they do, they like to relax. Right now this kind of web and TV merge is not relaxing. The viewers have to purchase it and be trained for it which will take a lot of time.
ExplorersWeb: New kind of tools are emerging: drones, contour cams, various robotics with built in cams for extreme shots - what cool gear do you know of out there?
Sara: Drones. Very good for mountain films.
Born in Lecco, Italy, Sara Sottocornola, 34, graduated Public Relations in 2001. She worked in Milan teaching business and economy before coming home three years later for an executive position at Montagna.tv. She loves cooking, mountain sports and oil painting: she frequently paints portraits of climbers.
Montagna was launched in 2002, the International Year of Mountains, by Agostino Da Polenza, president of EvK2Cnr Committee. Everest climbers know it by the "Italian pyramid" made of solar panels a day's hike from BC. The group is world famous for high altitude research: it runs a seasonal live webcam from the mountain and weather stations very high up on Everest to monitor Himalaya mountain climate.
Agostino Da Polenza is a major mountaineer who became the first Italian to climb K2 from the north side in 1983 with Joseph Rakoncaj. The climbers used no oxygen and were forced to bivuac on the top. Da Polenza later organized the "K2 2004 - 50 years later" jubilee expedition for the anniversary of the first climb and has been instrumental in the Share Everest project installing a monitoring station at Everest South Col in 2008 and 2011.
An independent online newspaper since 2005, Montagna.tv remains close to EvK2Cnr. In addition to Sara Sottocornola Montagna core team includes Valentina d’Angella, Nicoletta Favaron, Pamela Calufetti and Raffaele Parma.
ExWeb interview with Sara at Montagna.org: "We have to be curious, fast and good journalists"
Himalaya and Everest wrap-up: pushing the edge in shaky weather, watch it live take 2
Himalaya wrap and Everest high tech summit push special
ShareEverest project website
Pyramide Laboratory website
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