Get yer grimy paws off my Netflix, again (the dance mix)

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 Last week the Wire Report ran a story by Nick Kyonka headlined “CRTC vertical integration rules encourage OTTs to buy sports rights: Gourd.” No prizes for guessing where the chair of the Online Broadcasting Working Group (OBWG) was headed with that worrisome observation:

The CRTC’s new regulatory framework governing vertically integrated companies may have given too much of an advantage to online content providers such as Netflix Inc., Google Inc., [and] Apple Inc.

As I explained in a pair of posts last July (“Get yer grimy paws off my Netflix”), the OTT cabal has shown they will stop at nothing to persuade the CRTC and political friendlies that new, innovative online competitors must be stomped out. They’re bad for the broadcasting system, bad for Canadian culture, bad for Canadian citizens. The group’s claims would be laughable if they weren’t part of a deadly serious attempt to win concessions. To say nothing of the fact they’re doing all this with the publicly acknowledged support of the CRTC. This time, however, the OBWG is trying to put the public interest in double jeopardy.

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One more Pew question: Apps vs Web – the winner? (4)

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IV. Apps vs Web: Winner?

[option #1 – my pick] — In 2020, most people will prefer to use specific applications (apps) accessible by Internet connection to accomplish most online work, play, communication, and content creation. The ease of use and perceived security and quality-assurance characteristics of apps will be seen as superior when compared with the open Web. Most industry innovation and activity will be devoted to apps development and updates, and use of apps will occupy the majority of technology-users’ time. There will be a widespread belief that the World Wide Web is less important and useful than in the past and apps are the dominant factor in people’s lives.

[option #2] — In 2020, the World Wide Web is stronger than ever in users’ lives. The open Web continues to thrive and grow as a vibrant place where most people do most of their work, play, communication, and content creation. Apps accessed through iPads, Kindles, Nooks, smartphones, Droid devices, and their progeny – the online tools GigaOM referred to as “the anti-Internet” –  will be useful as specialized options for a finite number of information and entertainment functions. There will be a widespread belief that, compared to apps, the Web is more important and useful and is the dominant factor in people’s lives.

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Americans still invading, broadcasters still in charge

Last week Interactive Ontario hosted its first iLunch of the season, entitled “What is broadcast?” (I was involved in some of the planning.) Buddy Brady Gilchrist moderated in his usual immoderate, provocative and enlightened way. Two things kept jumping out.

First, I was surprised to hear a current of old-fashioned jingoism running through much of an otherwise useful discussion. After radio, TV, movies and magazines, now it’s apparently the turn of Google, Apple and the other US cyber-behemoths to be pouring over the 49th parallel and… messing with our digital media? Apparently we have to face up to this menace or… all is lost?

Apple is a menace because it’s taking money out of the country and creating its own new brand of walled garden. Yes and yes. And so what? Where is the biggest concentration of Canadian movies, TV, music and podcasts on the Web, in one place? If it’s not the Canadian iTunes Store, somebody point the way. There was complaining about rev share (is there another system?) and about the tilt to success for artists who get on the iTunes homepage. Yes, and other artists will be suffering in the background, not doing quite as well. That’s show biz. Continue reading

Imagining the Internet (2): the Cloud

Here’s the next question from the Pew 2009 survey of experts about our online future, as described in my December 25 post. In that post I neglected to mention a major online resource for this project. It’s the site operated by Pew’s partner, Elon University: Imagining the Internet, A History and Forecast. Lots of exciting and scary predictions – like with the Internet wired into our brains, we’ll do search just by thinking. Which brings us to the cloud, Google and gatekeeping…

Q.2 – Will we live in the cloud or on the desktop?

A. By 2020, most people won’t do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Instead, they will work in Internet-based applications, like Google Docs, and in applications run from smartphones. Aspiring application developers will sign up to develop for smart-phone vendors and companies that provide Internet-based applications, because most innovative work will be done in that domain, instead of designing applications that run on a PC operating system. Continue reading

Strategies for broadcasters

Last week I appeared on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paiken, to discuss “Trouble in TV Land” with three industry reps. I tried at several points to pull the discussion away from the never-ending family quarrels between the broadcasters, independent producers and cable guys. These days it’s all about fee for carriage. Whatever the details, the whole industry is constantly embroiled in yesterday’s issues – while the opportunities offered by digital media are passing them by.

Conventional media operators are in deep financial trouble this year. Veronis Suhler Stevenson estimated in February that broadcast TV revenues will shrink by 9% in 2009 – not as bad as newspapers but no reason for optimism (these are US numbers, but the overall trends hold for Canada). Pure-play Internet and mobile are headed in the opposite direction – despite softening ad revenues in digital media as well.

The battle with cable over fees for carriage is now making it even harder for broadcasters to figure out what their new business models will look like. This in turn adds to the deep suspicion in which many broadcasters hold digital platforms, especially the Web. At the CRTC’s new media hearings, there was much talk about how the Web “cannibalizes” viewers and revenue that would otherwise accrue from TV ads. Until recently, Web sites for most broadcasters existed mainly to move visitors back to where they belong – in front of the TV.

“Promiscuity is the new exclusivity. Get your content everywhere.”

Wish I’d said it, but it was Arianna Huffington in one of her particularly witty moments (as reported by the San Diego News Network). The advice means a) get out of the habit of making your content “special,” as in exclusive, because that just makes it harder for audiences to find it; and b) don’t treat the new platform in town – the Web – as a threat or replacement, but as another way to reach the audience as part of a multi-platform strategy. For content providers, there’s only one way to win the long-term digital game: let go, open up, be inclusive. Otherwise, Canadian broadcasters in particular are in danger of reliving the disaster the music industry has been through.

In fact, there’s a lot to be learned from looking at how the music business has evolved over the last decade. Music has been the canary in the digital coal mine for TV and video. With the outcome of the new media hearing hanging in the balance, here are some ideas that deserve consideration by Canada’s conventional broadcasters:

The audience rules. Broadcasting is a push medium; the Web is a pull medium. “New media broadcasting” is an oxymoron. Stop fighting over cable tiers and fees for carriage, and start worrying about whether your audience is engaged. Yes, this has become a platitude. But learning how to interact with end-users while letting them set the rules of engagement takes planning, practice and patience.

DRM doesn’t work. To the networks and studios, digital rights management has long been a sacrament – like regional coding for DVDs. There’s no empirical way of knowing what the cost-benefit analysis would look like. But there is a reason DRM has now been lifted from all that music on the iTunes Store. If Steve Jobs was able to figure out how to make a business of selling music online in the first place, and his store is now the world’s largest digital music retailer, he must be doing something right.

Online, loyalty is everything. Another platitude worth keeping in mind. In a world with over 200 million Web sites, at least 70 million of which are active, you can’t make your audience stick around, any more than you can make them like your content. And you don’t make your content attractive by making it inaccessible. Loss leaders have worked since the dawn of groceries. As Mike Masnick over at the Techdirt blog is fond of pointing out, making some of your content free – and therefore freely accessible – doesn’t mean you stop making money.

The largest online repository of Canadian content is… the iTunes Store. Or so I said the other night to Steve Paiken. I may be wrong, but I’m not aware of any other Web destination with such an extensive collection of Canadian music, music videos, podcasts, TV shows and the like. The Canadian iTunes store has pulled off something remarkable. It offers all that content without being either regulated or subsidized. The fact that it’s entirely owned and controlled by Apple, Inc. doesn’t change its most important attribute: it operates in response to consumer demand. Does that mean we throw up our hands and let Apple call the shots? Of course not. I just hope Ottawa’s deciders and Canada’s broadcasters will appreciate that in digital media, you can’t subsidize content on the basis of a supply-side strategy – and keep hoping that if you build it, they will come.