Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Blind Fighting The Blind

And so it came to pass, that the evil giant, Google, brought upon it the wrath of the television industry...

They did this by suggesting that YouTube drives more sales than broadcast TV after commissioning some research (and we all know how accurate research is..)

That's somewhat disingenuous. Of course a medium with a clickable response is theoretically both more measurable and is likely to generate more direct sales response than one which is far more subliminal and subtle (why is it that everyone blindly accepts Google metrics ?).

The old 'I know that fifty per cent of my advertising spend works, I just don't know which fifty per cent' comes to mind. 

Video is emotional, and so is ideal for building brands on broadcast TV. The cluttered, messy environment of Google is not a good place to build brands.

In trying to variously be a user generated video platform and broadcaster, YouTube has taken a decade to find its feet at a massive cost. Netflix has come much further much more quickly by being less arrogant and more focused.

The reality is that YouTube is several businesses rolled into one. It's trying to be a social platform, an online video platform, a broadcaster, a pay per view system and a video advertising platform, plus much else beyond.

It took nearly a decade to move away from an emphasis on point and click short form content and still isn't sure what it's really doing. Except for everything. 

It's not surprising that broadcasters with their tight, well defined decades old business model look on with disdain. YouTube is a cuckoo in the nest.

However, Google is right that YouTube is probably under sampled against traditional TV, especially outside the UK. TV provides very abstracted viewing figures based on very small samples, so it's difficult to gauge real accuracy. Also, engagement with traditional TV seems is likely to be much lower (putting the kettle on, going to the toilet, chatting, as opposed to a personal interaction with a PC or mobile screen).

But the TV companies are also being disingenuous. They have been slow and conservative beyond belief in their approach to an online strategy. The best they have managed is simulcasting and in demand with endless ads. Oh, just like their broadcast properties! You really can't teach an old dog new tricks.

In the meantime a massive gap has appeared between what the traditional broadcast channels are doing and what YouTube is doing. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are exploiting it, and there's room for plenty of others.

In my view the ideal TV business model of the future is in using YouTube and broadcast TV as an audience building platform - the former using a teaser channel and the latter using programme brands, and then running your own show with native ads and sponsored content (you can also throw SATVOD (subscription/advertising/transactional video in demand) into the mix).

Your service needs to be spread across hundreds of platforms and distribution outlets and at the core will be the ability to produce brilliant content. Brilliant content that is eight seconds long, fifteen seconds long, thirty seconds long, two minutes long, thirty minutes long - all at the same time.

If you can do this, my fellow broadcast professional, you will live happily ever after and banish the nightmare of TV commissioners and YouTube profitability alike.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Whole Lotta Rights..

You'd think that a rights dispute over two songs written nearly half a century ago would not be the kind of thing that should perturb rock heroes as they enter their twilight years, but think again.

The latest example to hit the headlines is the dispute between Randy California (of Spirit fame) and the possibly the greatest rock band of all time, Led Zeppelin. And it's not some vague track that's in contention, but the first complicated riff that any aspiring guitar player learns - the opening part from Stairway to Heaven.

A judge in California has ruled that there may have been an infringement (Spirit and Led Zeppelin played twice together before Page & Plant wrote the anthem).

You can judge for your self with this excellent analysis by :

You can really hear the similarity, but, boy, you can go through the history of music and find example after example. There was the recent ballyhoo about Adele 'borrowing' Hello from Lionel Ritchie, and even the famous Kansas/Journey and George Harrison/Chiffons spats go all the way back. There's even a website dedicated to plagiarism (sorry, alleged plagiarism mashups):

And this is even without looking at how sampling has worked its way into modern music.

But the real issue here is that music rights are in danger of ending up in the same place as patent rights, where interpretations, especially in the US, have been far too wide and given rise to a whole industry of patent infringement trolls who make the lawyers featured in Better Call Saul seem nice and sensible.

Ironically, artists and songwriters seem reluctant to sue each other, perhaps realising that there's only so much originality that you can get from 12 notes. But, where there's a right, there's a claim and as artists from the golden age of rock come to pass, there are plenty of relatives, estate managers and attorneys who are more than willing to turn over old rocks (so to speak) and dig for gold.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Right Word

One of the challenges of working with any kind of intellectual property is that one man's film is another man's movie. But, what's in a word?

Well quite a bit. Possibly as much as a few billion dollars to owners of intellectual properties, so please bear with me on this.

Using different terminologies makes it difficult to equate two properties or rights. Indeed, they may have different meanings, especially when moving between jurisdictions. And as difficult as they are for humans to codify, it becomes an even greater issue when you ask computers to deal with the tautology.

This is one of the major reasons why it has taken so long to introduce efficient marketplaces for rights, in our view. But for the past three years at Rights Tracker we've had a project aimed at tackling this.

You can break the issues down into two: let's call them IP Types and Metadata.

Very often a property is made up of a collection of rights and assets and these can be arranged in a hierarchy - this is what we call IP Types.

For example, you may have a Brand such as Harry Potter, this then has Books, the Books have Versions (e.g. for different languages). In turn these IP Types can have Assets such as Chapters, Illustrations and Photographs.

Then consider a TV programme where you may have Title, Versions, Series, Episode, with the Episode made up of multiple Video, Image, Music and Document assets.

We're currently building a rights management system for a major pharma company, and here the IP Types are even more extensive with IP Types such as Graphs.

Code snippets, electronic components, drug ingredients are all potential IP Types.

Now you can start to realize the implications of IP Type management, which us why we have spent so much time, effort and brain power addressing this area.

Our resulting project to manage and codify this has resulted in the following developments.

First of all, we create an IP Type and this has fixed or variable Properties. Then, you can Label this (film or movie, for example) and place it in a Hierarchy, defining its Relationships with other IP Types.

Another dimension to this is that every IP Type has its own metadata, and there is very little standardization of this even within industries, although the rise of XML has seen this situation improve.

Our approach is to enable standardized metadata schema to be used, using a minimum data set, e.g. Movie Title, Movie Description, Movie Issue Date, Tags and then to make this extensible.

This keeps the data portable and interchangeable.

We've now introduced the above concepts to our rights and asset management platform, Assetry. This means that we can not only enable any specific IP Type model, but can also make this interchangeable and matchable between organizations. This in turn has the huge benefit of enabling us to not only help our customers to deliver content more effectively, as we do for the Press Association and their daily news video feeds, for example, but also to enable trading in these properties in real time.

This may all sound esoteric, but we believe that the results will facilitate new money making and money saving opportunities to anyone involved in managing intellectual property.

Get in touch with us if you'd like to hear more.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Rise And Rise Of Online Video Advertising

The UK government doesn't seem to be doing well in getting tax revenue from the likes of Google and Facebook, but British broadcasters are doing much better according to figures revealed today.

Facebook was the fastest growing television advertiser last year. 

Indeed, the whole industry is doing well with revenues up 7.4% to £5.27billion. But if you consider that Google generated over $6 billion in the UK in the same period you can see why newspapers are struggling so badly.

At the same time, online video is the only category of advertising which is more expensive than the traditional form of the publicity. If you compare TVRs for traditional TV advertising with CPIs for online video, the revenues are more than comparable. The only issue is achieving the volume whilst not alienating viewers. 

The trouble is that many top online services such as Netflix are ad free, and the endless ads in services such as ITV Hub seem a lot more if an imposition inline than they do in traditional media. Add the fact that you cannot ad skip and you can see why viewers may prefer ad free services - ITV has made this an option in its portal.

According to industry sources, the UK is seeing more budget dedicated to online advertising, and online video advertising in particular, than any other ad market.

So, if you want to launch an ad supported online service, video is the way to go...

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

BBC3 Is Dead, Long Live BBC3!

In what is possibly one of the most seminal moments in the development of Internet TV, the BBC last night closed down a leading broadcast channel and moved it, lock, stock and two smoking barrels, online.

In doing so, it has recognised that the internet is a diverse and fragmented universe: there are the original programmes, available now as the ubiquitous 'box sets' on BBC iPlayer, there is a dedicated channel of shorts on YouTube (seemingly without any ads), and rolling coverage on Facebook and Twitter.

This is all meant to save £30m a year, which somewhat confounds me.

BBC3 only broadcast for a few hours a day from 7pm anyway, which meant that all of the fixed infrastructure of broadcasting terrestrially and by satellite was largely both a sunk cost and wasteful. So, these costs are reduced, but probably only marginally. For an independent channel I reckon these would amount to £1m a year, largely in satellite time, so let's say that the profligative BBC managed to spend £5m. Then the BBC do love their management structure, so I'm sure that there has been some saving there, although I bet there are new roles such as BBC3 Head of Snapchat to cover. Finally, there's the overhead of runnng a channel - buildings, offices, tea, biscuits, etc.. It's hard to see how removing a channel can reduce the massive sunk overhead of the Corporation's vast investment in real estate in places like central London and Salford. 

So, the rest of the 'savings' must be coming from programming (or rather being transferred to programming elsewhere if the BBC spin is to be believed).

But, wait a minute, there are new costs, many of which are variable and go up with viewing figures. There's versioning all of that content for the different online media, there's managing each online 'channel' (oh, the irony of that term), and then there's the cost of distribution. Remember, every minute of video watched online via the iPlayer costs the BBC (whereas every minute watched on Facebook, YouTube etc is free, but will inevitably come with ads which enables those organisations to claw back their costs and then avoid tax on their profits).

The relationship between the BBC and Big American Internet is now a particularly uncomfortable one to behold. Of course, this is where their 'youff', genY audience is, but seeing even more of our media - if not our culture - being sucked into the vorex of these dodgy, unaccountable organisations leaves a very sour taste in my mouth.

The BBC is one of the few organisations in the UK, if not globally, which has both the funding and wherewithall to offer viable alternatives to the American juggernauts that are sweeping up the lives of the next generation without anyone noticing or particulalry caring (our tax authorities certainly don't seem to care). The iPlayer is an example of how it has achieved this, but it needs to do more to promote UK based online initiatives: at least France has Daily Motion.

Perhaps a better approach might have been to tax the likes of Amazon, Google, Facebook and Google properly and used this revenue to maintain services like BBC3, not give them another chunk of the family silver.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Broken Windows, Lost Chances

Netflix was snubbed when it offered $2.5million more than Fox Searchlight for the rights to The Birth of a Nation at Sundance. This was because it wanted to release online at the same time as cinemas. The producers obviously thought that appealing to popcorn munchers had more value. Managing release windows has become quite an art. At Rights Tracker we think it should be much more a science.

The historical background to this goes way back to the evolution of cinema as a medium. Once upon a time Hollywood majors were vertically integrated. They owned the studios, the movie making machinery plus the cinemas. They even owned the stars, to the degree that DW Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin created their own studio (United Artists) until this was subsumed back into the system.

Films would be released in the US first and then the time expensive prints would be shipped to other English language markets such as the UK (which is why you could always view cinema movies in France with their subtitled prints before you could in UK cinemas). This was the beginning of 'windowing', or the creation of specific rights windows that could be individually exploited.
The coming of television saw these rights extended to TV, but well after the cinema release had ended.

But then came recorded media, first in the form of VHS and then DVDs. This presented more windows of opportunities, which now went Cinema - VHS - TV. There were also some minor parallel markets such as hotel entertainment systems and in flight viewing.

At the same time, the international market became more complex and languages and dubbing continued to add further dimensions to the rights available to exploit.

It was this increase in complexity of the rights selling market which resulted in the founding of our company, Rights Tracker. Our initial desktop systems helped TV sales houses to make the most of their films and programs.

But the world moves on and what already seemed like a bewildering range of rights opportunities has increased further with the introduction of the internet and cloud platforms. The number of possible permutations are nearly endless.

This has had a positive impact for rights owners by opening up new rights opportunities for platforms such as Netflix, but has brought the negative impact of piracy and an ease of copying and distributing which was unthought-of when the original cinema model was developed. Now global releases at the same time are a must for some high profile TV releases such as a new season of Game of Thrones.

Of course, the distribution model is also more complex now with few vertically integrated players in the mode of the old studio model (Comcast is perhaps the best current example).

Rights windows are now far, far more complex and it isn't difficult to see a day when rights owners will begin using artificial intelligence to figure out how to maximize their sales. Indeed, we are already looking at this opportunity at Rights Tracker, along with how the power of the cloud can be used to leverage maximizing revenues from rights windows.

An Unhappy Birthday To You

The argument that arose this month over the diaries of Anne Frank shows how rights are such an important aspect of life in the 21st century. 
The specific issue around the Diary of Anne Frank case concerns the term of the rights. Under EU laws this currently stands at 70 years from publication, but the Foundation representing the estate of the Franks family claim that the copyright for the book is based on the publication of derivative works, or versions of the original diaries which were used to create new works.
As more and more of the woks created by the rise of popular media start to age towards the end of their copyright term, there have been other famous cases recently which have also been publicised.
Perhaps the most famous is over the most valuable song ever written, Happy Birthday.
It's worth covering this seminal rights situation in detail. Here's what Wikipedia has to say (in edited form):
Patty Hill was a kindergarten principal in Kentucky developing various teaching methods, her sister Mildred was a pianist and composer. The sisters used "Good Morning to All" as a song that young children would find easy to sing, which is claimed as the basis for "Happy Birthday". 
The combination of melody and lyrics in "Happy Birthday to You" first appeared in print in 1912, and probably existed even earlier.
None of the early appearances of the "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics included credits or copyright notices. The Summy Company registered a copyright in 1935, crediting authors Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R. R. Forman. In 1988, Warner/Chappell Music purchased the company owning the copyright for US$25 million, with the value of "Happy Birthday" estimated at US$5 million. 
Based on the 1935 copyright registration, Warner claimed that the United States copyright will not expire until 2030, and that unauthorized public performances of the song are technically illegal unless royalties are paid to Warner. In one specific instance in February 2010, these royalties were said to amount to US$700. By one estimate, the song is the highest-earning single song in history, with estimated earnings since its creation of US$50 million. In the EU the copyright of the song was set to expire no later than December 31, 2016.
The American copyright status of "Happy Birthday to You" began to draw more attention with the passage of the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act in 1998. When the US Supreme Court upheld the Act in  Eldred v Ashcroft in 2003, "Happy Birthday to You" was mentioned in dissenting opinion. American law professor Robert Brauneis, who extensively researched the song, concluded in 2010 that "It is almost certainly no longer under copyright. In 2013, based in large part on Brauneis's research, Good Morning to You Productions, a company producing a documentary about "Good Morning to All", sued Warner/Chappell for claiming false copyright to the song. In September 2015, a federal judge declared that the Warner/Chappell copyright claim was invalid, ruling that the copyright registration applied only to a specific piano arrangement of the song, and not to its lyrics and melody.
But media companies do not lack the clout to fight their corner as the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act (also called the Mickey Mouse Copyright Act by dissenter since Disney famously managed to back this change in US law to keep Mickey Mouse under copyright. Indeed, the changes in the US now mean that this will be a non issue for the foreseeable future.
The problem now is that there is a huge disparity between the non-policed and non-legislated rights regimes in countries like China and, to a lesser extent, Russia, the rules and laws operating in the EU and those enforceable in the US.
Tracking and managing rights has never been more difficult, but this is our mission at Rights Tracker. However complex the situation we help our clients, from TV companies through ad agencies and multinational pharma companies, to code, track, protect and exploit their rights. It's interesting, fascinating and a great challenge, and if you'd like to understand more, get in touch with us.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Question Your TV Service

I used to have Sky at my homes  in London and Wales and it cost me £1,600 pa with BBC licences. I reckon I used to spend another £1000 a year on CDs and DVDs. That's £4k you need to earn as a taxpayer to pay for your entertainment. And that's before the additional £1000 for telephone, mobile and broadband services.

Now I pay £7 for Netflix every month, £7 for Now TV/Sky and £6 for Amazon Prime as well as £12 for a BBC licence. Spotify is £10, which does feel a bit steep.

So, £50 all in seems OK, with some PPV payments for sports and the £1k for telephone, mobile and broadband.

If you are a Sky or Virgin customer you really should do the sums. These are horribly expensive services.

You can now even buy Freeview boxes and TVs that will give you most of the regular channels absolutely free, with recording and catch up, although setting up an arial is likely to cost you.

So, the obvious services are probably not the way to go unless you are very wealthy. I suspect you can do the same in Europe, Australia or the US.