Are ethical hackers the alchemists of our time? The Masters of the binary revolution?

written by: Richard Kastelein

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ethicalhackingFar too many people still envision hackers as evil. The name hacker itself to most conjures up images of some basement-dwelling, pimply geek who gets off on trying to hack the Pentagon or MI5… or even worse, messes with ordinary peoples’ computers making misery of our lives as we battle spam, malware, Trojans and other forms of time-wasting and spending money hand over fist getting things back to normal.

But actually, as the English lexicon evolves the idea of hacking and hackers is changing.

Ethical Hackers are now kind of becoming the alchemists of the 21st century — speaking the language of code — that drives so much of our lives this millennium. The coders, the developers, the designers, the user experience experts and even the digital entrepreneurs are a new breed of shaman that are redesigning how we communicate and interact in our brave new world.

‘Hackers’ speak many languages, but in principle what makes them alchemists — is they all speak the mysterious language of ‘code’. Forget Esperanto, code is the lingo that essentially is binding us all into one universal binary language.

London TV Hackfest 2013
The playground of the new generation of hackers is what is called the Hackathon. — A portmanteau of “Hack” and “Marathon”. And in its essence it’s about Rapid Prototyping, Cooperation and Co-Creation.
And now, we are now solving medical problems, civic issues, makings sense of massive amounts of data we are building via our digital universe, and reconnecting our world in the Internet of Things via hackathons.


Hackers chilling out at TV Hackfest 2013

Both the Whitehouse and the Government of India have recently held hackathons. British Airways just held a hackathon in the air packing a plane full of coders on a flight from San Francisco to London and let them hack away.

Some of the odder hackathons include Meat Hack Day , Comedy Hack Day, and even a Hackathons for Transgender Empowerment!

Hackers are becoming the new elite, the solvers of some of societies largest issues and are cutting apps that are fundamentally changing the way we evolve and live today. Don’t believe me? How often do you check your smart phone?

According to the Daily Mail in the UK the average person checks their mobile phone about 110 times a day (and up to every six seconds in the evening)

Mobile Apps, developed largely by ‘hackers’ are influencing lives in a huge way.

That’s perhaps why App Developers make more money than Doctors and Lawyers globally, according to an infographic commissioned by theApplication Developers Alliance and designed by infogr8.


Scott Eklund from PonyCode and the Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center at San Francisco TV Hackfest 2013,

They are at the helm of an industry we call the app market which was worth $3.5 billion in 2011, and is expected to grow tenfold to $30.5 billion by 2016.

I have been fortunate enough to participate in this world, founding TV Hackfest in 2012 and running hackathons in both San Francisco and London over the past two years. We started with hacking television. And there’s plenty to hack with Connected TV app stores coming into fruition and what we call Social TV Apps (Second Screen engagement while people watch TV). But we are now considering branching out The Hackfest to other verticals such as music and health as well as general apps.

So what do we do at a TV Hackathon? We put together creatives (mainly from the Transmedia movement) , developers, coders, designers and entrepreneurs get them to form groups if they are not part of one, get creative, get coding and go on to build cool stuff. We give them Application Programming Interfaces known as APIs, Software Development Kits or SDKsTV metadata, and loads of video to work with. Usually over 24-48 hours. Sometimes even all nighters for the hardcore as we did in London in 2012.

Brands, agencies, broadcasters and other suppliers have also been involved as sponsors providing what we call a Brief which is essentially a challenge to solve a problem or find a creative solution. For a prize.

So why hack TV? Not just because we can. And there are prizes. Hacking is largely driven by ego in a good way. Like the open source software world where ego is the currency its largely about gravitas around building the coolest thing. And maybe building a startup.

TV is ripe for change. Forbes says there’s half a trillion US dollars up for grabs as the Internet collides with TV. Both print and music have been hit hard by the web and there’s no reason to think that TV is immune from rapid and enormous change to the current value chain.

Syd Lawrence from testing the mind control Gear.
The New York Times reported last May that Millennials were leaving TV in droves, and brands were losing their ability to mass reach them en masse as they niche into new forms of entertainment.
Goldman Sachs found last month that broadcast ratings in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic, the one most coveted by advertisers, fell by 17 percent in the winter months compared with last winter. Goldman Sachs called it “the sharpest pace on record.”While all current trends indicate that TV and advertising spend are still vital components of the media marketplace, TV viewership does face a number of challenges, including fragmentation, technology-enabled time shifting, and the disruption of media stacking or mobile/tablet multitasking. TV is in trouble. It needs to be hacked.
Developments in technology are impacting TV advertising effectiveness and the dramatic rise of connected mobile devices is leading to an increasingly distracted use of TV. Digital technology has also accelerated ad avoidance through time shifting and on-demand viewing, and has enabled a significant amount of fragmentation due to sheer volume of content and niche.

All these developments work together to degrade the value of TV ads and are deeply affecting the TV industry as scarcity is removed due to IP delivered content. Innovation is what will save the industry and who does not want a developer (hacker) community like Apple, Facebook and Google? Each company basically has 50,000 developers on spec, driving innovation at the speed of light.

Interestingly enough, many in TV don’t, as the walls are still high and tight intellectual property ownership is the core of the business. But building higher walls is not the answer. It’s not going to save the TV industry.

Innovation will. And that’s likely to come from the outside not inside.

Come Join Us at our two hackathons The Hackfest in San Francisco February 5-6, 2014! Part of Apps World 2014.


About the Author

Richard Kastelein
Founder of The Hackfest, publisher of TV App Market and global expert on Media & TV innovation, Kastelein is an award winning publisher and futurist. He has guest lectured at MIT Media Lab, University of Cologne, sat on media convergence panel at 2nd EU Digital Assembly in Brussels, and worked with broadcasters such as the BBC, NPO, RTL (DE and NL), Eurosport, NBCU, C4, ITV, Seven Network and others on media convergence strategy - Social TV, OTT, DLNA and 2nd Screen etc.

He is a Fellow of the UK Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and UK Royal Television Society (RTS) member.

Kastelein has spoken (& speaking) on the future of media & TV in Amsterdam, Belfast, Berlin, Brussels, Brighton, Copenhagen, Cannes, Cologne, Curacao, Frankfurt, Hollywood, Hilversum, Geneva, Groningen (TEDx), Kuala Lumpur, London, Las Vegas, Leipzig, Madrid, Melbourne, NYC, Rio, Sheffield, San Francisco, San Jose, Sydney, Tallinn, Vienna, Zurich...

He's been on advisory boards of TEDx Istanbul, SMWF UK, Apps World, and judged & AIB awards, Social TV Awards Hollywood, TV Connect & IPTV Awards.

A versatilist & autodidact, his leadership ability, divergent and synthetic thinking skills evolved from sailing the world 24000 miles+ offshore in his 20′s on sailboats under 12m.

He spent 10 years in the Caribbean media & boating industry as a professional sailor before returning to Europe, to Holland.

A Creative Technologist and Canadian (Dutch/Irish/English/Metis) his career began in the Canadian Native Press and is now a columnist for The Association for International Broadcasting and writes for Wired, The Guardian & Virgin. His writings have been translated into Polish, German and French. 

One of Kastelein's TV formats was optioned by Sony Pictures Television in 2012. 

Currently involved in a number of startups including publishing TV App Market online, The Hackfest and Tripsearch TV. As CSO for Worldticketshop he helped build a $100m company.

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