Monday, July 21, 2014

Dark Skies Over Europe

As long predicted on this blog, the Sky rollup seems to finally be on the cards after being derailed by the News International scandals a couple of years ago.

The amazing thing about this deal will that it will leave Rupert Murdoch in effective control of BskyB, Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia whilst generating up to $10bn for 21st Century Fox and its proposed takeover of Time Warner.

This flurry of dealmaking is also happening at the content maker level with the proposed Shine - Endemol - Core Media rollup.

The Sky rollup makes sense with the EU increasingly regulating in favour of pan-European rights, but will all of this get past the regulators ?

Whatever happens, it looks like a larger and larger slice of the English language media market will be in the hands of a septuagenarian and an octogenarian as the kids from Silicon Valley bite at their heels.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why Net Neutrality Is Bollocks

The premise that all traffic should be equal over the internet seems like a great democratic principle, enshrined in the DMCA. But it's time to rethink.

Here in Wales I pay Sky for a service that they only partially deliver deliver: the TV works, I can watch premium channels and record stuff. But nothing that depends on the internet works. This is Sky Broadband, which regularly delivers speeds of 20Kbps (yes, that's a K not an M). So, no on demand, no premium services and I haven't been able to sign up to Sky Sports 5 since this seems to demand some kind of internet handshaking which I give up on after an hour or so.

I also cannot use my Spotify and Netlink accounts, which probably pleases Sky, but it isn't what I pay for.

The Welsh Assembly Government are committed to building yet more un-needed motorways rather than bringing this fifth world country into the 21st century. In the meantime BT is creaming in the money from its near total monopoly.

So why shouldn't the likes of Google and Facebook, who make a fortune from my personal data, and Spotify and Netflix, to whom I pay a subscription, band together with Sky and sort this situation out ? Each should pay towards upgrading our local exchange.

We worry about these vast monopolies not paying tax, but they also don't pay their dues. In a connected world, markets should be ever more efficient, but they aren't. Layering monopolies on top of monopolies is unacceptable in any other industry. Why is it acceptable on the internet ?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Taking On Big TV - The Only Option Is Small TV

The many efforts to disrupt television have had minor effects. There certainly hasn't been a start up that has shaken up the space. Perhaps Netflix is the closest to this - the only other contenders, now Aereo has been taken out of the equation, are industry owned Vevo and Hulu and Google owned YouTube.

There is no Skype or Uber or AirBnB for TV. 

The reason is very simple - rights and regulations.

Ironically, Uber is now having to deal with rights: that is the right to operate as a minicar service. Equally AirBnB have similar issues with regulators. Far from it for me to comment that vested interests like London's cabbies or New York's hoteliers have any sway (any more than the likes of Disney have over US copyright law) in these challenges.

However, the companies mentioned above have already reached critical mass, so have the wherewithal, resources and moral high ground to fight back. No TV or video industry usurper has managed anything near critical mass.

I will stick to the belief that I first espoused some thirty years ago that the real changes will come from narrowcasting and localcasting. Anything big is noticed and stamped upon by those with a vested interest: the ever ballooning likes of Comcast, Liberty Media and Fox. The only changes can come from very small players finding a model that takes on Google's model, which devalues specific audiences for content owners, and which can build small, valuable and dedicated audiences.

Anyone for Stealth TV ?

Liberty To Roll Up ITV & Virgin ?

News that Liberty Global has picked up BSkyB's stake in ITV raises the prospect of a mega merger on the American model in the UK.

Since Virgin Media divested itself of all of its content businesses some time ago (arguably to pay down its debts not for strategic purposes) there is a lot of logic in the proposition. Competition is not a concern in the way it was with BSkyB's aborted attempt (which resulted in the current stake that is being traded), and content remains king.

Also, as Murdoch's audacious bid for Time Warner shows, scale matters in the global media market as the likes of Google and Amazon cast an ever longer shadow over the future of television.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why Google Can Never Be Apple

Google wants to organise the world's data, but they can't even render their own fonts.

The lack of technical nouns at Google is actually breathtaking.

I spent a year and a half with them trying to get their own HTML5 tag for video working with their own DoubleClick ad tags on their AdX platform. It was something our devs could have sorted in a day or so.

I currently have a website that uses Google fonts looking lovely on Firefox and IE, but horrible in Chrome.

I seem to have lost streetwise because I have Earth installed, and the images are years behind Apple and Microsoft (yes I know they bought a satco to fix this...)

Google is getting it wrong on so many levels it's untrue.

Doing a lot of things badly is what they seem to aspire to, as opposed to doing a few things well. But that's hubris for you.

But to be fair, I have blogged before about this, using YouTube as the example of failure and I am now eating my own virtual words.

However, this is a company trying to do big audacious things but forgetting to fix the small things.

This is a recipe for disaster.

Their nemesis, Apple, is a company obsessed with detail and a badly rendered font to them would spell utter failure.

That's the difference between size and success.

The Revolution Is Postponed (Again)

So, it looks like micro aerial company Aereo has hit the buffers. A US Supreme Court ruling found that their business model of leasing out micro TV aerials and then streaming the resultant channels over the internet was illegal. (I have personally wondered why users didn't just buy their own aerials and plug them into their TV sets to get a totally free signal, but I suppose that isn't an option on the 3rd floor of an apartment at 32nd and 3rd in NYC).

What this shows is how incredibly difficult it is to disrupt the television value chain with anything new. A handful of companies have done so: most notably Netflix and Hulu, but Hulu did it from within the industry and Netflix had to build a whole infrastructure from scratch to do so. And for every success story there are a thousand failures. Attempts such as Seesaw in the UK have been much less successful.

Of course YouTube is another venture that succeeded, but only after billions was poured into it.

My analysis is that most attempts at disruption focus on the delivery of content to viewers, as in Aereo's case. This is a crowded market which is very expensive to play in (the main cost not being technology, but customer acquisition).

If the industry is to be disrupted it needs to come from much further up the food chain. And it needs to offer added value to the strong incumbent player, from sports federations to studios.

How will this disruption work ? Well, imagine creating new, more efficient marketplaces for content and increasing the overall yield from programme rights.

You can guess what I'm working on...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bang To Rights

The current proposal to cut off 150,000 Detroit residents for not paying their water bills has me thinking about what ‘rights’ means, especially when under current European right legislation it seems not possible to deport murderers because they own a cat.

The rights to shelter, food, water are the most fundamental. Along perhaps with the right to warmth and coolness, since extremes of temperature can kill us. But you have to pay for all of these. In developed European countries these rights are considered fundamental. In the more ‘progressive’ US you can easily die of cold, warmth, dehydration or starvation and be regarded an idiot because you dared to be too poor to pay for them. In places where there is war or pestilence, these rights are what the masses crowd towards.

But after these rights, what comes next ?

Free movement, freedom of speech, sexual rights, inviolability ?

And then I can get specific.

The right to broadband, the right to express and do anything online. The right to benefits from society ? The right to lie ? The right to self-defence ? The right to kill ?

Of course, one person’s rights becomes the other person’s lack of rights. They sometimes call this positive and negative freedom.

And the reality is, if you live in rural Wales, where there is no longer any public transport, so you can’t get to the doctor, or the library, broadband is a solution. What about a right to broadband or transport ?

The people who serve us are beholden to the current edifice: in England it used to be the landowners, then the mineowners, then the manufacturers. Today it is the bitminers, those American multinationals who pay little or no regard to borders, or rights, until they have to. We have outsourced our rights to Google, Facebook, GCHQ and Tesco.

And then we have those other rights. The right to speed, to get pissed, to smoke, to beat up a stranger. (Yes, you noticed that these rights are somehow contradictory to the right to health and healthcare.)

The right to watch Coronation Street or Game of Thrones. The right to listen to a song that’s not on Spotify.
It’s a wide church (oh no, the right to believe and worship.. I forgot!)  and we all have an opinion or two.

When you run a rights management company you may spend some of the time worrying about availabilities for in flight rights in June, but you realise that rights are the building blocks of civilisation.

I want a political class fighting for my rights: shelter, food, drink, warmth, coolness, transport, broadband.
Notice that I only now mention healthcare and education: without the above they are pointless, and are anyway hugely divisive in places like the USA, which is one of the few countries on earth to maintain that there is no right to health and healthcare.

Of course, we will always disagree on what rights should be, but my measure of a politician is that they are fighting for my rights, as I measure them

Friday, June 20, 2014

Poacher turned gamekeeper

In an interesting development at Klipcorp IP we have added to our team of digital experts and ethical hackers by retaining the services of former IP pirate BoxingGuru – poacher turned gamekeeper.

This has provided a unique insight into the pirate ecosystem and below are some key and hard won learnings for the readers of IPTV times.
On the ethical question of whether hiring BoxingGuru is correct whilst BoxingGuru was formerly operating on the dark side of the digital universe he was released with merely a caution and has no criminal convictions. He is working with KLipcorp with the full support of the arresting authorities allowing a young man to have the chance to get back on track and help reduce piracy. A win / win to use that favourite high score bullshit bingo term.

Some industry operators are concerned at this development but that may be a consequence of the fact that up to now they have been "marking their own homework" in terms of how effectively they are deploying considerable resources to combat IP piracy and what is coming from the horses mouth is not remotely on message.

Key insights for owners and distributors of digital content (from the horses mouth) include;

  1. High audience pirate sites (live concurrent viewers over 500,000) no longer respond at all to the issuance of takedown notices. They are valuable for a chain of evidence but spending significant resources on detecting these sites is pointless.
  2. Where responses are offered content is immediately re-published rendering the takedown activity invalid. Re-publishing is invisible to the naked eye with the viewer being unaffected.
  3. There is a core of pirate activity that requires a new approach and commands over 50% of the fast growing pirate audience delivered across PC, mobile device and IPTV boxes. Many mainstream subscription channels are available 24/7/365 in high quality for free across multiple devices as the old methods of combating piracy prove impotent.
  4. A tight network of 30 operators (pirates, hosting companies, CDN’s and Ad agencies) dominate this market and the old fashioned approach to reducing piracy on these sites has zero impact notwithstanding the considerable resources applied.

We have a range of technologies and processes in place specifically developed to combat these rapidly evolving challenges.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Not Going Live..

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, so I am not going to direct any criticism at ITV because their live feed fell over during England's World Cup game.

I know, I've been there. Failures have many points, from flash mobs to local bandwidth constraints.

But I thought that it would be interesting to list some of the things we've learnt at TV Everywhere down the years when dealing with massive live video audiences.

1) Use a great CDN - we have our own network on Amazon and Azure, but we work with Level 3 for scale, who control a lot of the internet's backbone and also provide the network for many more well known CDNs (such as Akamai, ITV's CDN). If you're too small for them to deal direct, we can set you up with your own presence on one of the world's biggest data networks and ensure that you can scale. We have even managed to deliver over half a million concurrent streams in a small area in Spain thanks to our partners at Level 3.

2) Cache - the main point of failure for video services is long before the user reaches the video. Web pages are compled and have adverts and all kinds of garbage on them. This slows down and often kills the experience. There are a number of things you can do about this: again, use a CDN to cache your site; build lightweight player pages; minimise slow third party loads.

3) Phase - don't send out an email saying that the live stream is available now to ten million people: the surge will most likely kill your website. Phase and plan your publicity so that crowds are controlled. Just like in the real world... Also, use a gateway such as payment or registration to manage demand.

4) Separate - build a totally separate infrastructure for your live streaming: it's actually as different from VoD as sheep are from cows.

5) Use experts - I will say this, since I built ITV's first serious online service and have seen them fail over and again with in house resources when they decided they knew best. They have also spent a ten times more on technology than they needed to by thinking they know best.