Stemming the Torrent

There is a fascinating battle going on in the US with cable operator and ISP, COMCAST, being accused of interfering with BitTorrent uploading. Comcast’s defence is that peer-to-peer video files are very large and that, at busy traffic times, they have to regulate traffic into an orderly flow.

The means by which they do so is what has become contentious and this article from the New York Times is a useful backgrounder on some of the issues.

For me what is interesting is the capacity to throttle (I make no judgments about Comcast) and how it is directly attached to net neutrality. I’ve raised this before re file-sharing and/or massive internet usage It’s interesting to see how large an issue it is becoming.

I’ve added here an rss feed from Daily Motion with goodbackground on history etc

End of cracked record.

U.K. producers see revenue jump

It’s a truism that the Australian Independent Production Industry is, in large part, neither robust nor good at exporting the real value of the talent that exists here.   In the early eighties it was in better shape thanks to the presence of Tax incentives and more innovative broadcasters.   By contrast in the UK there was effectively NO independent production industry until Channel 4 fired up in 1982.

British Governments have been pretty good at developing sophisticated policy options to develop British talent and to export their wares.   Australian Governments have not.

Here in this article from Variety are the 2007 revenue figures to the UK Independent Production industry.   We might read them and weep.

The Future of Commercial TV

The ITV network in the UK is made up of fifteen regional television broadcasters, each of whom have public service obligations in return for their licences.

The company ITV Plc does not own the network but it does operate a dominating 11 of the fifteen companies. It was formed four years ago.

Since that time the ITV Network has lost its audience lead over the BBC 1. And for the first time in calendar 2007 the combination of ITV and BBC 1 failed to attract even 50% of the available audience in prime time.   A big problem for a public broadcaster and a massive one for a commercial broadcaster.

Michael Grade is the Executive Chairman of ITV Plc and thus the driver of the network. It’s his business to see to ITV’s future and he’s having a hard time of it. The issues he faces are not dissimilar to those faced by Australian free-to-air commercial networks.

This article from The Independent has some good insights into the issues faced by Commercial FTA Broadcasters as they stare into the future. The accompanying article from The Guardian shows what may happen when their plans are not entirely believed.

Implicitly it also raises a whole raft of questions about ad revenues, their impact on share prices, the resultant ramifications for ownership and the nature of public service obligations.

Online video use: Huge gap between casual and regular viewers in average time viewing per month

The New York Times reports on a recent Media Contacts/comScore survey (using panel method) which shows:

  • top 20% of viewers average 841 minutes per month viewing online video (and mostly watch at video-sharing sites)
  • bottom 50% of viewers average 6 minutes per month (and 46% of this group watch more than 13 hours of television per week)
  • bottom 70% most likely to watch broadcast television sites, rather than video-sharing sites

comScore Press Release (14 Feb 08) on the survey is available here

Unclear if this is real time watching, downloaded for later watching.

Suggestion from Jarvis Mak, VP of Research and Insight at Media Contacts that networks distributing first-run content online will bridge the gap in consumption levels.

Still remarkable figures comparing TV viewing and online video viewing:

  • Of heavy viewers of online video, 30% watch 13 hours or more of TV per week
  • Of medium viewers of online video, 39% watch 13 hours or more of TV per week
  • Of light viewers of online video, 46% watch 13 hours or more of TV per week

Internet Filtering in OZ

The Australian government is currently contemplating its needs for ISP based Internet filtering for “promoting online safety”. Whatever the motivations and reasons (and these could change over time and political, legal and social contexts), Internet filtering will restrict citizen access to the Infosphere, and the distribution framework for content providers. The IT sector argues it will also effect network performance.

The Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) have recently published a report on its investigation into Internet filtering. It summarises,

“ At this time, filtering technologies are regarded as suited to addressing particular static content risks. The report also discusses how the use of content rating and labelling can minimise risks associated with inappropriate static content and how Internet hotlines provide a mechanism for users to report potentially illegal content to appropriate organizations for investigation”……………………………………
“ The report finds that while single measures can be effective in addressing some online risks, clusters of measures can supply a holistic approach”.

Critics of the OZ filtering proposal, comment that the ACMA report provides,

“..a very comprehensive and useful examination of a wide range of options available to government, ISPs and end users to achieve the very desirable goals of preventing the distribution of illegal content on the Internet and of shielding children from material that is undesirable or inappropriate.

Australia could learn a great deal from an inclusive and open investigation of this full range of options in Australia, but unfortunately the government seems to have fixated on one outcome: ISP level filtering.”

To get the global picture on filtering, MIT Press have recently published a book, “Access Denied, the Practice and Policy of Internet Filtering”.

The authors also intend to create a publicly accessible online database of filtering worldwide. Here is the preview chapter, the Introduction.

“The Internet as a Platform?”

Thanks to Slashdot, found this interesting article from The Register (UK). The article warns that there is no adequate economic model yet for ISPs for large-scale distribution of media on the Internet.
This raises the more general issue for us that televisual innovation and services may produce unintended consequences, if economic modelling doesn’t accompany their capabilities.
The Internet as a Platform?”

NATPE fellowship and future of TV

On Friday I joined a small group of television scholars to hear Graeme Turner‘s impressions of the NATPE (National Association of Television Programming Executives) conference and exhibition (tag “Where now meets next”) he’d attended in January in Las Vegas. Graeme was one of 25 or so academics awarded a NATPE Faculty Fellowship to attend. His ARC Federation Fellow project explores the relations between contemporary media (particularly television) and the nation state.

NATPE is a barometer event, a place to hear what the television industry is thinking and saying to itself. Graeme was impressed by the openness and lack of corporate front and PR bluster in presentations, and the robustness of discussion about some aspects of the medium’s future. Faculty Fellows attend a pre-conference day in which they can discuss with key industry players their visions and strategies, and can attend any other sessions of the conference.

Headline news was Jeff Zucker’s plan to revitalise NBC by no longer making pilots of series, but going straight to commissioning series (one of the first beneficiaries of this new approach was the US version of hit Australian sitcom Kath and Kim). Zucker’s goal was not only to lift NBC from fourth spot in network TV ratings behind ABC, CBS and Fox but to make it viable in future on a reduced audience share because of competition for attention. Zucker’s reasoning went something like this: if you spend $500m a year on pilots, of which 10% go to series then $450m is wasted. If only 10% of these series are successes, then $495m (or 99%) of original outlay was gambled on failures. Why not simply commission shows (or buy them from somewhere else) and screen them, and trust the programmers’ judgement. This will mean a reduction in the volume of production – probably not what most of the producers attending the exhibition/market wanted to hear – including by the networks themselves, and perhaps changes in commissioning/programming outlook and new contractual relations between networks and producers. This radical approach to programming will not include another industry tradition: seasonal launches of programming. Although this kind of new approach is understandable for a last-placed network, it was clearly a consequence of the writers’ strike (which has been estimated to have cost US$3.5 billion in lost productivity and tax revenue).

While NBC’s Zucker is the only exec to have come out and claimed this approach, there is further evidence of the immediate effect of the writers’ strike which may indicate a broader industry trend in the number of shows that first screened on cable television that are migrating to free-to-air. Some, like Showtime’s Dexter, will have to be modified for their new audience of more vulnerable and easily offended viewers. Variety offers these reasons for the trend:

It allows networks to offer more programming that’s new to their airwaves, and new to most viewers — at a fraction of the price.

Repeats of network shows don’t work as well as they once did.

Cable has bridged the quality gap.

(This trend also happening in Australia with last night’s debut on ABC 1 of the TV1 comedy Stupid, Stupid Man.)

Graeme observed that ‘quality’ was not a term used at the conference, only ‘success or failure’. Also no talk of ‘interactive’, enhanced programming or user generated content. Someone in questions brought up the question of women in drama, some discussion of programs like Desperate Housewives, Chuck, Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles, Bionic Woman. Interesting to set alongside recent Nielsen/Netratings data on online video use which showed women much more likely than men to watch network television shows online than user generated content.

A mismatch between presentation at NATPE by Bruce Leichtman, saying that average viewing of online video is about 6 and a half minutes a day compared with 3 plus hours for television, and the Nielsen/Netratings data which suggests 67 million users of YouTube watch about 47 mins on average, though his point that TV still major claim on attention valid (and unclear whether his research discussed multi-media use – ie. watching tv and using internet at same time). Question is, for how much longer?

The other big take-home for Graeme was the revitalisation of television stations through local news and current affairs programming.