Thursday, May 26, 2005

Fake News

Read FCC Commissioner Adelstein comments before The Media Institute.

This is a remarkable read. I ran across this while looking up data on subscription rates vs. broadcast viewership. It does not directly relate to my broadcast flag posting, but it certainly compliments it. It is an excellent reality check.

Just to caution though -- while he is specifically talking about broadcast, the commercialization of media (and subsequent reporting of fake news) affects all media. Fake forum postings have been around for a while, there are blogs that are really just mouthpieces for a company or group, etc.

I wish the FCC luck -- as the document itself points out -- many of the tools that the FCC had to ensure that broadcasters were using the public's airwaves in appropriate ways have been taken away (thank you Ronald Reagan). But after being a little depressed about the broadcast flag nonsense, it is good to see that the FCC is serious about doing the right thing.

Broadcast Flagged

Why the broadcast flag should go forward

To Quote: "Without proper protections, it will be increasingly difficult to show movies, television shows or even baseball games on free television".

Let's think about this. Free broadcast TV is in decline. Digital Broadcast is coming too slowly and too late. And now it will be further crippled. Unfoturnately, digital TV in the US is either equated with HDTV endeavors, or proprietary services (directTV, DishTV, Digital Cable). Standard Definition digital, which offers a better picture than analog broadcast, more choices and potentially richer content, has been sort of the poor stepchild. It is there, but there are no inexpensive TV sets (say -- $20 over the cost of a conventional analog set) that forgoes expensive HDTV, and just offers digital TV.

Having or not having the broadcast flag will matter little here, the market is already eroded.

On top of that -- the stuff that these pirates will steal off the air will be be hacked up versions of feature films -- not only with commercials added, but content deleted. I know. I recently time shifted a 3 hour made for TV movie, and ONE HOUR of the three was commercials. Don't whine to me about Tivo users blasting through commercials.

Let's talk about the NFL. It has it's own syndicated (for money) channel now. There are only a few games per week that are shown free-to-air. I seriously doubt that the NFL's revenue will be impacted whether or not the broadcast flag is in place. The few that would "illegally rebroadcast" will do so regardless of the flag or not. Internet streaming delivery is not at the point yet where you can offer a satisfactory replacment for broadcasting of sports events (high motion, high frame rate).

Arguments that DRM or Broadcast Flag will "protect the industry and the consumer" don't hold water with me. What broadcast flag will do is further cripple an industry that is struggling anyway, in the face of newer, more consumer friendly and flexible ways of distributing content. Let's be real here -- with the money that can made by selling DVD's of vintage television content, that there won't be a convincing argument to "broadcast flag" most content. Certainly, stuff like the Simpsons, old episodes of Star Trek, etc. will all be broadcast flagged, despite the rhetoric. Certainly, most of the HDTV content we recieve over the air will be broadcast flagged.

In the end, I suspect we will get the broadcast flag. Part of me feels that this is a fight that is almost a moot point, as the market these people are trying to protect is eroding underneath them. It seems that instead of driving customers to other distribution models, they would be searching for ways to remain relevant. Oh well.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Screwed for Sure

Hilary Rosen's piece last week raised a lot of hackles. The obvious irony is that she is complaining that Apple's "restrictive" DRM prevents her from using music from other suppliers than Apple. You see, she used to head the RIAA (bada-bam).

Of course, she is not being honest. CD's continue to work, and will work for some time to come -- very rippable and non-DRM'ed. There are plenty of places to get non-DRM music on the internet -- in fact, I have up to now avoided *any* DRM content, without sacrificing my taste for new music. For me -- recorded audio has just entered a new renaissance, with no industry pundits to kick it along. It is driven not as much by money as it is by human being's innate need to create and share (and thus I write this now).

Music distributors and licensing companies would like to get rid of CD's at some point, if they can replace it with a model where the customer would not actually have complete ownership of their content; recurring fees are so nice. It really does change the dynamic of how we think of content that we purchase -- instead of purchasing a book, it is more like going to a movie. The content only works as long as the fees are paid. If you don't value your audio collection anymore, you simply have to stop paying for it, and it will go away. Relax, you can get it back later.

Subscription models for content are going to continue to be popular. For young people, it is appealing to have a low monthly charge and have access to everything right now. Don't have to wait. You don't even have to buy the whole album just to get that one song. Never mind that the recurring costs add up - young people rarely worry about such things, just what it will cost per month. $20 a month is $240 a year. I wonder what the average budget is for a 20 something is for conventionally distribuited music (ie CD's) -- if it is even twice that $500 a year -- and this comparing content that is ephemeral (it stops working once I stop paying for it) versus sunk cost of CD's (I can always trade the ones I don't like for new music) -- things a tweener or 20 something may not think about.

This is the same market that cell providers target with their add-on services, pre-paid cell phones, and eventually their own music service. There is no immediate cost -- just a bill later. If the subscriber gets in a jam (car broke, just lost job at McDonald's), they just drop the service. This is the same response you hear when this same demographic group talks about cell services in general (look at the powerpoint slides in my last posting) -- that they will drop it if they can't afford it.

This is the market that everyone is after, not just for now -- but for their children. Now is the time that companies such as Microsoft, and content conglomerates such as Sony, can change the rules forever on how consumers purchase and use content. If they are successful, the CD will be gone in the next 10 years, and we will be left with DRM encrypted content -- if you are banking that the big players will continue to control all the media channels. I, of course, believe that they are one step behind, and that with every day, they fall a little bit more behind. That is for another piece.

Hilary Rosen's op ed piece is really just a rehashing of Microsoft's business strategy. Too late to the game for music downloading, Microsoft instead works with the other also-rans to go against Apple -- an enemy of my enemy is my friend. I would suggest that some of these folks should be careful who they make deals with. It is really Microsoft that wins in the end, not Yahoo, not Creative Labs, not Nokia. If everyone is selling essentially the same products and services -- at about the same cost -- sounds like consolodation is in order. There is really is no choice here -- if all the players are saddled with the same DRM, and feature sets are pretty much the same for all players -- looks like a tough market to work in.

The wonderful part is that it just gets better for Microsoft. They will roll out the Xbox 3 this next Christmas. Despite what Bill Gates says, it is a version of the Media Center that this time won't suck, unlike every other interation Microsoft has tried up to this point. It will loaded to the teeth with DRM -- not just for audio, but for Microsoft's push into on-demand video content. Maybe they will just buy Akimbo and be done with it. They may not be able to get VC9 to become part of the HDTV spec, but it may not matter -- if everyone in Hollywood ends up using their DRM.

Play For Sure is a joke, but a joke with an evil twist. Microsoft's DRM is not pro-consumer. It is not even pro-humanity. I have repeat this again and again. Their DRM is short-sighted. It not a done deal that Microsoft, the owner and holder of their DRM technology, will even exist 100 years from now. I have mentioned this to people, and the stock response I get is to not worry, it will be broken by some 17 year old programmer soon any way.

But what no one appreciates is that it will turn everyone into a criminal. Historians will have to routinely break DRM to be able to look at archived emphemera that our generation creates. They will be criminals given the laws that are on the books now.

Hilary Rosen gets it -- but isn't about to let anyone else in on this dirty little secret. She complains that Apple is not pro-consumer -- but in reality is acting as a mouth piece for a company that is even more anti-consumer. It is more doublespeak -- DRM is good for the consumer....right......

Microsoft may have found their way after struggling for a while. The desktop OS is rapidly not becoming that important any more -- it's network centric applications and mobility that are driving innovation these days. Have there actually been any major improvements in Word Processing in.....the last 10 years? Compare that with speed of change in webspace. Microsoft lost the bid to shunt webspace into some sort of proprietary framework with .Net, but they may have found their future in DRM and content delivery.

Friday, May 13, 2005

W3C + Mobile = Huh?

Unlike other Accessibility initiatives, cell access to content will likely be driven by market. In the US, about 60 percent have a cell phone. In some parts of the world, that ownership is higher, but there is consolodation in technology (GSM). I think this is one of the reasons we are behind the rest of the world. There is no impetus for cell providers here to offer mass market solutions for access to web and other data driven content -- they are more interested in going after that last 40 percent, and buying each other out. In Europe and Asia, it's different. Everyone offers similar technology.

Overseas, there is more drive for cell provider differentiation -- competition to offer additional services. WAP and dumb short-sited solutions don't work because it is driven by content, and content creators won't develop for a perceived smaller market. People want access to network delivered content because the are spoiled by having that access in their offices and at home.

It is also Generational.
Our own student population ownership of cell phones is around 90% here at NCSU. Admittedly, the majority of them use them for one thing -- voice. Data services here are minimally used -- I would guess photo sharing would be fairly high. SMS is not quite as prevalent as UK, but it's there. Games are the biggest secondary use of cell phones for 20-somethings.

I think the cell phone carriers will end up being involved to ensure that new data-driven services work well with their phones -- Voice plan plus data plan equals more money. Video on demand, Video Conferencing, Meetup services, Mobile Blobgging, Image sharing, etc. The next big one is data services -- you need to look no further at the directions that Google and Yahoo are moving in.

I wish that the w3c would do more -- but I think this one is going to be driven by the cell phone companies and content creators. The good news is that publishing models like Blogs make it easy to make content that is accessible and Accessible. The fusion of these publishing models is no accident.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Palm Life(Boat)Drive

Amazon has leaked pictures of the new Palm LifeDrive. 4 GB microdrive, 480x320, wifi and camera. I would guess Palm OS 6, which is important, as this is the first release that uses bits from the purchase of Be Inc.

LifeDrive is a good name. It is a device that people use to document their life. But wifi is not pervasive, and may never be. Take the same concept, and make it a cell phone, and add other services -- the ability to spontaneously share (phone call, images, streaming video, data). Now you have something that is relevant.

The european/asian market is still so far ahead of us in terms of mobile technology. A co-worker and I have been tracking the recently announced Nokia N series. In a sense, it is a continuation of the NGage -- a hybrid of multimedia and phone.

The N90 is a very interesting phone, but we will never see it in the US because the market it is designed for doesn't exist here yet. But 20-somethings in the czech republic certainly want one:

We are just starting to see streaming media on phones here -- in part it is not being driven as much by the cell providers themselves as it is by the content owners/developers. When I talk to folks about video-conferencing on cell phones, they assume that this is some technology yet to be invented, but companies have been shipping them for a while now.

But people *do* want this stuff. At least Orb hopes so:

We are stuck with infrastructure that is a blend of cell phone centric services, tied to legacy services that are designed for a personal computer. Web pages are written so they only work on IE. People still think of cell phone access to data as a unique thing. Witness the Blackberry -- people will carry around a big device that has expensive monthly service fees, just to have access to their data on a text-centric device. No streaming media, very limited image capability. It is a closed box tied to a proprietary service. Just what the cell phone companies want. But it does it's job well, I guess.

And I have to keep reminding myself what someone (I think it was Russell Beattie) wrote: Cell phone company's customers are not end users, but the cell phone service providers.

So, it may be up to Sony, Palm and other companies to prove that there is a market here for mobile media beyond iTunes. It will only happen if there is content. I seem to remember that Palm 6's OS has better MM support. I mean more than mp3 playback -- perhaps even 3gp content that my $99.00 Ngage QD has no trouble playing now. I think the key is in letting people have the abilty to create their own content, and make it easy to share.

I wish Palm luck. Sales of PDA have slid for some time, while Microsoft continues to grab more the remaining market share. Sony bowed out a while ago, and now it appears that Tapwave is headed in a different business direction. Palm needs a killer device, an iPod. I am not sure this is it.