With Midem only two weeks away, the South of France will again, be a stage for the music industry to work itself into a frenzy to figure out the best route forward into discovering how to rescue itself from the brink of its own self-
importance destruction. I’ve attended, spoke & networked through many of these events in the past, and looking at the list of attendees I’m not sure that there will be much success in pushing forward any new ideas or initiatives. So while, I have been asked to attend again this year, at the moment, I will not be in Cannes for the weeklong extravaganza, I’ll certainly comment on the proceedings…
Since I first attended the event where digital was really an emerging format – we had the DRM fights and battles back in those days – where we had Microsoft and their WMA DRM and Apple’s AAC Fair Play – the mere mention of delivering MP3’s to the masses was cause for us to be ejected from the building by any of the labels.
Back then, if you were downloading music, you were indeed classed as a “potential pirate of copyright material, and should be treated as such” strong words from one the worlds biggest record labels…
Many years later – well we’re at the same juxtaposition where we, the consumers, may have won the battle and rights to have an open format, free of digital rights management (MP3), so we were free to use the content that we have purchased anyway that we wanted to. However rather than Peer2Peer services that exchange millions of tracks a day (as well as being used by record labels to legally “leak” their artists new release) we are seeing the advent of the new “cloud” sharing services – both legal and illegal.
I wrote a blog piece on this back in 2009 where Governments, lobbyists, labels and ISPs were trying to figure out how to stem this “disease” where copyrighted material was being distributed on a global epidemic scale across the P2P networks. This was easy for ISPs to block the P2P traffic going through their networks, and could be opened up easily for legitimate use by companies and consumers – by simply adding a disclaimer or T&Cs that stipulate “that by opening the P2P ports on your gateway you will abide to…….. “
ISPs were not interested in doing this, would take $$$ to enable some automated scripts on their BSS/OSS – and then their would be the throttling of data where ISPs like to show how much data is crossing their networks in order to raise prices to both business and consumers in order to keep up with the bandwidth requests.
Also and more importantly, using P2P and in particular Bit Torrent, both Twitter and Facebook use Bit Torrent to distribute content to their main server farms and thus speed up their appearance of real time. However, back in the day when we were discussing the ability for ISPs to block the protocol Twitter and Facebook were not even invented –so that door is closed for now. File formats from torrents were also discussed, as a way to enable or block the traffic and potential illegal files.
Fast forward to 2012, and even today we hear more from Governments, labels, lobbyists etc.. where SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and extension to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) where the rule of thumb to block IPs that a company claims to infringe their copyright(s) – this is happening now in Holland where BREIN (Dutch acronym for “Protection Rights Entertainment Industry Netherlands”) are censoring domains and IPs against the Pirate Bay, but legislation, like SOPA, actually opens the door for continued web monitoring & censorship. I’ll keep the in’s and outs of SOPA / BREIN for another blog – I digress…back to the “digital” Entertainment industry…
As both a practitioner and consumer of digital media and entertainment, I’ve seen both sides of the coin (or dollar) where I’ve worked with companies to help the monetization of their content, how to ignite and realize their long tail, defining the best customer experience online and offline. Through to an “early adopter” and consumer of all things digital, I had a better insight into what worked, what didn’t and what the triggers were for people to hit illegal downloading sites.
So recent developments from Amazon, Google, Apple et al with their cloud services and Spotify finally launching in the US (although having been a Spotify subscriber since 2008, it was about time) however there are still some fundamental issues that remain from an end consumer experience, that in essence, isn’t really the fault of Google, Netflix… but actually the music and movie companies that are providing their content. So lets have a look at the issues faced by consumers and why this is one of the reasons to drive people to illegal sites for their content – either on purpose or through search…
First off the newly launched Apple Match, $24.99 per year and have your music in the “cloud” – a few teething issues with versioning showed up early on where Apple’s method was to store, say Coldplay’s Mylo Xloto and attribute user IDs to the file, which made sense as one file is all that is required to distribute to millions. However, if you had a different version of Mylo Xloto for example, lets say you purchased a Japanese CD version that had different mixes, but you ripped the CD as Mylo Xloto, the version that Apple would deliver would be the standard US release. It’s all about metadata and leaving that up to the end user to be aware of how to attribute or add the correct metadata. Which isn’t going to be that great an experience based on research that we did back in 2006, where there were a lot of iPods and MP3 players that were ripped offline, and had no more information that Artist and Album – even the tracks would be missing – so identifying these from end users libraries is going to be a challenge.
Google music indexes your catalogue and at least uploads your material and ripped tracks. However there are issues with DRM. Which makes me think that they are not fully matching and indexing against previously stored material. The screenshot below shows issues with older Apple DRM files, that I decided NOT to pay the additional 29c to upgrade.
However from a user experience I am now missing over 200 of my previously purchased tracks – assuming 99c per track – that’s over $200 in purchased music that is not available to me on the new cloud services. Google does state that it can not support all file formats, but we have to assume that the are not storing your actual files, and as such should be running a different service that is a mix of user generated content against their existing streaming library?
Finally each of the services from iTunes to Netflix to Spotify all lock and handcuff you to a set number of devices. After working on 4 various music sites and negotiating the deals with the labels, I know that this is a stipulation from the labels and studios themselves that want to limit the number of devices to an account. Why? Well you can thank Napster and college campuses for this as one ID would allow multiple users (sometimes hundreds) to log in and access the content that was available against that one ID. The premise from the studios and labels, again is that YOU are potential criminals and will be treated as such – where they think that by using, say Spotify, 20 friends all pay 50c each per month and all use the service rather than what the labels want – which is that if 20 of you want to access the music then they expect $10 each therefore $200 revenue than just the $10 that they would be getting.
The argument here, is that the Napster issue was before iPhone, iPad, Android etc…so the number of connected devices was limited back then – fast forward to today, and at the last count – in my home alone we have over 25 web connected devices that, in essence can connect to all the above mentioned services, that I pay for, to stream all the content that I have purchased – BUT… that is the issue, that while households have expanded their digital devices and connect more and more to the web for content – the music industry, movie studios and TV networks have not moved an inch towards this, as they see this as detrimental to their business models – they have no cohesive digital business models and rely solely on the rights management that the music industry imposed back in 2003, almost 10 years ago – which is no longer workable or valid.
And its with this mistrust that we see Netflix and their mediocre digital streaming library not expand to what consumers are after – so the average consumer will search for a specific title, not on Netflix, they try iTunes, not there either – I’ll search Google – and before you know it, they are all aboard the Pirate Bay and the MPAA now come knocking on their door for illegal downloading of content – so we come full circle again, and this my friends is where SOPA comes into play – because Mr & Mrs Jones’ family can not find Pinocchio to watch on “family movie night” dad searches and finds it on a linked site that links back to Pirate Bay – and lo and behold the family movie night is complete and MPAA has a pending lawsuit against the Jones’
What SOPA does not realize that while Pirate Bay may be the initial vehicle for illegal content, by closing the door on that, 20 more will pop up and from that 200 affiliate sites will connect to it and then 2,000,000 more will share and link – trying to plug those gaps is a nigh on impossible task – unless you control the global internet, or you guard and control the American firewall – which if SOPA, BREIN etc.. are trying in essence to do – why? Because of lobbyists and payments from the industry to politicians to enforce these acts, without having ANY understanding of the root cause or issues faced.
So will this be discussed at Midem? Of course not, agendas will be set and new ideas that the industry will either adopt and buy (Last.fm anyone) or destroy… I’ve seen many great ideas vanish because it didn’t fit into the industry’s view of acceptable business models. The few of us at Midem that have always tried to change the belief and ideas that the Entertainment industry must embrace and explore new digital business models are always faced with criticism, skepticism and big dollop of fear, that if any of these “crazy” new ideas get out there their industry will be destroyed… as if its not on its knees just now, you only need to look at poor old EMI and the destructive path that Guy Hands took it – I heavily and publicly criticized Guy for his direction and strategy and that he was not embracing the future – well look what happened there…
Content is still very much King, and while the digital content is probably more like the Queen, to make way for findability, searchability and discoverability with relevant metadata, tagging and relationships to help you discover and unearth more of a deeper entertainment experience – the lack of quality and availability is what’s really hurting the digital content space today – add to that the device limiting chains of a bygone ghost and you can start to see just why the digital business models of today – don’t really work all that well for anyone!