Thursday, October 01, 2015

Balanced approached to IP protection

They say that it is a recession when your neighbour get fired and a depression when you get fired. Similarly IP protection tends to be front of mind when an issue emerges for an individual or company.

This excellent article from Chris Blackhurst in the Evening Standard illustrates the problem very well.

For a variety of reasons such as resourcing issues in the Police and corporate entities not wanting to end up with liability in an area they don't really grasp as yet  (and therefore not engaging with the problem) there is a perception that cyber crime is much more difficult to resolve than others.

At the corporate level standards such as ISO 27001 have emerged which contains guidance such as;

"Information about technical vulnerabilities of information systems being used shall be obtained in a timely fashion, the organization's exposure to such vulnerabilities evaluated and appropriate measures taken to address the associated risk".

For a medium to large corporate with dedicated IT function this may be helpful but for an SME this guidance probably seems very circular in nature unless there is a pretty high degree of knowledge of the risks to start with.

Reactions to cyber risk from TV companies to one man bands vary from denial to dusting off the typewriter and carrier pigeon and banning the internet and mobile devices. Budgets are possibly squeezed from the legal and IT budgets to deal with an issue that simply did not really exist 10 years ago.

Neither denial nor dashing off to a log cabin makes a lot of sense when cyber risk can be reduced by taking pre-emptive action to ensure that the very obvious vulnerabilities have been addressed. The equivalent of leaving the car keys in the ignition with the doors unlocked.

To discuss this further please contact us at KLipcorp IP.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Hole In The Street

I came out of my house last week to find that neither I nor my car could get out due to a trench being dug in the road right outside. On looking at the contractor sign I was intrigued to see that the chaps in the hard hats were laying cable for Vodafone. On talking a bit more they said they were laying it to the old NTL box at the turn in our road.

Most of Reading is cabled for Virgin Media, but it seemed to end at the box and be unavailable to us. Until now, I hoped. An opportunity to get off BT!

So, the news that Vodafone and Virgin's 'merger' talks have come to nowt is a bit surprising.

Without knowing the intricacies of the discussions it's difficult to see the logic of not pulling these businesses together. But business logic rarely plays a part when disparate valuations are involved, and I suspect that this was the stumbling point.

Vodafone now needs to dig lots of holes in streets, or pay BT Openzone through the nose for passing on a dreadful service to its customers. It also needs to build its own TV service to be a serious quad play operator.

Broadband, landline and mobile contracts are all commoditised despite being underpinned by a virtual monopoly. TV is the differentiator, as even BT has found. And a thin sliver of content rights, largely dominated by sports, a few TV programmes (think HBO or AMC) and perhaps movies (but Netflix has never bothered playing the Hollywood release window game) is the only differentiator.

Of course, this also means that if they're not playing nice, Virgin Media and Vodafone are going to be competing in a marketplace that is increasingly become crowded.

Holes in the streets may soon become holes in balance sheets.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Is This Admageddon ?

Sorry for the dreadful pun, but is this the week when we can say that the online advertising industry truly changed for the better ?

Let's look at the situation. If you want to build and run an online video or television service and want to support it through advertising you have two choices: you can build a YouTube channel and get a paltry revenue share on the ads they sell or you can build your own channel and use a tool like DfP or a platform such as AdX to serve your video and companion ads. As you probably know, YouTube, DfP and AdX are all owned by Google, so this is a virtual monopoly in markets like the UK despite the aggressive moves being made by Facebook, Yahoo!, AOL and others.

Of course other ad networks are available, but they will only engage at volume. And by volume I'm talking about millions of impressions.

So, if you're starting out with a video service, then everything is stacked against you, especially if you're a specialised channel. We're typically seeing revenues of under $4 per thousand viewers for pre-rolls on highly targeted video sites across Google properties. This just isn't commercial.

The reason for these low rates are that Google doesn't care about your content. It just cares about the eyeballs you are delivering. Online advertising is far more interested in blitzing users with the same ads over and over whatever site or channel they visit based on 'profiling', which is, at best, dubious.

So, what changed this week ? Well, Apple has enabled ad blockers on its Safari browser (but not on its own News service nor on the Facebook app on iOS incidentally). Initially this may seem to be very bad news for channel operators and publishers dependant on ad revenue, but I have a different opinion.

First of all, there were sites I actively avoid because the sheer weight of advertising has rendered them unusable, particularly on tablets. It's not just the serving of the ad, but the tens of different calls that are made before an ad is rendered. The appropriately named Peace is the number one iOS app on the Apple Store already for good reason - it works very well. Pages on some news sites are now loading ten times quicker for me and actually fit into the viewing area on the tablet.

And if you wondered why those pages were so slow even on your sooper duper fibre connection, this is why:
Each ad is going through a tortuous process before reaching you, the viewer.

So, getting rid of this jumbled is good news for the viewer or user and this should actually  improve engagement with the content.

A second reason to welcome the changes is that publishers will need to start looking beyond the easy sources of low revenue available from Google and start to become more proactive: consequently, this should have the result of opening up the advertising ecosystem to new and more interesting players.

Thirdly, the implementation of video ad tags using the VAST and VPLAY 'standards' have been technically unimpressive: they are horribly fiddle to implement and they really shouldn't be. So this is an opportunity to implement simpler alternatives.

And we shouldn't forget they guys paying for all of this. There is a mounting body of evidence that ads, and video ads in particular, are billed to advertisers even though they're never played (or played properly). The current system is hardly accountable in any meaningful way.

There is a very basic and very obvious solution to all of this: channels with small audiences should go native and serve up their own ads. It's time for a marketplace where they can set up specific profiles and advertisers can bid directly for very narrow audiences just as they would book traditional magazine advertising. Selling mountain bikes in Manchester, then book mountain bike and local channels and sites for your ads. I suspect the results would be better for the publisher, the advertiser and the viewer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Are TV & Video Prodcos Knowing The Cost Of Everything & The Value Of Nothing ?

As the techies from the TV industry return from Amsterdam and their annual trade show, IBC, their colleagues responsible for trying to commercialise the programmes produced are gearing up to venture down to Cannes and the annual MIPCOM sales fair.

Nothing has really changed very much for decades. Well, apart from one thing: the format of the products that they produce and sell.

What used to reside in film cans, on one inch, BetaSP and digiBeta tapes is now a digital file.
This brings with it both problems and opportunities.

The main problem is how to store this vast amount of data.

The main opportunity is in opening up new markets for content in the form of clips, programmes, formats and channels or feeds.

These are not unrelated. However, the industry cannot see its way past the problem since the cost of storing master content in the cloud is significantly more expensive than that of storing tapes.

Or is it ?

The trouble is that the calculation is made based on the TV world we used to live in, not the one that we will inhabit.

Most production and post production companies employ a lot of people. Almost all other industries have seen a huge decrease in employees due to the introduction of technology, with massive productivity and cost savings. Everything from milk to car production.

Currently, most production companies are using a variety of strategies to deal with the issue of digital file storage:

Using an online/nearline/offline strategy using networks, NAS (network attached storage) and LTO (yes, the irony of it, the content ends up back on tape). But the cost of buying deploying and operating an LTO is considerable.

Buying cheap HDDs (hard disk drives) and hoping for the best: these consumer devices are mechanical and easily break, rendering a six figure shoot or production lost forever. The time to manage, index and duplicate them is considerable.

Here is a table that some might find controversial, but it levels the cost of redundancy and management alongside actual storage costs:

5 TB Video Storage Costs Over 2 Years
Base storage Cost
Redundant Storage Cost
Time Management Cost
Total Cost

Attached HDDs

Nearline Storage

Cloud Storage

But there are other factors at play. Here’s a crude analysis of the different features of these approaches:

5 TB Video Storage Comparison

Attached HDDs

Nearline Storage

Cloud Storage

Obviously, content held on HDDs or nearline has no accessibility to show and sell. On HDDs unless there is a very disciplined (and expensive in terms of manpower) approach to logging the content could be difficult to find, causing additional costs in the edit suite down the line.

You can add other benefits such as automated QA, automated technical metadata and full metadata management to the cloud proposition.

So the industry needs to take a long, hard look at how it operates and what it needs to do moving forward: I’m afraid that IBC and MIPCOM may becoming echoes of the past.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Apps Is What Is Wrong With TV

So, Apple finally did a launch event where TV wasn't an afterthought (or a 'hobby' as they have called it in the past). But they couldn't have got it more wrong in my view.

Their revolutionary idea is that what TV needs is apps. Err... my TV has had those for nearly a decade, chaps...

And it's bloody annoying. Instead of one, unified interface when consuming video on my iPad I have to deal with a plethora of logins, interfaces and levels of technical competence.

My Sky TV app requires a login every time I touch it and has a dreadful UI. The ITV app makes it next to impossible to find anything apart from what was playing last night. I could go on..

What I want is a single, unified experience that wraps up all of my existing apps in one convenient user interface, not more fragmentation that allows website developers to pretend they understand how TV should work.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Apple Is Misfiring

Apple's event today took over a much bigger venue than that usually reserved, and had even more than the usual hype around it, but the resulting announcements show just how badly the company is fairing without its iconic founder.

Bigger iPad with tablet and keyboard, er, that's a Microsoft Surface, and with Surface you can use a mouse and find a precise place on the screen with a cursor, things which render the iPad useless as anything more than a hand held eBook reader or TV set.

Apple TV - obviously the company has failed to do any deals with content companies (why the heck don't they just buy them with all the spare change they have on their balance sheet ?), so they're trying to extend the iOS games paradigm onto the TV in your living room via Apple PC. Being worse than Chromcast, worse than PlayStation and worse than Wii is hardly a good place to be.

And apparently they make watches too...

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

How Original Is Anything You Do ?

As Sony Music announce an amnesty for samplers, it begs the question of how original any combination of seven notes can be: minors and majors, timbre, sustain, emphasis, chords, arrangement and many other musical devices extend this most basic of vocabularies, but at the end of the day, you're rehashing the same old stuff. And as rock music moves towards its seventieth year, it's not surprising if it sounds like everything has been done at least a few times.

So, how do you differentiate between what is original, what is copied, what is 'sampled' and what is coincidence ?

Of course, if this is true for music it's even more true in film and TV making, where seven is again the magical number.

And,, come to that, can you ever write original code or come up with an app that hasn't been done amongst the one and a half million odd ones already out there ?

Yet, our IP regime is based around the concept of original work, a concept that is becoming less and less easy to enforce.

Of course, copying a plot and all screens, or a song and all parts is one thing, but how small does a work need to be before you can claim originality ? The Intel sound theme, the Easterners drum roll ?

How original does a work need to be ? Most modern music is hugely derivative, deliberately or not. Once upon a time, God Save The King was the national anthem used by most countries (it's still used by Lichtenstein..), yet Happy Birthday is still a copyright protected work (you should be paying a fee every time you perform it in public, or be somewhere that has already paid the fee).

This is what makes Sony's move interesting: rights are generally thought to vest in whole works: what Sony are doing is moving the discussion on and establishing Elemental Rights. Clever.