Content Battles

Martin has another interesting post, arguing that “Digital content wants to be free, and will seek the path to maximum access.”

He makes a good case based on some examples from photos, broadcast and music. I’ve two points of departure.

Firstly, I think ‘photos, broadcast and music’ are old-media concepts that don’t have a guaranteed right to exist in the new-media world. Online, these map – in a complex way – on to images, audio, video and combinations of those. (FWIW I don’t think ‘streaming audio/video’ category is a stable, separate category in to the future either – it’s a workaround for limited bandwidth.) It’s a tribute to how embedded that way of thinking is that even an analyst of Martin’s stature and experience paints the world in those terms.

Secondly, the analysis is incomplete without acknowledging that digital content also wants to be expensive. The original information-wants-to-be-free quote was from Stewart Brand back in 1984, and is worth restating in full:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

And that’s what’s been going on with the music/audio industry.

And that’s what’s just starting to go on in the video industries. We’ve got YouTube playing the Napster role and any number of consumer-hostile walled-garden DRM solutions from bone-headed unimaginative existing market incumbents.

These include, alas, a lot of people who should be in a position to Do The Right Thing, but sadly aren’t, such as the BBC and Google. The BBC have made what I reckon is their worst decision of recent years by going for a DRM-ed offering (tied to Microsoft), despite overwhelming public offering. For stuff the licence-fee payers have already paid for! And Google Video is another disaster. Google is shutting down its video service. Punters who signed up in good faith and bought DRMed video from them now face being unable to play those videos.

The battle in audio is far from over. The battle in video hasn’t really got started.

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Author: dougclow

Academic in the Institute of Educational Technology, the Open University, UK. Interested in technology-enhanced learning and learning analytics.

2 thoughts on “Content Battles”

  1. Yes, I’d pretty much agree with this Doug (apart from the bit where you describe me as an analyst of stature). I was being kind of lazy when I said music and film and mapped these on to audio and video. I think music will always have a place, but as you say the other outputs need to justify themselves online. For instance, video is unlikely to be feature length movies, but the more long tailish 5 minute clips we find on YouTube. The format of video we have come to accept (the film, TV programme, etc) may be more a function of the economics of the industry. When it goes online a more natural format can be found. I’ve just blogged a bit further about this: http://nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk/no_good_reason/2007/08/books-playlists.html
    That Brand quote turned out to be very perceptive didn’t it? Thanks for reminding me of it.
    Martin

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