Friday, February 27, 2015

Will We All End Up Paying For Net Neutrality ?

So Net Neutrality hasn't just been upheld, but hase been compared to the First Amendment by FCC supreme, Tom Wheeler. The statement is well worth a read.

Verizon's rather petulant response was to issue a terse release from an old fashioned typewriter in morse code. So, tools from the era of the Wild West where exploitation and corruption were endemic are being used to complain about regulation. I think Verizon's ironic statement may itself be, er, ironic. 

I remain ambivalent about this hugely important issue after nearly 20 years. The real issue here is one of provision and there are plenty of places in the world that have little or no decent broadband, or who have serious contention or service issues. The number of people I have met who do not complain about either their mobile or broadband service I could number on two hands.

In my view the information superhighway doesn't need road signs, it needs to be owned, provided and maintained like regular highways for the benefit of us all. OK, there will be single track roads, but they need to be accessible.

The EU now regards internet access as a human right, the UK Government is running farcical ads claiming that Brits have great broadband whilst the reality is the opposite and Australia remains in the early 90s in terms of provision, whilst the cost in countries like South Africa is prohibitive.

So, it's debatable if the FCC's stance will make much difference on a global basis, but it is very good news for the likes of Facebook, but ironically less so for Netflix, whose peering arrangements may now be illegal.

Also, as far as I understand, there is nothing to stop the service providers from charging customers for differentiated services. So, the unintended consequence may be that you or I end up subsidising Google and Facebook.

"I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that"

Those were the words of the HAL 9000 supercomputer when explaining to the rather alarmed Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey that he was not longer setting the priorities (go on take a look)

This week the Google Deep Mind project and its DQN programme made a massive breakthrough and showed a computer could learn for itself up to a standard equivalent to, and possibly in advance of, human ability. Rubbish in rubbish out need no longer apply to intelligent computer systems - the servant can become the master.

Readers of the great book The Second Machine Age will immediately appreciate that this has massive implications as in general computers are much cheaper to run than people and do not sleep or need holidays, pensions or pay rises. The office party would also presumably be quite a muted affair with none of the dodgy behaviour we all look forward to.

Given the networked nature of modern computer systems it seems likely that once operational the rate of learning and development across a massive interconnected network of devices would be exponential. Given all the data and data collection ability Google already has these advances are probably closer than we think with issues like predicting the weather, stockmarket etc relatively trivial.

On matters IPTV new research out from Thinkbox shows viewing on a TV set in slight decline with viewing on PC's / Tablets up.

Commercial TV viewing is about 2/3 of overall viewing but the the definitions are not clear. Would an OTT service like Amazon or Netflix be counted in this ? Is the BBC the balance of other activity ?

I have put a question in on this - will let you know if I get a response or if the request gets fired round the U bend / into the circular file etc etc.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Irresistible force meets immovable object

This classic paradox is based upon and highlights the twin false assumptions that irresistible forces and immovable objects exist (except for the pedants who claim they are one and the same).

For the massed ranks of IPTV times readers paying close attention to this I can almost hear the "stop rambling on with the pungent verbal diarrhea  and get to the point you old codger" - OK - well take a look at this video taking some of the latest IPTV android boxes for a spin

So we have a worldwide Pay TV industry with a hard wired, back of the head commitment to exclusive rights, controlled distribution and regionality - and if it ain't broke don't fix it.

Meanwhile the wild west of the internet has no respect for reputation and pretty much whatever Channels and content you want are available worldwide for free less than 5 clicks away - some examples below;

Sky Sports :

BT Sport




How might this classic confrontation play out ? Some possible options are below

1. Pay TV operators dig in and to defend themselves assuming these changes are small and will "blow over". Some Pay TV operators go out of business as a result.

2.  Pay TV operators / rights holders very significantly increase the resources applied to content protection.

3. A major worldwide legislative change allows easy control (or censorship as it would be seen) of the internet / mobile worldwide.

4. OTT digital challengers like Amazon and Netflix who lack the "baggage" of old school pay tv hoover up the younger demographic and then become the dominant players.

5. Pay TV operators fundamentally change their business and distribution models to reflect digital change (as Sky appear to be trying to do with Now TV).

6. Exclusive content ceases to the differentiator for increasing numbers of triple play / quad play operators as the younger demographic recognise that content is accessible everywhere anyway and therefore purchasing / subscription / churn decisions are not impacted by the content on offer.

A bit like picking a horse in the Grand National there are no easy wins here and no doubt there are other options and combinations of the above.

Nicholas Negroponte was derided about 15 years ago because he predicted that the video rental giant Blockbuster would be put out of business by the digital revolution. The settled view of the media industry at the time was that Blockbuster was backed by Viacom and was therefore really "big in the trouser department" and would crush or buy any upstarts, It filed for bankruptcy in Sept 2010 from a peak of 60,000 employees and 9,000 stores. Wrong trousers perhaps.

Meanwhile Netflix / Amazon look to be growing very quickly as broadband speeds have rolled out - so place your bets........................

Monday, February 23, 2015

Unfathomable Issues From British Internet TV

OK, let's face it, after decades, Internet TV is still crap.

1) ITV Player is awful - it looses sync, drops viewers at ad breaks and is truly a dreadful technological implementation, a mere decade after my former company gave this company a perfectly functional platformqq far superior to what they are doing now. But, oh, no, you have to develop it in house don't you ? Re-inventing the round wheel with a square one really isn't progress and ITV can be thankful for the success of their content, because their technology is doing nothing more than costing them money. The endless ads may seem to make commercial sense, but it makes me avoid the channel as much as I can. Also, the image quality online is just truly awful, unwatchable, as they try and save on bandwidth costs. 

2) Freeview - for their TV service, you have to retune it every ten minutes or so, the online guide crashes the whole time, the reception is awful. No online service at all.. Their iOS programming app crashes more often than it works. It's not surprising that more than half of all Brits pay for the TV they could be getting for free.

3) BT Sport - click, then click then click again, after around a lifetime you will get to view a live feed. This is the worst designed website I've EVER encountered. 

4) Sky - not supportng HDMI is just sad, having to right click and approve Silverlight every time is a pain. The online UI is just dreadful and nearly unusable. It's very old and very sad. Also, one app for listings and a separate app for viewing. Why?

5) S4C - the Welsh language channel has a site where even the website links don't work in Chrome. Click and click and nothing happens. Dreadful image quality. Amateur night.

Online TV in the UK is still ahead of most other countries, but if actual TV was this unfriendly to use there would be a riot. After two decades, Internet TV is still a dreadful experience that delivers less than traditional TV, not more, as it should.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Technology Hasn't Helped Content Makers

There are people planning to send people to Mars, and there are people making some of the most challenging art. In the middle, the TV industry embraces technology and creativity, but generally does it in a bad way.

My biggest issue is that the same model repeats itself. YouTube now is no different to the Majors in the 20s when the United Artists decided to go their own way and the bug studios and media companies have always been.

The Internet was meant to enable and allow new players, but it's really only produced new feeders like Maker Studios and Righster that hang off the coat tails of Google. Basically, they are a concierge service for content makers who don't understand modern media or even how to manage a YouTube account. Or, more benevolently, they are modern day agents, taking a fee or cut for understanding these new distribution channels.

Over the past thirty years all I have seen is that technology is very badly used by the incumbents (look at how truly dreadful most TV channels' online services are), and how much worse the exploitation of technology by content companies has gone as they dream of disrupting this.

Nothing has changed in decades. It's just the content serf have new overlords like Apple, Google and Amazon.

For all the promise of the Internet, the willingness of content owners to embrace cuckoos like YouTube and Vimeo is destroying their future, but it's easier not to spend money today isn't it ?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Digital Nostalgia

A day after Facebook introduced a way to 'memorialize' an account (ie freeze a dead person's account), digital guru Vint Cerf has highlighted the issue of digital data becoming unreadable in the future, and therefore we will lose a sliver of history.

Personally I think Mr Cerf is being somewhat disingenuous and is also advancing the reasons his company endlessly seeks to run roughshod over privacy and copyright.

There are already archive initiatives in place such as the Wayback Machine. His point about emails replacing letters and being far more difficult to archive is a better made point. But the conclusion of this argument is that companies like Google and Yahoo! (who have over a million of my emails and ten thousand images on their servers) should open source this data upon someone's death, if the deceased has willed it.

This does bring to mind what is going to happen to all those TV programmes which exist on film, tape and now in digital form. Video content is big, and therefore expensive to store digitally. And even though the cost of storage has declined precipitously, the improvements in quality of video has meant that the size of files has increased commensurately (next it's 4K and then 8K).

In the past TV was made to be disposable. (One could argue that the majority of current TV should be disposed of, such is the quality.) Stories like the discovery of lost Dr Who episodes in a Nigerian vault and of ancient reels of nitrate film in an attic abound.

The British Library famously holds a copy of everything published in the UK, but there is no equivalent for TV - the BFI and YouTube probably come closest.

The reality is that storing an hour long HD master on cloud storage costs around £1 per month, so the temptation is to buy a cheap hard drive from the local computer store and use this instead. And this is where Vince has it right.

In future we won't be transposing from 8mm home movies to tape, it will be from redundant hard drives with weird ports and power cables that are no longer produced.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Are We The 'Things' In The Internet Of Things ?

Television has taken a sinister turn recently. 

Samsung has been revealed to be eavesdropping on users of its voice controlled connected TVs and is also inserting ads into viewers' experience. For a company that is already suffering from poor financial performance this is a bombshell and they shall no doubt have to recant these features.

However, for the likes of Google and Apple, who have long had designs on the living room, this trend will be irresistible.

I am now able to control the heating, security, TV and music in my house from my iPad or iPhone, wherever I am.  The experience is pretty primitive - my LG TV needs to be on a specific wifi channel and will not go inline if other devices have selected this channel (I can find no way to hard code it). The Nest heating control is too intelligent for its own good - I was recently away abroad and the heating took on a life of its own, refusing to stay at a low level and with, as far as I could see, no easy over-ride. 

So, there's a way to go. But what is more worrying is what all of this means for us as consumers: already our behaviour is minutely tracked online, by Big Internet and governments alike.

It's unlikely to manifest itself in useful features like the ability to know what TV programmes you have already watched or to pre-heat the car windows on frozen mornings and far more likely to send you more spurious ads on things that you were interested in a month previously.

The problem, of course, is that the more data we generate, the more difficult it is to make sense of this swathe of informatics.

When working in marketing some decades ago I came up with the concept of touch points: you would define your audience and then run through every interaction they would have during the day that posed the opportunity to market to them, from the alarm clock to the late night movie on TV.

This is essentially what the Internet of Things (or Thingternet as it was recently termed) provides: a chronology and narrative on our lives that can be traded outside of our control. And as sanguine as most people seem to be about giving away their privacy and data in exchange for free IM or content, there will need to be a point at which legislation will need to be changed to protect us poor Things.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why BT should have bought ITV not EE

I'm pondering over why a Premier League viewer is worth 80x a Downton Abbey viewer.

PL cost per game £10m, average viewing 1m (and I'm being kind)
Downtown average cost per episode £1m, average viewing 8m

The reality is that events create channels and services. This is an easy option using sports...

But BT the figures suggest that BT should invst hundreds of millions into drama, something they just don't understand.

BT buying EE was stupid. They should have bought ITV.

The EE deal will be hit by regulation. Oh, I forgot, BT run all our spy networks, so anything they want to do, goes.

The Game For The Game

This evening, Ferrari and Bentley dealers all over the UK are cracking open the champagne, knowing that the rest of us have just been taxed for their products, big time.

The payment of £10m a game for Premiership rights over the next few years will almost all go directly into the pay packets of a few talented, arrogant, petulant multi-millionaires: the Premiership Footballers.

Can you imagine if every one of our MPs were paid £10m a year based on taxes raised on every one of us. This is essentially what is happening with football. (Personally I think politicians are far more entertaining than uneducated grown up men in shorts kicking a pig's bladder around a field).

The average viewership per game is under 1m, so this seems to indicate £10 per viewer per game. The daily reach is around 4m viewers, compared to around 30m for BBC1 alone. Obviously, there is something really wrong here.

Let's make a comparison here. Downton Abbey is reported as taking £1m an episode to produce and has an audience regularly reaching over 8m. so £0.125 per viewer.

In other words, a Downton Abbey viewer like myself is worth 80x less than a football supporter. How depressing..

Still, if I were entering the UK content market, I know what I'd do. Pour money into great drama...