Network: Bafta gets virtual and welcomes in the anoraks

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The Independent Culture
FORTY YEARS after the British Academy of Film decided to open its doors to that upstart medium, television, it has made a second magnanimous concession. The board of the academy has voted to allow interactive Web- heads (that is, those people working in new media) to be admitted as members.

It is a case of the dinner jacket finally acknowledging the anorak, in an era when there can now be no real doubt about which is the trendier of the two. There is no indication so far, however, that the title of the august institution will be getting any longer. The desirable acronym Batman (British Academy of Television, Media and the Net) seems sadly out of the question. The luvvies of the film and television world will, after all, have enough to cope with as they make room for the baggy-trousered, body-pierced, pony-tailed newcomers in the academy's bars and restaurants.

Aside from opening up a whole new membership pool for Bafta to fish in, the move was prompted by the academy's desire to shape up and get virtual for the start of the new millennium. As a result, in October it will launch its own Interactive Entertainment Awards, to be run in association with ICL, the IT systems and services' company.

Jane Clarke, the chief executive of Bafta, sees her welcoming overtures to new media as a process of reinvigoration: "We are confident that the new members will bring a whole new dimension to Bafta as we enter the 21st century," she says.

In the run-up to its awards event, the academy says it will now be pleased to recognise the work of games developers, testers, musicians, modellers, graphic designers, interactive producers, content and Web editors, all of whom will be eligible to join the ranks of Bafta's 3,000 members.

The founding interactive members of Bafta will include Tim Corrigan of NoHo Digital, Richard Creasey of The Digital Village and Sue Texton of Macromedia. These three will join Andreas Whittam Smith, founding editor of The Independent and now president of the British Board of Film Classification, and nine other new media luminaries on the judging panel for the Interactive Entertainment Awards.

The awards are intended to encompass all platforms of the interactive media, and entries are being sought to reach the academy before the looming deadline of 11 September. The awards will be made in 11 categories, covering comedy, news and magazines, games, children's sites, moving images and sound, as well as special categories for design and computer programming. The winners will be announced on 29 October at a gala ceremony to be compered by Stephen Fry, a man renowned, among other things, for his involvement with film, television and the Net.

Free membership of Bafta will be offered to three representatives from all those companies who are shortlisted for the awards. For others, full annual membership will cost pounds 160 a year. The touted benefits of Bafta membership include use of the bars and restaurants for meetings and lunches, free or discounted tickets to its lectures, events and seminars, and access to an average of two Bafta screenings a week. Membership also provides the opportunity to purchase tickets at a third of the usual price for the film and television awards ceremonies (controversially separated for the first time this year).

More information about the Interactive Entertainment Awards is available on the Bafta website at: