TV Content Delivery – Collisions in the Digital Paradigm VI

This article has been posted before but I have updated it in light of subsequent events like the settlement of the Global Plus Case. I had occasion to recall it as a result of a very interesting session at Nethui on 10 July about – you guessed it – copyright.

I have blogged before on the problems of market segmentation and regionalisation of content – especially in the context of access to downloadable content. Like many I am of the view that the Digital Paradigm has swept away many of the preconceptions that may once have existed about the distribution of music and video content. As services become available, more and more people are eschewing the covert downloading of material and opting for a paid service. Netflix is an example. Even so, some content distributors just haven’t got it right.

Take Television New Zealand and TV3 for example. They boast an “On-Demand Service” that really is not very satisfactory at all. All the content is available for a short term only and then it vanishes. The opportunity to watch a whole series of “back to back” episodes is just not available. To make matters worse, some of the content, such as “American Crime” is not available on “free to air” TV thus making it impossible to time shift using MySky and watching an episode or a number of episodes at a convenient time. Rather like broadcast TV, if you can’t make it in front of a screen when the network is prepared to make the content available, you miss out. To make matters even worse, if one is travelling within the “window of opportunity” that the networks allow us to view an episode or episodes, regional blocking means that the content is “not available” in the US, UK or the Continent and who wants to go through the proxy or VPN hassle when one is travelling. Hardly a satisfactory way of delivering content in a Global environment.

I understand that broadcast and screening rights are governed by licensing arrangements and it seems to me that these licensing arrangements contribute to the market segmentation-regionalisation problem. One would have thought that when Netflix arrived in New Zealand one of its big selling points would be the third series of “House of Cards”. But no. Netflix in New Zealand doesn’t have the rights. Nor, it would seem, does anyone else. Astonishing!

There are some that I know who resolve this problem by anonymisation or VPN and take out subscriptions to US based content providers like Hulu or Netflix. All perfectly legal (up to a point) in that the fees have been paid and there is no suggestion of downloading content for free via bit torrent. The only issue is a contractual one – misrepresentations have been made as to location. Yet no one loses, especially when the content (like “House of Cards Series 3) is simply not available in New Zealand.

The networks have put in place other measures to discourage piracy. Broadcast series like “The Walking Dead”, “Arrow” and “Game of Thrones” are broadcast simultaneously in New Zealand – whether this is to prevent piracy by downlaoding or to prevent fans from seeing “spoilers” on their Twitter feeds or Facebook pages I know not – there is already a spoiler out for “Game of Thrones” – a book in fact, but it is rather large and requires a considerable attention span not possessed of many in these days of instant on-line gratification.

But what has happened in recent times is a further move to cement in market segmentation and regionalisation of content delivery. Internet service providers who have made a “global” option available so that their subscribers can view overseas content via Hulu are in the firing line from the major players in the content delivery field in New Zealand. Lets just say that the legal position is an interesting one and will provide lawyers with some novel arguments in the area of copyright and copyright licensing. For those who desire certainty in the law, the fact that the case settled is a irritating

But to what avail. Should the major players be successful they will have shut down one way by which Digital Natives get their content. In the spirit of Michael Froomkin’s concept of regulatory arbitrage, those who seek content will find it via VPN or other anonymisation techniques. Perhaps it is time for the majors to realise that old style market segmentation and content delivery methods have had their day. Digital delivery has been adopted by most, but still with the tattered trappings of pre-digital thinking. A global approach to content delivery  should be adopted, together with a more meaningful local “on-demand” business model. All that is required is a shift in thinking.

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7 thoughts on “TV Content Delivery – Collisions in the Digital Paradigm VI

  1. Well, it’s a relief to see this topic dealt with intelligently. But I have to ask, does the writer really comprehend the reality of abandoning “old style market segmentation and content delivery”? Here it is … Netflix for example, often cited as a panacea by writers eager to bury big old media companies, has a vast global catchment of paying subscribers, but most of its income still comes from selling its wares the “old fashioned” way, licensing programmes, and selling hard copy DVDs. Just like the studios it’s trying to replace. The new paradigm which the writer keeps referring to doesn’t actually exist, at least not as far as being a viable successor to keeping the wheels of creative businesses turning. The ‘takers’ thrive and trumpet their needs endlessly, but what about the makers? Commentators on the digital age need to understand that while it may be very cheap and easy to copy digital goods, the creation of those goods is neither easy nor cheap. Market segmentation, and maintaining premium bands of availability is a logical way to create demand, and thus incentivise the effort and investment required to maintain sustainable professional industries. It might be a cheap rhetorical trick, but I’d suggest to this writer that he take a 90% + pay cut – because that is the consequence of the advice he’s giving to film and TV companies. More empathy and less self centred judgements please. Yes, things change, and paradigms of content consumption are fast evolving, but they might just be evolving faster than our capacity to calculate unintended consequences. Replacing productive industries that employ many hundreds of thousands of people with two or three global monopolies might not be such a great trade off, either for our culture or our economy.

    • Your adherence to out of date business models is commendable. No one is entitled to nor guaranteed an income especially in the face of paradigmatic change. What is happening is evolution. And as for a pay cut – well that’s just around the corner. It is called retirement. I suggest that you learn to adapt.

      • The inevitability of change does not mean we should accept all change as being inherently good. I have skin in this game Sir, you do not. Though I have already acknowledged your point of view is more reasonably argued than some. You seem to be saying, “things change, deal with it”. Yes, they do, and I am trying to deal with it, with more than mere nostalgia. But the blunt fact remains, no business model on earth can trump “free”. Your retirement will I suspect be far more comfortable than that of your grandchildren. Especially if they’re foolish enough to pursue artistic pursuits like film or music as careers. New technology has created a fundamental imbalance in the relationship between creators and consumers of cultural goods. Pauperising artists is not progress. Insulting the victims of these changes as backward Luddites is a favourite tactic of Silicon Valley. Disappointing to find you stooping to the same level. I believe there is a place for regulation to bring some fairness back into this marketplace. Then we might see some constructive innovation that benefits all of society, rather than an opportunistic elite. But I’m not holding my breath. I’m afraid a new dark age beckons.

      • Thanks for your comments. I prefer to debate the issues rather than personalise them. But for what it is worth, I too have skin. But I thin we can draw this conversation to a close.

      • Not my intention to give offence, but it’s hard for me to enter this debate dispassionately. I’ll work on that. BTW, I have never had any expectations of entitlement. I make my bed. I lie in it. What upsets me is people eating my lunch. If ‘permissionless innovation’ is the new paradigm, I don’t have to like it. Thanks for the opportunity to say so. Best wishes.

  2. Thats OK. I did sense a strong affinity between your position and that of Andrew Keen – The Internet is Not the Answer.

    • Yes, I’ve read it, and there is an affinity, but I agree with some of your critical observations about that book in another post. A more temperate or balanced book is Astra Taylor’s The People’s Platform. She is much more open to the benefits of the internet, as opposed to obsessing about the negatives. Interestingly enough, however, the conclusions Taylor draws concerning a clear and present threat to culture and society are not dissimilar to Keen’s.

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