October 25, 2007
Copyright Crackdown: Coalitions, Aggregation, and Audiences (2 of 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about all the new stories arising about online video and copyright: Google's YouTube announcement, the media company pact, the shutdown of TV Links, and NBC closing out its YouTube channel. I wanted to follow that piece up with the predictions I alluded to last night, as well as some recommendations:

Some analysis...

1. The industry may actually be ready to work together - for now.

No, pacts to protect and defend copyright are not new, but we all saw what happened to the recording industry. It's very difficult to quantify revenue that one would have had, but that's not really stopping anyone. Overall, I expect more lawsuits filed by multiple plaintiffs for exorbitant damages, just to make a point and to tell television advertisers that the networks aren't allowing CPMs to increase without trying to get their audience back. Expect the creation of an industry-sanctioned YouTube-style site. How customers will react to leaving the sites they know to go to one they don't for content is yet to be seen, but I would not be overly alarmed, particularly if Hulu gets a reasonably large amount of traffic, if other networks or content producers jump on board. This leads me to my second prediction.

2. Aggregator sites are the next target.

Any kind of aggregator site with illegal content, whether its uploaded directly to the site or the sites link to it should be a little concerned at the moment. We are at a pretty crucial point when the content producers are finding their feet online and jumping off the free content whenever bandwagon. Although they have never exactly not tried to enforce copyright, I wouldn't be shocked if both they and cable companies who have an interest in copyright protection to hang on to subscribers, begin to pursue these sites more fiercely, even if it is by using different means. I don't think it will be possible or really cost effective to eliminate piracy altogether, but the more visible it is, at least in the medium-term, the more likely it is to be shut down, or at the very least, sued.

3. Audiences are the customers, and someone needs to give them a voice.

I am all for protecting intellectual property, even accessing online TV content becomes more costly and I need to watch more ads. I'm also not here to make normative judgments about people who make copyright infringing material available and those who watch it. However, what disturbs me about the events of last week is that I'm not sure that anyone is really thinking of the audience. Most individuals don't put copyright infringing material online for personal gain, but to show their affinity for a program and share it; suing and threatening these people just isn't good customer relations.

Working with fans and lead users - some recommendations

I would argue that the currency of the television industry is not airtime, but time and attention of specific audience demos, and some of those are very satisfied with the product (the programming) but not satisfied with the service. I don't think people really care where they get content online, but my sense is that their top priority is to be able to find, access and possibly refer others to, content both quickly and easily. If this service were provided by networks and studios, it would actually benefit everyone except the so-called pirate sites and help the networks communicate and understand segments of their audiences, particularly the leading edge users of television, in a way that ratings, sample audiences, and panels never could.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the media companies should produce their own YouTube. It might just mean search-engine optimization and unique, easy to find sites for individual shows, rather than requiring people to remember which network the programs are on. Or even a standard player across networks and a simple search engine or a piece of free software that people could install on their computers in which they could type the name of a show and be provided with a list of legal sources for it. Either of these would also be a way to track which programs people wanted to find legally but couldn't, so media companies would have a better sense of where to put their time and energy into making legal copies of older or obscure shows accessible.

It could also enable studios to capitalize on a fan's desire to share and promote shows, and know what elements are particularly popular. If it were possible, on a network site, to choose a short excerpt from a program and send it, in a couple of clicks, to your friends, that would probably be going a long way in negating the need to put copyright infringing work on YouTube. The option, on some network sites, to email links to a show to your friends are a good first step, but taking a page out of YouTube's books with embeddable clips and unique URL addresses would be even better, and capitalize on what consumers already know and to some degree, expect.

Will the media industry's efforts to protect copyright alienate its audience? Will the economic models for television production need to change if the networks won't respond to shifts in consumer behavior? Stay tuned...



3. Audiences are the customers, and someone needs to give them a voice.

On that point, you may not mind watching ads, but there are those who do, who would pay for the content if it were available in a TIMELY way. At least half the attraction of "pirated", is that someone has already stripped out the ads. And there is no legal alternative, unless you want to either wait for the DVD to come out months later, or maybe if it's on iTunes buy it there for basically the same price as the DVD (but lower quality and you're stuck with DRM that says what you can do with it).

Personally, I'd be happy to pay for my shows, in an ad-free way. The whole indirect "ad funded" model of TV pisses me off as a fan, 'cuz most of my shows die because they're claimed as not profitable... they could be though, if the networks/studios would do something innovative rather than trying to cling to a business model that was created in the 50s and should have died by now.

For me, it'd be way cheaper than cable to just get my shows via iTunes, but not all of them are there, and they're again, not available in a timely manner (as in either immediately as a program airs or even before... instead they wait at least a day sometimes days).

Right now, the media is alienating me more and more, to the point where I'm tempted to cancel it and forego the new stuff, just wait until it does come out on DVD. I'm already doing that for movies, and they're actually more enjoyable than putting up with the crap experience that is the theatre these days.

On October 26, 2007 at 7:09 AM, Eleanor Baird said:

Mike, thanks for your comments! I'm actually really interested in doing some work to see if a direct-to-audience sales model is feasible for TV shows. If you could rent/buy shows directly (i.e. streaming/DRM free downloads), would it matter to you if they also aired on TV, with ads? Would you buy a season at a time or episode by episode, and what would be a reasonable price, to you?


As I sort of touched on in my first comment, I do think there's a supportable economic model there. To me, TV on DVD has already proven it works, but the problem (in my opinion) is that the studios/producers/networks still insist on the "time windows" model that came in as the various technologies developed, from about the 50s on, that each medium got its bite of the window, until a given story/film/show had hit them all. I don't think that's possible really any more, because of P2P. If you try and make someone wait for the window, you risk them forgetting about it (I frequently forget about movies that I would have seen, but I don't go to theatres anymore) or they just take it anyway.

Personally, I'd be happy to pay for the ad-free version (I already buy the DVDs), but the real kicker for me is that it doesn't come with DRM that tries to control what I do with things, and again that it's TIMELY (like anyone, I like the instant gratification). I don't know that I'd pay more than the equivalent of those DVD prices, but it does very much depend on the show/story. For me, paying in that way would actually be cheaper than my cable bill (I did work it out for the iTunes pricing model and the shows I currently watch), so I'd probably start to get more experimental as well.

If a show couldn't survive in that model, I don't think it would have survived in the ad-supported model either, but the direct model would seem to have more hope for those struggling shows (i.e. they could raise prices so that those who really wanted that show to continue would contribute the difference, possibly). Personally, I'm tired of my shows being canceled because of network politics, or stuff that seems to have nothing to do with what the audience actually is, and I attribute that all to that indirect feedback model (it's the advertisers who decide what gets funded, but they don't decide what gets watched).

I think over time the industry is going to go to that model all in its own... I've already read about shows and networks attempting things like that, and I think in a few years I will indeed be giving cable the boot (can't wait)... I just wish they'd get smarter about it and hurry it up.