Estonia is considered to be a success story of digital governance, in particular for its exemplary infrastructure of public e-services; and there are other things that make use of this reputation: ‘Digital’ has become the calling card of Estonia’s foreign policy. All of the political forces support the objective of maintaining Estonia’s leadership in the fields of e-Government and digital services. However, adding the word ‘culture’ to ‘digital’ makes the situation more controversial. The provision of digital cultural services does not take priority over other national digital policy objectives. Compared with other European countries, there are few achievements in this area. However, it is clear that the development of public services as well as private initiatives in this field is of great importance to the sustainability of Estonian culture. On the one hand, this is necessary to counterbalance external influences; on the other hand, it is the networked digital culture that ensures access to Estonian-language culture across the world.
This article focuses on the digitisation of Estonian cultural services and their political governance. More specifically, the article deals with three questions. What has characterised the sectoral policy objectives of digital cultural services so far, and how successful has their implementation been? What does the increased political emphasis on entrepreneurship and export mean for culture in general, and how effective has such emphasis been? As well as - what does participation in open online markets mean for Estonian culture? To answer these questions, the article examines what digital culture is and why it is important to include it in an analysis of the development of the country.
Digital culture – opportunities and initiatives in Estonia
A culture converted into bits and bytes has a distinctive ability to allow for synthesis, and for combinations of different modalities: texts, images, sounds, etc. This ability opens up opportunities for new types of multi-modal, transmedial, etc., cultural expressions that enrich a culture’s means of expression (Ibrus, Ojamaa 2014). Second, cultural services linked across internet platforms have the potential to connect different spheres of culture as well as for empowering the ‘readers’: Everybody can choose their own stories and narrative sequences (Landow 1992). Third, digital culture facilitates participatory culture: Everybody can partake in the creation and management of culture, which in turn gives rise to new forms of co-creation or co-consumption of culture (Jenkins et al. 2013). Fourth, digital technology supports the internationalisation of culture: the web is global and so are the production, distribution, and consumption processes. These facilitate interactions across the existing cultural borders, a greater openness of culture, and faster cultural exchanges. Fifth, the most nascent affordances – virtual or augmented realities – allow users to perceive the environment in a different way and to experience new phenomena in alternate realities. Sixth, digital culture is structured around databases (Manovich 2012) and characterised by the capacity to assemble and filter great volumes of data: To widen access to cultural resources. Seventh, digital culture builds on new opportunities for auto-communication: Individuals and institutions can use social media to create and enforce self-images; the internet also facilitates the emergence of new kinds of virtual communities that support niche identities and are often geographically dispersed. Eighth, digital culture allows for the collection of data on the consumption of culture: Culture and its uses are meta-described in increasing detail and by increasingly automated ways; great volumes of data are gathered on cultural behaviour, preferences, etc. Therefore, the providers of cultural services are increasingly informed about users, their preferences and practices and this, in turn, affects the development of all kinds of cultural services (in terms of who has access to which services and on what conditions) as well as the evolution of all forms of digital culture.
All these features combined bring about new kinds of evolutionary dynamics for culture, including new risks and opportunities. The risks are mainly related to the collection of data on the use of culture and the related threats to privacy and reduced cultural choices if algorithms start to decide on these choices based on the collected data. Opportunities include the enrichment of culture through new formats, the tighter integration of different spheres of culture, and their more organic development; but also the acceleration of cultural dynamics supported by improved access and participation opportunities.
It should be stressed that it is difficult to distinguish digital culture from its socio- economic contexts. The rise of digital forms of culture relates to the overall development of the information society, characterised by keywords such as ‘globalisation’ or ‘individualization’, as well as the prevalence of neoliberal ideology, the dominance of information services in the economy, and the mediatization of all walks of life (Hjarvard 2013). There has been also the march of creative industries policy measures. Participation in digital culture may open new avenues to individuals for operating in the global market (as consumers or providers of products and services) while also requiring individuals to deal with any risks on their own.
The cultural markets of the information society are global in nature, which means for a small open country - that its culture and citizens’ expectations change unavoidably due to the dynamics in the external environment; therefore, policy-makers need to actively participate in the shaping of such an environment, both nationally and internationally.
The most prominent manifestations of digital culture in Estonia are analysed in what follows. Rather than focusing on the anthropological perspective, i.e. on the participation in the digital environment as a cultural practice, the analysis discusses the artistic practices, ways of representing culture, as well as the management and curation of cultural materials.
Cultural heritage. Estonia has, to an extent, digitized its cultural heritage originally created in various analogue formats. The volumes are difficult to assess, but according to the calculations made in 2012 only a tiny fraction of Estonia’s total heritage has been digitized (considering the limited volumes of the various activities, the situation has not significantly improved since). Certain types of heritage have been digitized to a greater extent (e.g. 29% of the total photographic heritage) than others (2% of the film heritage). Achievements that should be highlighted include the National Library’s digital archive DIGAR (digar.ee), the Estonian Film Database (efis.ee), and Ajapaik (ajapaik.ee) – a gamified web and mobile application for crowdsourcing geo-tags for historic photographs. The major initiatives to come next are the online gateway to Estonian museums, MuIS (muis.ee), and the Estonian e-repository, E-varamu (e-varamu.ee) – an integrated e-environment created for accessing digitized resources of Estonian memory institutions.
Arts. New media art, as it is often known as, stemmed from the visual art system, and has been cultivated in Estonia since the 1990s. The big names in this area are Mare Tralla and Timo Toots. Memopol-II by Timo Toots – a critical reaction to Estonia’s e-Government and the collection of citizens’ data – was awarded the Prix Ars Electronica international prize in 2012, in the category of interactive art. In other spheres of art, the situation is more controversial: While works of music, literature and film are mainly produced in the digital format nowadays, it has resulted in nothing more than a simpler production process and faster distribution. Only the genre of electronic music has established itself as distinct and popular in mainstream culture. Generally speaking, however, digitization in these content industries has brought about changes mainly in management processes: It has introduced, to the established domains, new distribution and consumption methods, new business models and income sources and has thus strongly affected the basis of the functioning of these domains. In this context, we must not forget the globalising effect of the Internet: platforms, such as Spotify, Amazon or Netflix, are often used to distribute content to Estonian audiences, which means that the control over distribution, consumption, and revenue management is moving out of Estonia. At the same time, export earnings are gradually increasing: Both in the form of direct earnings from various platforms, such as iTunes, Spotify or YouTube; as well as due to the promotional role of these platforms, as they provide an opportunity for audiences in other countries to discover Estonian artists.
As regards the arts, it should be noted that multimedial and crossmedial art initiatives (such as, for instance, the use of audio-visual arts in location-based mobile augmented reality applications, video games with artistic ambitions, etc.), are expected to emerge with the support of new educational programmes. However, as there are no specific support programmes for such artistic experimentation with digital forms, there are also no significant results. Unlike more established forms of culture (the Estonian Film Foundation, the Estonian Centre of Architecture, the Estonian design Centre, the Estonian Theatre Agency, etc.), there is no national development centre supporting digital culture in Estonia. In Europe, there are a number of positive examples of institutions promoting novel forms of digital culture. Among the best known are the British innovation foundation, NESTA; the Danish interactive media support agency, Interactive Denmark; and CNC – the French support system for cinema and TV that also promotes interactive art, media and video game projects and coordinates the entire field.
The media. The digitization of the media appears to be in a comparatively healthy state. Most of the production processes are digital; the content from newspapers, radio, and major TV channels is available online; the programmes of all major TV and radio channels are available as catch-up or on-demand. The Estonian public broadcaster (ERR) with its very liberal catch-up strategy outshines the majority of European broadcasters. The catch-up or on-demand availability of programmes on the Internet is important not only because it provides additional access opportunities for the audiences in Estonia but also because it functions as a communication channel between Estonia and Estonian diasporas abroad (see Figure 5.4.1.). The fiscally constrained ERR offers rich and diverse content on web platforms, which is an achievement considering that the legislator has not specifically instructed ERR to do so. The Estonian Public Broadcasting Act, and the tasks of other state-funded cultural media institutions have become outdated in the light of digital technology developments. There is every cause to wonder whether, taking into account the new opportunities to link content and services, it makes sense to have two separate institutions – ERR and the Kultuurileht Foundation [publisher of arts and culture newspapers and magazines] – if the services they provide are increasingly intersectional, and they support each other.
Figure 5.4.1. Estonian National Broadcasting website traffic from Estonia and from other countries
Source: Estonian National Broadcasting
Regarding private media, all of Estonia’s main media groups, borne out of newspapers but now running increasingly multiplatform operations, have been and continue to be active innovators. While their revenues were hit hard by failures of early online distribution, the willingness of consumers to pay for online content has increased in recent years as a result of the latest service monetisation models. Estonian consumers’ online media use is dominated by two domestic groups – Ekspress Grupp and Eesti Meedia – who control the largest share of the online advertising market. At the same time, the advertising market crisis caused by the global economic downturn continues: While online advertising is on the increase and balances the loss of other advertising methods (see: Figure 5.4.2), the globalisation of media services is taking money out of the Estonian market. An increasing proportion of revenues are collected by global actors, such as Google, Facebook and others, who are increasingly in control of direct contact with audiences. That money will not return to the Estonian media system, which is a challenge to the sustainability of Estonian media.
The European-level media policy attempts to solve the problem by new regulatory provisions. Companies are likewise attempting to solve the issue with the cross-media integration of different forms of media, i.e. by applying the logic of economies of scope: by coordinating the use of different media platforms, modes and channels they hope to increase efficiency and relevance to local audiences as well as to advertisers. However, audiences, as well as the journalists themselves, tend not to appreciate such constant repackaging of material. Rather, it is seen as one of the causes of the overall decline in the quality of journalism since online media is spending too much time on reprocessing the resources and too little on producing new high quality journalistic material. Therefore, online media tends to have a bad name. In the ‘post-truth’ era, this may threaten the stability of society.
Figure 5.4.2. The evolution of the size of the Estonian advertising market and the increase in online advertising
Source: Kantar Emor.
Research and education. There are a number of higher education curricula supporting the development of digital culture. Digital information management is taught at Tallinn University (information sciences) and the University of Tartu (knowledge and information management). The production of digital media and digital arts is taught at the Tartu Art College (media and advertisement design), Tallinn University (crossmedia in film and television, digital learning games) and the Estonian Academy of Arts (interaction design). The graduates normally find jobs in the advertising and media sector; an increasing number try their hand launching start-ups.
The above-mentioned universities are also where the main researchers of the fields work. Their research topics range from hypertext literature and new media art to transmedia narratology, media industry’s crossmedia strategies, and the forms of sharing economy in cultural industries. New initiatives have laid the basis for a new stage of development of research in the Estonian digital culture. The Centre of Excellence in Media Innovation and Digital Culture (MEDIT) was established in the summer of 2015 at Tallinn University. In 2015, the Estonian Society for Digital Humanities was established on the initiative of the Estonian Literary Museum.
Creative industries. The national creative industries policy has given rise to a number of actions aimed at promoting start-ups in the field of digital culture. The goal of the start-ups is to move to the private-sector based provision of cultural services and to transform the cultural services into export articles with a high growth potential and contributors to the gross domestic product. One of the related initiatives is Digix (digix.eu), a start-up incubator for creative media companies at the Baltic Film, Media, Arts and Communication School (BFM) of Tallinn University, supported under the Creative Industries Support Measure of Enterprise Estonia. Another one is Buildit (buildit.ee), an acceleration programme for creative industries and hardware start-ups operated from Tartu and supported from the same measure. Funding was secured for the visual multimedia centre Objekt in Narva. A start-up accelerator programme GameFounders has also operated recently in Estonia. However, the effect of these initiatives is unclear due to their relatively short period of operation. Yet, the period of operation of GameFounders coincided with the emergence and fast development of the Estonian game development sector.
These initiatives are linked to the neoliberal understanding of the organisation of culture – to the expectation that the main drivers of culture are exporting private companies. It is not clear whether these expectations are justified or not. However, there are other open questions related to the Estonian digital culture policy.
Digital culture in no-man’s-land
One such question is on the position of digital culture in national policies, both in terms of the coverage of the sector in policy-making (the position of the sector in different levels of policy documents and objectives), and in terms of funding (how much money has been allocated to the sector to achieve the set objectives. In other words, the article focuses on policy analysis: What priority is given in Estonia to the development of digital forms of culture and public services; and how much is invested in their development compared with other EU Member States and with EU sectoral policy measures and targets.
Since the European Commission published its green paper on cultural and creative industries in 2010, the Commission has adopted a common understanding among academic researchers (e.g. Potts, 2011) that a dynamic cultural environment, the provision of diverse cultural content, emergence of innovative forms of culture and services, and a wide variety of content creators directly support societal development, including technological innovation. It is premised on the assumption that communication technologies are mainly used to consuming cultural content, such as the media, music, films, etc., and therefore, cultural innovation is a driving force behind developments in the technological sector; and the inclusion of the cultural sector in technology development facilitates the adaptation of technologies to human behaviour, etc. It is for this reason, for instance, that EU institutions have emphasised the importance of the digitization of cultural heritage and making it accessible to users. For this purpose, Structural Funds are used to fund the Europeana portal - to coordinate the digitization of cinematographic heritage and the standardization of the related technology. The development of distribution platforms for digital content, and experiments with topical forms of content (such as augmented or virtual reality, transmedia and crossmedia application) are funded under the Creative Europe programme. The Strategy for the Digital Single Market emphasises the importance of the development of the possibilities of cross-border consumption of cultural services targeted at end users (e.g. preventing unjustified geo-blocking). The EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation “Horizon 2020” places, in the current financial period, a particular emphasis on the development of innovative uses of digitized heritage. The heritage is recognized as a relatively inexpensive cultural resource that not only offers additional opportunities to the creative sector but can also be effectively used in promoting intercultural dialogue and understanding. All of these initiatives can be summarised as follows:
The development of digital forms of culture and services is a matter of priority for the European Union.
In comparison, what is at the heart of the Estonian policy? To answer that question we first need to look at the administrative area of responsibility: Who is responsible for digital culture? In Estonia, the organisation of digital services is the responsibility of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications that develops general sectoral policies, based on which the national Information System Authority (RIA) provides funding (primarily from the EU Structural Funds) for development of the services. Digital culture implicitly depends on these general policies as well as on investments into basic infrastructure: For instance, when a remote farmstead in South Estonia has access to the internet, the people living in the farm will have better access to culture.
When it comes to the development of public e-services in the area of culture these too depend directly on the policy-making of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications. For instance, a number of Estonian museums have applied for funding under the e-services measure in order to make their services more interactive and better accessible to the public. In addition, there is a measure designed for the digitization of cultural heritage (the development of the basic infrastructure supporting the development and implementation of e-services). Three million euros have been allocated for this purpose. Before approving the funding, the Digital Cultural Heritage Council of the Ministry of Culture prepared The Implementation Plan for the Digitisation of Cultural Heritage 2015–2020. The main objectives of the implementation plan were set based on how cultural heritage could be used in education, for example, one objective is to use digitized materials (books, films, photographs, and works of music) in new types of digital textbooks. It was estimated that priority digitization across all types of heritage would cost a total of 13 billion euros. However, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications has decided to use the three million euros, expected to become available in 2017. The new goals derived from the Ministry’s expectations are to use the heritage primarily in the media and gaming sectors. In other words, over the years to come, the digitization of cultural heritage will be funded based on the expected economic added value, not on its potential contribution to the formation of cultural identities, community dialogue or diversification of cultural and historical awareness, all of which are essential for the balanced development of a multi-ethnic society.
Based on the importance of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications’ policy objectives within this process, the overall conclusion is that digital culture falls into a grey area between two ministries and both are hesitant about it, i.e. neither sees it as entirely within their sphere of competence. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications’ growth-centred approach to the field is too narrow, while the Ministry of Culture associates the notion of ‘digital’ primarily with the technical service of preserving and mediating cultural heritage, not with the opportunities to change the dynamics of culture and enrich its means of expression. The Ministry of Culture as an organisation is at the service of the established forms of art (music, theatre, film, art, literature, architecture) and the Ministry’s development plan (2017-2020) treats the digital revolution only from the perspective of the digitization of cultural heritage. The EU-level targets described above are not fully included in the national cultural policy.
The evolution of policy objectives concerning the digitization of cultural heritage
The Ministry of Culture has prepared development plans only for digital cultural heritage field. Four documents, under slightly different names, have been adopted since 2004 (for 2004–2007, 2007–2010, 2011–2016, and 2015–2020). An examination of the development plans reveals that the first strategy (for 2004-2007), adopted before Estonia’s accession to the European Union, was the most optimistic of all: it included ambitious digitization targets and a proposal for a relevant national development plan, promised to coordinate digitization systematically at the Ministry’s level and specific funds planned for digitization. The first development plan focused on the digitization of cultural heritage in order to ensure its preservation; not much was said about new uses.
The second and third development plans (for 2007–2010 and 2011–2016) were prepared before and after the economic downturn, respectively. This is why the former was strikingly optimistic and the latter much more pragmatic. The former took into account potential EU funds, while the latter primarily relied on EU funding due to the scarcity of its own resources. The emphasis shifted progressively to the reuse of heritage and new services. Generally speaking, nobody wonders why the majority of the plans set out in the previous strategy instrument were not implemented.
The most recent document “The Development Plan for the Digitization of Cultural Heritage 2015–2020” was born because the Ministry was required to prepare a framework document for the use of the money from the EU Structural Funds. A large number of Estonian memory institutions were involved in preparing the document, which focuses on the reuse of cultural heritage in business. Similarly to ten year earlier the document is quite ambitious: It describes in detail how digitization and the preservation and availability of digitized materials would be ensured in different sectors.
Based on the four documents adopted over the 12 years, it should be said that the objective of using cultural resources as a bridgehead for connecting Estonia and expat communities is never mentioned among the reasons for making cultural heritage available in a digitized format. The main trend is that the state is trying to cover the additional costs related to the digitization of cultural heritage only from the EU funds. This, however, makes it difficult to achieve the objective set out in the development plan of the Ministry of Culture: to digitize 80% of Estonian audio-visual heritage by 2020. The same objectives are promoted by document “The general principles of the cultural policy up to 2020” adopted by the Riigikogu. From this, we can conclude that besides using the Structural Funds, the Government should start allocating money to this objective in the State budget in the near future.
Another recurrent feature of all four-development plans is an increasing emphasis on the reuse of heritage by private industries. Next, we will discuss how the current organisation of digitization is supporting this objective.
The organisation of the use of digitized materials
Imagine that the whole of Estonian audio-visual or photographic heritage – tens of thousands of video material or millions of photographs – together with detailed descriptions, were available to Estonian pupils to use in the learning process: to prepare video essays or interactive stories. This would make the learning process more stimulating and pupils’ relationships with various subjects more immediate. Heritage introduces them to the past and also lays the basis for new stories. The amount of stories would increase in society, improving the dialogue based on the stories. Dialogues would stem from the history of culture, but so that the present and the past would be in organic conversation. Here it is appropriate to introduce the notion of remix culture. The timelessness of culture and the constant presence of memory elements in media culture and their intermixing has been discussed for a long time. Previously these discussions had a pessimistic undertone: Mixing results means the disappearance of ‘genuine culture’ and what remains is just a superficial play of signs in media reality. Now there is a more upbeat attitude:
Remixes of cultural traditions not only update cultural heritage but also open up new avenues for interpreting it.
New interpretations of heritage create an opportunity for a reconciliation and dialogue between cultural memory and the present so that the modern culture developing at grassroots level is not in conflict with heritage and history, but in an organic relationship with the past
Such opportunities and goals should be taken into account when providing access to and proposing uses of heritage. This article describes two main uses of digital heritage: In education and in business.
As regards formal education, Estonia has an advantage over other countries: The reuse of heritage is permitted in the closed ecosystems of schools free of charge, without the need to pay royalties. This allows an ensured, easy access to the entirety of all digital heritage for all pupils in general education. The same goes for reuse: all available heritage resources are available to those who wish to create something new. This creates the conditions that the new generation learns from an early age to use heritage creatively and this is a good foundation for a profound knowledge of culture, as well as the skills to use heritage to create new forms, products, and services of culture.
This also applies to non-formal learning:
digitized heritage becomes a means of creating new works, which in turn provides a basis for new social dialogue and new methods of identity creation.
Let us imagine that members of a small village community remix contents about their life. Or that Estonian expat communities create databases on their roots. To enable them to do so, it is necessary to ensure cost-free or at least easy access to materials protected by copyright. International experience has shown that free access is the only thing that will ensure the extensive use of heritage and the above-mentioned desired effect on the development of culture. This means, however, that the state will have to pay compensation to authors. There have been discussions of extending the tasks of the Author Compensation Fund, which used to compensate literary authors for the potential loss of sales from their works being available in public libraries, or of developing a new similar system.
The potential for the reuse of heritage by creative businesses is also vast. For instance, the development of learning systems using the extensive heritage content is just beginning and if Estonian heritage were digitized quickly, Estonian education technology companies would have a head start in the development and export of new solutions. The development of educational and other services (e.g. the reconstruction of built heritage or making replicas of artefact heritage) requires access to the full heritage corpus or at least to the majority of heritage. Experiences in different countries so far have shown that digitization is too expensive and therefore too risky an investment, for the European IT sector in particular with the majority of companies being SMEs. The reuse of digitized material is expected to give rise to innovations; therefore, it is reasonable to use the ‘innovation systems’ concept for policy design.
An innovation system functions well if there is a good cooperation and coordination of activities between the public and private sectors. The public sector should step in where the private sector lacks capacity. Therefore, to promote innovation in the private sector the Government should first contribute to digitization, and create a sufficiently simple and logical system of access to heritage for its reuse. It should be easy to develop an access system based on Estonia’s general e-services infrastructure, and Estonian copyright collecting societies have expressed readiness for the creation of such a system. Therefore, sectoral innovation readiness depends on the Government’s clear message that it takes the objective set by Riigikogu, to quickly digitize the most valuable part of our cultural heritage, seriously.
Estonian digital cultural policy in the context of the EU
As regards the development of Estonian digital culture, it should be kept in mind that the Internet is global, Estonia is part of the European single market and the next step in the development of digital culture is the creation of the digital single market. The position of Estonian authorities can be summarised as follows: Estonia will benefit from a single digital market with little or no regulation and few internal borders as this will ensure our population with access to all services, which so far have only been available to the populations of larger countries. Digital culture usually means faster international information and cultural exchange, but due to the territorial nature of copyrights, the populations of smaller countries cannot access many content services because large companies are not interested in the provision of the services due to their low profitability. This is why Estonian policy-makers and the Estonian population both like the idea of a single digital market and restrictions on geo-blocking.
Another position of Estonia is that there is no need for specific regulative measures to protect the European internal market against large American companies (Google, Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, etc.) because overregulation of the market may pull the rug out from under the feet of European start-ups. This is based on the understanding that innovation continues and sooner or later European start-ups will also achieve international success with their products.
However, deregulation may have a negative impact on the long-term sustainability of small cultures because the media and other content service markets tend to concentrate.
Why this is the case? It is based on the classic recognition that high structural barriers may be found to exist when the market is characterised by absolute cost advantages, substantial economies of scale and/or economies of scope, and high fixed costs. This is also characteristic of the media industry and media markets. This means that competition is not entirely free on such markets and they tend to shift towards the oligopolistic structure where the market is dominated by a mere handful of companies. In the network era, there are also strong ‘network effects’, that effectively demand side economies of scale: Each single consumer benefits from the fact that others are using the same service. The same logic applies to all media services in the case of which audiences are seeking some shared experiences (Ibrus, Rohn 2016). Large media empires that operate on multiple platforms also have “marketing muscles” which they use to capture the audience attention as the most limited resource.
The concentration of digital media markets is treated as a problem by media policies because it may limit the internal richness of a cultural space. Therefore, if the European Commission’s objective is to build a functioning market of digital cultural services, it is important, in particular from the perspective of a small peripheral country in Europe, to treat this development in the same vein. For instance, could the limitation of geo-blocking mean that an oligopolistic situation may develop in this single consumer market and how could this affect Member States’ systems of reproducing their own culture and consequently the cultural diversity of Europe? Estonian media companies already struggle due to the outflow of advertising revenues, but the problem will grow if incumbent online service operators start to buy exclusive licences, which would prevent the media organisations of small countries from competing successfully in the international market and thus effectively supervising their national media space.
It has been suggested that Estonia should recognise these risks and the necessary regulatory response. Such response could be an obligation of multinational companies to invest in the creation of original European content or a tax on the income earned by multinational companies in member states’ markets so that the money could be used to produce content which enriches the member states’ own cultural and language spaces – films, television series, high quality press, etc. Consideration has been given to the possibility that dominant online platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon, start to highlight European content, including content originating from small countries. The European Commission has already referred to such a possibility in its proposal for a new Audiovisual Media Services Directive (2016).
In Estonia, authorities have been sceptical about the Commission’s ideas. However, these would be regulatory actions that would have a significant effect on the development of Estonian culture and could contribute to the sustainability of Estonian culture and media system, in an open world. Therefore, it is appropriate to continue and extend the debate.
The analysis of Estonia’s digital culture’s past, present and expected future reveals that the sector requires more attention. The development of digital culture has great potential and purposes, including the diversification of the forms of expression, improving access to culture and enabling a more balanced development of culture by using new digital enablers of participation and dialogue. It is also an efficient means of connecting Estonia and expat communities as well as of integrating people of different language and cultural backgrounds within Estonia, for example by using new types of interactive learning materials. Digital creative industries have the potential to contribute to economic growth and presenting Estonia to the world. However, there is substantial room for improvement: sectoral policy measures have been limited and inconsistent; when participating in international policy-making the special needs of the sector need to be taken into account; and support measures are not systematic.
What should change and what could the necessary measures be? A broader debate is needed to identify the needs. The questions are: Which digital public services are required by the state; what kind of support should be provided to the private sector; how should the innovation system be coordinated; what kind of support is required for the emergence of innovative forms of culture and art; what would help to transform digital forms of creation into a more participation-centred form of culture that is accessible to all citizens, and how can these opportunities be made available to all Estonians across the world? Another subject for discussion is a review of the tasks of public cultural institutions and increasing their coordinating role in the innovation systems of the internet era, if necessary (Ibrus 2015). Equally important is the public planning of national activities, taking into account the development of policy objectives and standards at the EU level.
Assuming that Estonia can step up the pace of digital culture development, it is appropriate to establish, through the example of other countries, a development centre to coordinate actions and pool specific field expertise. The development centre could organise the development of digital culture by collecting and mediating information, coordinating activities and allocating grants to innovative projects.
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