2009-04-16

Regional licencing fuels piracy.

You would think that after years and years of ample opportunity in observing consumers help themselves to content without paying for it, the rights owners would catch on and figure out how obsessing over geography and regionally limited distribution fuels piracy.

But you'd be wrong. The rights owners do not seem to have caught on.

Releasing content at different times in different geographic regions, not offering all distribution channels everywhere, or even NOT releasing something in a region does, little but encourage consumers to find alternative ways of accessing content.

The problems seem to be rooted in archaic distribution deals and no doubt complex negotiations. If you want the TV rights in country A, you pay X. If you want streaming rights as well, you pay X+Y. If you want only streaming rights, you pay Z where Z depends on whether or not there is a TV station in the same region and if so, how much of a fuss they will make. If you want the TV rights, but you don't want the streaming right, but you don't want anyone else to have streaming rights for your region...well, you can see where this is going.

The upshot of this, as we know, is that the content the consumer wants is often not available to the user. At any price. It does not matter how much you want to pay -- you simply can't have it.

Not legally at least.

Alternative distribution channels have now become so common that ordinary people download pirated content. You really do not have to make much of an effort to get your hands on pirated movies these days. People with extremely limited skills routinely locate, download and peruse illegally distributed content.

If you look at younger people it gets even worse. The Internet has been mainstream for about 13-14 years. In that time the content industry has lost an entire generation. Any moral discomfort the rights holders would wish that young people felt when downloaded illegal copies of movies, simple is not there.

I wonder how much longer the rights owners are going to insist on striking distribution deals that eliminate vast business opportunities. I wonder when they are going to start doing business with people rather than tease them with attractive content -- and then NOT make it available; huffing and puffing when people find other ways to get at it.

2009-04-14

Bernie Ecclestone, creating new industry.

Congratulations Bernie Ecclestone! By cleverly convincing yourself that Internet distribution is "out of your hands" a veritable cottage industry of streaming BBC's F1 coverage outside the UK has popped up.

While trying to research how various people get access to the BBC feed I stumbled across several companies that seem to make good money off of proxying the BBC F1 coverage. I can't imagine any of them do so legally, but boy are these people making money -- none of which you or any sponsor will ever see.

How grand of you to make this possible. I've heard people say that you didn't create this fabulous business opportunity on purpose, but I pay them no mind. Both you and I know that you aren't the sort of dimwitted fool who would shoot himself thorougly in the foot in business dealings.

You cheeky little fellow you.

You could so easily have provided global access to F1 streaming online at a reasonable price so people would have no reason to go elsewhere for their fix -- yet you graciously chose to provide this opportunity to the independent entrepreneurs of the world.

Bravo.

2009-04-11

When failing businesses become more important than our freedoms.

Last night I watched a documentary on file-sharing. What struck me was one of the executives from the recording industry who, while admitting that the recording industry had fumbled and dropped the ball, said that they were now on the right path and that people should stop criticizing them. "Them", I presume, being the recording industry.

Since the interviewer failed to ask why the recording industry was now not deserving of any ciriticizm, we have no way of knowing exactly what the executive was talking about -- both in terms of what errors he was admitting to and exactly what they had done to change their unproductive ways.

It was not until he let one final nugget slip through that it dawned on me that the executive in question had to be particularly dimwitted: he pleaded that those having unlicenced music in their posession just delete it so we could all start over. And he wasn't joking.

Of course, you can spin what people say by clever editing and the documentary might have misrepresented some or all of their interview subjects. But even in isolation, this plea, for me, is indicative that the executive in question is an imbecile and a buffoon.

Now, being extraordinarily thick is in itself not a crime. The problem is that there are politicians and government officials that take these delusional people seriously.

This means that policy, and eventually law, will be influenced by people who first have shown a spectacular inability to observe reality and then, when reality manifests itself beyond the point where they can just ignore it, have demonstrated a complete lack of aptitude in adapting to it.

In fact, it has now become so bad that politicians are seriously considering, and in the case of France, attempted to pass legislation that would make it possible to cut people off from the Internet without any semblance of due process or actual evidence being presented and tied to an alleged infringer.

Denying people access to the Internet is a very serious matter. You cut them off from a large part of society.
During the past two decades, the Internet has gone from being a curious diversion to an important channel for communication and interaction with society. Perhaps the single most important way to interact. It frightens me that our politicians are more eager to defend the obsolete business models of particularly dimwitted businesspeople than the rights and freedoms of the people they represent. It also frightens me that these issues are not at the forefront of political debate -- because they are very fundamental issues and they have very frightening consequences.

(There is debate, but it is usually dumbed down: the media pits extremists from either end of the debate against each other. Simple-minded controversy is easier to sell than actual analysis.)

Politicians should not treat the exclusion of its citizens from a major part of society lightly. I feel that they do. They let themselves be bullied around by the lobbying dollar of large media companies. And it is not only politicians. It is with great worry we have observed the zeal with which some government officials have gone after private citizens -- spending our tax money to run the errands of well funded, but ultimately ill-managed businesses.


It should be unnecessary to tell politicians that their first duty is toward the people they represent.

It should also be unnecessary to tell the recording industry, as well as the movie industry, that they need to come up with viable business models. Things have changed. The technological premises have changed and these industries have to change with them. Neither the recording industry nor the movie industry is so important that it is worth sacrificing our principles and our rights to keep them alive. There will still be music and there will still be movies. The way in which these things get made, monetized and distributed is inevitably changing and the whinging of the media industry is unbecoming.

2009-04-07

Viasat are idiots and incompetents.

You really can't make this stuff up.

In my quest to have timely, and legal, access to live coverage of the only sport I follow, I figured I'd check out the Viasat website to see a) if they have gotten their act together and made it possible to subscribe to just the one channel I want, or b) if they are able to provide me with a streaming alternative so I won't have to buy a bunch of channels I am not going to watch at a price I am not willing to pay.

As for a) the answer is no. If you want to see Formula One live on TV here in Norway you still have to pay 249,- NOK per month for a bunch of channels that roughly 98% of the time will be showing crap that I am not interested in. And yes, that percentage is a very conservative estimate because it doesn't account for the fact that there are multiple channels broadcasting crap I don't want -- but of course, (in theory at least), I can only watch one channel at a time.

As for b) ...I never found out. There is really no way of putting this politely, but Viasat are a bunch of incompetent morons. What sort of worthless imbecile manages to make a streaming-solution that only works with "Microsoft Internet Explorer 6+"? From whence do you recruit people who are so utterly useless at what they do that in the year 2009 they are still not capable of providing a streaming solution that is platform independent?

This is the sort of idiocy that makes you eligible for prizes.


Really, I would like to know. Is there some special recruiting agency somewhere that has specialized in the dangerously feeble of mind? Do they have a secret stash of windowlickingly stupid people somewhere? Morons who are utterly fascinated by striped toothpaste? Who spend their days trying, yet failing, to devise schemes to test their hypothesis that the fridge light is on when the fridge door is closed?

This is exactly why I, for the last couple of years, have been advocating that content owners should start to ignore cable- and TV companies and start flogging the product themselves. Depending on dimwitted people to move product is a bad business decision.

It would be far better if those owning the rights to F1, and other motor sports, would just set up their own, world-wide service for streaming video. I am sure that given an adequately sized group of talented people with half a clue, the motor-sports organizations could do a lot better on their own. Just cut out the dimwits in the middle who manage little else but to crap all over the product and just let them go out of business -- as we do with all obsolete businesses.

There's money on the table, Bernie. You do like money, no?

2009-04-03

Spotify doubts.

A newspaper here in Norway was questioning whether Spotify has a viable business model. On the face of things it doesn't look very promising. Spotify have to compensate the organizations that manage rights to music, it is questionable whether artists see much of this money and it is also questionable if Spotify can get enough paid subscriptions to make their business generate adequate income.

Doing business with any sort of content/rights owner is dodgy from the outset. These people are slow moving, greedy and have complex contractual restrictions based on an antiquated view of the world. They still live in the 80s and see the world as a myriad of disjoint markets. Their business practices have yet to adapt to the fact that geography has stopped mattering to the consumer and that segmentation by geographic region is a major driving force in piracy. People do not feel bad about downloading content that they were willing to pay for, but that nobody would sell them. I am not so sure people should feel bad about this either. Bad business models and bad business practices should fail and it would be counterproductive to artificially keep them alive by wasting taxpayer money to investigate and prosecute willing customers that are turned away en masse.

As for Spotify, I think they have a lot of potential. Their current service is quite good, and from a purely technical point of view, I find it impressive. The response time is superb. The sound quality is good enough for my uses.

However, there are a few things that I miss. For instance, I would love to be able to buy tracks or albums for download through Spotify. When I walk home from work I might want to listen to content that I've found on Spotify. Right now, the only way I can download the tracks I am listening to is to turn to iTunes, Amazon or some other service where you can buy music.

Also, there is potential for a social networking component to Spotify. The potential in sharing of playliststs has not been taken as far as it could go. I also think that Spotify could learn from other services (like flickr) when it comes to building communities -- a lot of the people I have listed as contacts on flickr aren't people I know personally. They are people that I share some interest with.

Spotify has a lot of un-tapped potential. I hope the founders realize this and are able to act on it before time runs out.

I also hope that some day the organizations that manage rights to content will start to live in the present and not be so hell bent on perpetuating practices that have long since stopped making sense.