Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ah... I Remember TV

I've gone without "cable" for well over a year. Maybe two.
The vast majority of my video content comes in podcast, DVD, or streaming internet form.
I have a nice antenna rig for over-the-air digital television but I rarely use it because I simply enjoy the other content more.

But this weekend, I watch NFL Preseason Football, Sunday morning news shows, and The Emmys in real time.

In Living Color:
Digital over-the-air is the way to watch events. Image quality blows away over-compressed Cable and Satellite. My friends and family have digital cable, and they don't understand why my TV looks so much better.


And a Word from our Sponsor:
The ads...
I had forgotten just how bad the advertising situation is in broadcast TV. The poor advertisers are paying for the repetitive and annoying interruptions. The networks are already brain dead and don't realize that more inventory does not equal more revenue. Ask any web publisher.

When a network shows me the same commercial four times in a single program they wasted my time, annoyed me, and diluted the value of their inventory.

On one medium-sized web site I worked with, we tried an experiment where we limited the total number of ad exposures a visitor would see in a given day. This drastically reduced our inventory, but even more drastically increased our CPM. And the users were thrilled that they weren't getting remnant network ads.

Hulu certainly hasn't learned this lesson. And the broadcast networks haven't either.

The TWiT Network, an online podcast and live streaming network has this figured out. Two "live read" ads per hour and a "billboard" at the start of each show. They have an incredible CPM and are making money in the online world where most do not.

We Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming:
I'll continue to use the antenna for sports, weather, and the occasional episode of "The Big Bang Theory," but I'll still get most of my video from podcasts.

Monday, August 23, 2010

iPhone on Verizon? I'll Pass

If everything else remains the same, and Apple introduces an iPhone on Verizon, I'll pass.

Here's why:
  • CDMA
  • Data speed
  • Price

The current model for CDMA does not allow simultaneous voice and data. In August of 2009, the CDMA Development Group published a new specification that would allow simultaneous voice and data, but that will take time to roll out to all existing Verizon systems. Of course, an iPhone might be the incentive they need to do that quickly.
I use data during calls very often. Friends and family will call and ask for detailed local weather conditions while traveling or ask me to pull up some web-based information.

Data Speed
In most of the US, including here in the Twin Cities, the data speed on AT&T is generally faster than on Verizon. Connectivity on AT&T is worse, especially in dense business areas (all those ad folks carry iPhones...) My experience has been that I can stream internet radio throughout my drive/ride to any of regular destinations with one drop on 3G. If I'm conserving batteries, I'll switch to EDGE and do nearly as well.

This target keeps moving, and the companies make things complicated to it's hard to directly compare, but generally, AT&T data plans are slightly less expensive than Verizon.

And now for a little rant...
Since when did technology prices go UP? Like many Oligopolies, wireless data needs an outside player to shake things up. But like Cable, there is a physical location requirement that creates a high barrier to entry for a new competitor and allows the market leaders to engage in anti-competitive practices. 

Other Possibilities
If the Verizon iPhone has the new version of CDMA, then I will seriously consider it. As a phone, my AT&T iPhone is nearly useless. About one-third of my call never ring - straight to voicemail.
At one of my clients, I don't even try to make calls. I just use the Skype application and call over WiFi.

Tethering iPad
My dream solution is steno-pad-sized iPad with free WiFi tethering. If such a device came with a data-only plan I would jump all over it. Especially if was available with the Virgin pay-as-you-go data plan.

So I'm not all that excited about a Verizon iPhone. However, I desperate want it to be introduced so that we get some competition for data plans in the market. Right now, Android and iPhone are living in silos. I think having the iPone on multiple carriers in the US will create a little competition. Yes, I said "little." See the rant above.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

NAB Wants to Legally Require Buggy Whips

This time around, it's our friends, the music labels, that are performing their death rattles.
Under the current model, radio stations (well, over-the-air broadcast stations) get billed by the PROs (Performance Rights Organizations) to pay composers, but the labels don't collect anything.
Obviously this is because radio promotes music. It's free advertising.
Heck, in the 50's the labels would PAY stations to play their music so as to squeeze out competitors and independent artists.
Even though payola  scandals resulted in new laws, the practice is legal as long as it's disclosed. But that's not good for business so the labels continue to get caught secretly paying radio stations.

But now, the RIAA thinks Radio's free ride should end.

So with this threat in hand, the RIAA sat down with the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) to come up with a proposal that they would love Congress to make into some sort of law.

Right now,  Radio and Music are both making money. Depending on the research you believe, they've never had a larger audience.
But Radio ad revenue is way down and new musical artists are opting out of the label system. So the end is coming.
Two threatened industries with lobbyists. This isn't going to go well, is it?

My favorite points from the joint proposal:

PERMANENT removal of CRB jurisdiction for terrestrial and streaming (Bold and caps, theirs)

The CRB is the "Copyright Royalty Board." Really? You want the pseudo-governmental agency responsible for setting your rates to just go away? 

Shocked. Shocked, I tell you!

Inclusion of radio chips on all mobile phones

Delusions of relevance.
I think this is the movie they are watching:

  1. Force every manufacturer to put a radio (presumably FM) in every phone
  2. Radio audience expands hugely and advertising revenue increases
  3. Radio stations grow and become predominant music distribution medium (see ya, Apple!)
  4. RIAA collects tons of royalties
A terrific tale of horror and suspense!
Let's pick at a few problems with this:
  1. If people wanted FM radios in their phones, manufacturers would already include them. The market has spoken, and most phones don't include FM radio
  2. One industry would get a law passed to force another industry to modify their products just to protect the first industry? Yeah. That's gonna happen.
  3. NAB states that radios are good from a "public safety perspective." Sure. But what's that got to do with phones? Why not mandate all wristwatches include radios? Why not issue free emergency band radios to every citizen? Why not short-wave radio? Should we require every phone to include a flashlight and a can of beans?

AFTRA issues resolved (agency commercial replacement on webcasts)

AFTRA is the main voice performers' union.
Part of the insanity in our current royalty-based system is the unions have rules which basically make it impossible to reuse the performance in some types of media.
I don't know the nature of the proposed resolution, but at one point AFTRA was saying that having a webcam in a radio studio changed the terms of employment.
AFTRA also claims that radio ads cannot be played on the Internet without additional performance royalties.
It will be interesting to see how they plan to resolve these issues.

These industries have built  legal and contractual walls to prevent competition from the outside.
But they've become so inbred that they cannot operate outside of those walls.

With every new content creator that opts out of the existing system the walls close in and the area outside of the walls gets larger.

Buggy Whip Photo by purpleslog

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Do Composers have a Future?

The consensus in the hive mind is that ideas are nothing. Implementation is everything.

This attitude obviously comes into conflict with laws created by people who believe that a person can own an idea.

Short rant:
Seriously? When I first read about Patent and Copyright law at the tender age of 9, (what a freakin' precocious kid!) I thought I misunderstood. I asked adults about it and read everything I could find. It was stunning to me that somehow people went along with the private ownership of ideas.
End Rant.

I believe existing copyright law will become irrelevant in the near future. New creators are simply opting out of the existing licensing structures and selling their wares pretty much directly to the customer. The 35-year Termination Rights clause starts kicking in 2013 and we'll probably see the power of the  record labels decline even more rapidly at that point.

Please don't think that I'm encouraging anyone to break our current copyright laws. I'm the guy who's always annoying the Creatives with Rights and Clearances issues. "Did you license that font?" "Who's the rights holder for that photo?"

I suspect that by the time we ring in 2015 many popular new creators will be deploying content outside the current licensing systems. And the RIAA ("Recording Industry Association of America" the music label association), MPAA ("Motion Picture Association of America," the movie industry organization), and the PROs (Performance Rights Organizations) will not have enough operating funds to pursue enforcement of today's licenses.

I'm actually fine with most of this. Everything in entertainment production is going to get a lot cheaper. Right now, LA simply can't produce content for online distribution because of licensing and union contracts. And they can't compete against the next generation of content producers who choose to operate without that licensing safety net. Today's budgets for cheap reality TV will seem like fortunes compared to what these new shows are going to spend.

But the bottom line is that I think lots of people are going to have great careers in this new cheaper world. Not the million-dollar-an-episode sort of job, but realistic jobs where you can take care of your family and have a nice house.

Except composers and writers.
In a world where ideas are nothing, how do we pay the idea people?
Will it even be possible to someone to have a full-time job doing only composing?
This possibility troubles me because when I was a wee nerd, I hoped to be a composer.

But the end may already be here.
I just don't use rights-managed music, video or photos in my productions. Ever.
Because of low budgets, online distribution and the Creative Commons, I simply cannot do it.
But I'm all in favor of commissioning original works.

And that might be the model of the future:
Actually pay people for their work up front.
It seems a lot more fair than enticing them with dream of hitting the lottery if your work gets used in a syndicated TV show.
Can you imagine? Salaried composers for film and video! I think that's way cooler than the current model.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Copyright Holders Need to Wake Up

Today, most traditional content creators count on copyright as the legal basis for collecting royalties on their work. Those rights are violated when someone makes an unauthorized copy of the protected work.

But what is a "copy?"

There are legal definitions for things like vinyl records and cover bands.
Those laws and and definitions are being applied to data bits and mashups with very messy results.

But it's much more complicated than the rights holders can possibly imagine.

As we move to real "cloud storage" the concept of a "copy" of file just doesn't apply. An actual file image may not exist on any machine. Dozens or hundreds of copies of every portion of that file will exist across multiple devices.

Already, most of my files are replicated at least four times.

  1. The "original" on my laptop or tower.
  2. My "work" folder is cloned across my workstations.
  3. The on-site backup
  4. The off-site backup
  5. In the case of version-controlled files, there are hundreds of bits of file copied around.

Some of those files are works I did not create.
Harry Fox would like me to pay for every one of those "copies" of music files.

Hard drives fail.
Backups are mandatory.
And, despite the claims by some of the entertainment industry organizations, those copies are well within the Fair Use doctrine of the U.S. copyright law.

(Here's an interesting thought: technically a RAID level 5 could be considered to be making unauthorized copies of rights-managed material. Just saying...)

Now I would be willing to pay Harry Fox for every copy of every digital music file I make IF they would pay me a refund for every copy I destroy or lose.
No? Only seems fair.
How about they guarantee the availability of a free replacement for any file I should destroy or lose?

That's technically a possibility, but it takes us back to "cloud" situation where a file is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. And there's no such thing as a copy. And there's no business in collecting royalties on copies when there are no copies.

And you thought the music industry freaked out over file sharing.

Don't get me started on how stupid Patents are now that the hive mind is up and running.