Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Last Picture Show ?

The summer of 17 may well be remembered as the beginning of the end for the cinema industry.

Reports of its demise have, of course, been heard before. Television was going to be responsible for its downfall and there was a marked decline with the advent of VHS and the rental market.


Since then innovation, franchise releases and aggressive marketing has seen box office takings increase year on year. The the rise of luxury niche cinemas such as the Everyman chain in London have changed the theatre going experience even more, with comfy sofas and drinks services.

But as domestic TV screens grew in size, box sets arrived and food delivery has become mainstream, the threats to cinema going are manifold. Perhaps greatest of all is the behaviour of teenagers, who are expected to forego social media in a dark room for two hours or more.

Meantime, the talent has been following the money, with even Julia Roberts partaking in TV series in lieu of making feature films.

The New Studios have experimented with simultaneous releases online and in theatre (often to qualify for film awards), but the results have been patchy.

In the meantime, in the US MoviePass has reduced its membership to just $9.95 allowing members to view a film a day at any cinema, although the US' largest chain, AMC is demurring and may pull out from the scheme.

Of course, cinemas make money in other ways. Popcorn has the greatest gross profit margins of almost any product on sale anywhere. But theatrical cinemas need critical mass to sell enough popcorn to thrive.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lovefilm, Hate Broadband

The British DVD by post rental business bought by Amazon is being closed down.

Commerically, this makes sense, but it does throw up a couple of issues for movie buffs across the country.

The first one is that of broadband. iPlayer, let alone Amazon Prime, is a pipe dream in the village where I live in Wales (despite paying the same licence fee as everyone else). Fibre was promised in September 2015 after the Welsh Assembly Government paid vast sums to BT. But nothing has happened, and now the latest estimate is some time in 2018. I'll believe it when I see it. There are plenty of other places in the UK suffering similarly through government and Ofcom incompetence and timidity.

Even the local shop has stopped stocking DVDs for rental, thanks largely to the likes of Lovefilm. So the only option is to buy DVDs from, oh, you guessed it, Amazon, for the same price each as a monthly subscription. A huge financial penalty on those already struggling to send and receive email.

The second issue is broader. The actual choice of movies, even that can be paid for, is pretty variable across all the online services. The focus has been on box sets, with studios still hoping to preserve their theatrical release windows for feature films. 

Finding cult, niche and international movies is even more difficult still and often involves trawling across multiple services using one search function after the next. (How about a meta search service, Roku ?)

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Mouse Bites Back

Netflix rolls on, with over a hundred million subscribers and an ever impressive commissioning slate of content. Indeed, it seems to have been given free rein to build a global empire whilst traditional broadcasters stand still.

Now, it seems, the most capable if those is about to hit back. 

Disney recently bought the former technology arm of MLB, a spin off called BAMTech, which has been in the streaming business for over a decade and a half (indeed, were the pioneers of the industry alongside theplatform and Narrowstep). This immediately gives them the technology smarts to build their own global distribution platform.

Also, long standing deals with Netflix to show Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Disneynature content are running out in the next couple of years. 

There are four content categories that drive modern broadcasting (or rather drive IPTV OTT services): kids, live sports, box sets and movies (especially movie franchises).

Disney owns ESPN and ABC as well as its more traditional studios, so has the volume of premium content across these categories to make it a significant player.

Moreover, it is a profitable organisation with deep pockets at a time when Netflix's cash burn is looking ever more painful, hitting $2 billion in the last financial year.

There's also the constant rumours that Disney would like to buy Netflix, but a company with a market cap of $77bn would be a big chunk even for the mouse house, which is currently valued at around $167bn, especially given its losses.

And in a surprise move Netflix has recognised that it will need to build its own kids and superhero brands by acquiring a cult comic book company, Millarworld.

Meanwhile, this leaves the other players in the erstwhile global OTT market playing catchup: Fox is too obsessed with rolling up its Sky properties, Amazon is so sprawling an empire it's difficult to see where its strategy lies and other 'majors' are likely to struggle since they either do not have the global footprint, access to capital or the diversity of content across the key categories required to succeed.

Netflix may feel a blip from Disney's strategic move into OTT, but it bodes far worse for the likes of Comcast, Discovery, Fox, Liberty, Hulu and other aspiring global broadcasters, who will need to retrench into providing either carriage or content.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Sky Is Lost Without Sport

The trouble with being the mouthpiece of an oligarch is that you have to spout so much rubbish.

Trump and Murdoch prove this in different ways.

Sky has built a broadcasting empire on the back of sporting rights, but its attempts at becoming a studio are pathetic. The likes of Mad Dogs and the dreadful, dreadful Riviera shows that it is light years behind Netflix and Amazon in nonfactual programme commissioning.

The 700k audience for the first episode of Riviera has fallen to the point where the show's episodes has no one to post Wikipedia entires for them: even the press department gave up and went home to watch something else.

And so Sky has regrouped around 'themed' sports channels, but still shows content on channels which don't seem available (can anyone actually view 'Sky Sports Mix'? We certainly failed to do so when trying to find the Super Rugby final at our local pub the other day).

The charging makes no sense, it isn't based on content, just on the number of channels. One channel is £18, additional channels are £4 or all channels are £27.

I'd be delighted to pay a tenner for a cricket and rugby channel, but I'm not cross subsidising the idiocy that is soccer. So, the pirates are drawing me into their grasp.

Sky does not understand the pound to pennies world it now operates in whilst trying to keep up with the pennies to pounds demands of soccer agents.

In the US this issue was solved a long time ago through salary caps. It's time for soccer and rugby to do the same. How can you have teams with twenty times the money competing in the same tournament. That's not sports, it's hunting. It's not fairness, it's capriciousness. 

In Europe, Sky has built its own bed and now needs to lie in it as much richer competitors like Amazon and Google come along. Laughing. There is always someone with a bigger bank account. And we mere fans, petty minions get shafted time and again.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Sports Rights Holders Are Finally Balancing The Books

It took a while, but the sports industry (what a horrible oxymoron that is) seems to have woken up to the value of its rights.

Well over a decade ago, I remember that we bid for an online system for the World Rally Championship. When I grew up, this was a hugely popular sport that would attract a quarter of the population of Wales onto the streets and into the forests on cold, dark November evenings. Rallying was bigger than Formula 1 back then by some distance. But they never got the TV right. They looked for a quick buck and handed their TV rights to a company that paid them, not to an organization like ours that was going to charge them. Big mistake. Who watches rallying now ? The sport is a sideline and the live events attract a tiny fraction of their previous audiences.

Many sports became too greedy. Boxing is still getting by, but no free to air broadcaster want to transmit two guys battering each other into hospital beds, so that's a special case.

But cricket. Oh, cricket. In an age where there are as many channels and as many feeds as you can ever wish, finding a single day's play of a county game is impossible. Even the TV friendly T20 format has struggled in the UK thanks to being confined to pay TV.

Likewise, the likes of the BBC and S4C can no longer compete for top level rugby, so the sport became present only in the 4m or so homes that can afford Sky Sports on its own service or on Virgin or Now TV.

Obviously a number more viewers go down to the dwindling number of pubs willing to pay the exorbitant fees charged by Sky to watch matches, if they can navigate around the football viewing in the local boozer, of course.

Then something dramatic happened. People in the UK and US stopped buying sports packages.

Of course, many of these streams are available from pirate sources, which the broadcasters have been very slow in dealing with. But the trend is clear. People are no longer willing to pay £40 for sports coverage when Netflix and Amazon provide phenomenal entertainment for £7.99 a month. The demands of Premiership agents and their over-preened 'stars' is in danger of destroying the model.

And the sports federations also realised that no one was turning up to watch their sports, or playing them, since they had sold their souls to appeal to an ever diminishing pool of people willing to pay through the nose for their rights.

So, all of a sudden, sanity seems to be breaking out in the sports rights market, with both cricket and rugby in the UK being made available live on free to air channels, albeit in sample sized, 'get them hooked' packages. Sky Sports, meanwhile, has split its rights more logically along channel bases: this means they can see who is willing to pay for what sports, rather than annoyingly obfuscating their services over several channels and red buttons.

So, from a rights holder perspective, we seem to be seeing some sanity and logic returning to the broadcasting of sports.

To paraphrase a former famous neighbour of mine, “An agent is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” Thankfully, sports federations seem to have realised that the value of sports coverage extends beyond lucrative but restrictive packages.

But he next pratfall are all the 'new broadcasters' waiting in the wings, promising the earth for nothing. Beware the geeks bearing gifts, sports rights people...

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

The Importance Of Rights


You may think that rights are things that only big companies need to worry about, but this is far from the reality.

If you have a website, then there's a fair chance that you have acquired rights for software. In fact, a simple website probably has many, many licences attached to it, from open source to fully commercial. And then every image that you use on your website, brochure and presentations have rights attached to them.

Of course, you can ignore all of this, but clients are increasingly conscious of the need to audit their suppliers and maximise the rights they own and have acquired, so there are sound commercial reasons for effectively managing your rights.

Companies have two kinds of rights to deal with:

Rights in or acquired rights

Rights out or rights owned and available for sale

These obviously need to be dealt with separately, but rights in and rights out can often be linked. If you produce a book, but use an illustrator; if you produce a video with music and actors, you are dealing with rights in linked to rights out, and often this can be part of an even wider ecosystem. We call this the "rights chain".

The effective management of your rights involves a number of key steps:

  1. Audit and record your rights
  2. Make your rights available and searchable
  3. Track the usage and sales of your rights
  4. Link your rights to other business systems

Rights are often granted or defined  in contracts or deals. Sometimes they are bundled together or offered as part of comprehensive access: a viewer's Spotify or Netflix accounts is an example of this, as would be a subscription to an image bank or music library.

These rights, in turn, are made up of what we call "rights dimensions": these cover what rights have been acquired or awarded, eg territory, language, window (start and end time and date), usage, platforms and so on...

The permutations are potentially infinite. 

Traditionally the granting and usage of rights are handled by lawyers in non-standard contracts, but increasingly larger organisations such as Amazon, Apple and Netflix handle their rights in a standardised way. 

Moreover, software such as TV Everywhere's Assetry platform enable rights to be managed effectively in the cloud. It's used by major brands, ad agencies and even pharma companies, indicating how prominent rights management is becoming; important not only financially, but also for compliance.

It's time for every organisation to reflect and review on how they use and manage rights. In a world where many things are becoming virtualised, rights are everything.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Rise Of The Social Engineers


Slowly, insidiously, our world changes without our noticing. A couple of shops on the hight street shut, but we don't put it down to Amazon; the local newspaper goes online only, but we don't blame Google; your mate's band, who once thought they could make it, go back to day jobs, and you don't blame YouTube or Apple; black cabs are hard to find, but we don't blame Uber.

Of course, engineering change in a way that society, and especially governments and regulators do not notice is not new. Dale Carnegie was his era's equivalent to Mark Zuckerberg, but without the 

The canal owners lost all their money when the railway moguls came along, and they, in turn, lost their shirts when roads were built. And the taxi drivers complaining about Uber will eventually lose their profession to self-driving cars, not to cheaper alternatives. It's all about being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage.

In Silicon Valley they like to invest in what they call disruption. This generally uses a lot of investors' money to subsidise a new business model in the hope that it will become a monopoly.

By any definition of the term, Google has a monopoly on search and text advertising in the UK; Facebook has a monopoly on the internet in many parts of Africa. But Comcast has a monopoly on TV and broadband over vast swathes of the US, as does BT in many parts of the rural UK. Uber, JustEat/Hungry House and many others have prominent positions in their vertical markets. We have become a world where monopolies are, once more, acceptable to those we vote to serve us, and this bothers me tremendously.

The problem is not just commercial. All the current regulation and revenue generation is based on those old models - rates, corporation tax, sales tax, trade agreements are not fit for multinationals with monopolies, offshore bases and far cleverer lawyers and accountants than any government bureaucracy.

At least Trump has proposed tax reform to encourage Big Internet to repatriate their vast wealth in a way that will benefit the US. In the UK during recent political campaigning for national elections, none of the political parties have come up with even a vague plan that addresses the real issues faced by the UK economy, Brexit or not: the cost to the UK economy of its recent boom has been tens of billions of pounds that could have been spent on poverty, health and protecting its citizens which have gone into the pockets of some of the world's wealthiest people, making them even wealthier and more powerful still.

Meanwhile, Big Internet is all about a cozy public image and subtly engineering social change for their own benefit, much as the British East India Company and Cecil Rhodes once did. Mark Zuckerberg has built a vast personal fortune by stealing your data, broadcasting snuff movies and destroying small businesses. We are living in a new era of robber barons and corporate states, outside normal laws and bigger than nations (Apple is bigger than New Zealand by revenue v GDP).

And at the same time politicians have made their constituents obsess over irrelevant political alliances and trivial trade agreements whilst kowtowing to Big Internet to a degree that beggars belief (it was difficult to tell the difference between Google senior management and David Cameron's main advisors at one point in the UK).

Meantime, the Big Internet juggernaut rolls on, consuming ever greater parts of our lives, our futures and possibly our souls. The next time you are poor, just start wondering why Google, Facebook et al are not paying you for your data, and are not paying for the societies they are destroying so that they can replace them with their own social networks.